I was very lucky yesterday to attend a very interesting and unique wine tasting organized by Lochlann Quinn, owner of Chateau de Fieuzal and co-owner of the Merrion Hotel. The last time this tasting took place in Dublin was 2004 and was focusing on the 2001 vintage. Today, the vintage shown was 2011.
Characteristics of the Vintage
2011 was a very atypical vintage in Bordeaux climate wise. It all started with a very warm spring, with temperatures reaching late twenties to early thirties in degrees Celsius. As a consequence, the blossoming of the vines happened mid May, 3 weeks earlier than usual. The cryptogamic diseases such as Oidium and Mildew, that tend to slow down the development of the vines, were totally absent thanks of the lack of rain encountered during the months of April, May and June and until the mid-July. In some part of the Graves area, temperatures were reaching early forties at the end of June. Everybody was convinced that an extreme vintage, such as 2003, was about to happen again.
However, the South-West France was about to know one of the worst summers of the last decade: July and August were wet and windy, with days of heat followed by heavy thunder and rain storm. The Mildew and Oidium which were absent until then, ended up attacking the vineyards and grey rot was commonly seen in many vineyards around Bordeaux.
The maturity of the grapes was still reached much earlier than other years. The white grapes in Pessac Leognan started being harvested on the 18th of August (5 days later than in 2003 but 2/3 weeks earlier than a regular year) and the red grapes were finished to be harvested by the end of September while a normal year would see its picking happening until mid-October.
So how is the quality of 2011?
2011 is not a vintage that we have heard a lot about so far. It arrived after the very much thought about 2009 and 2010 vintages and has been considered too “rustic” until now by many people to be drunk. Very often, restaurateurs have preferred to invest in 2012 for their wine list as the vintage tend to show more generous and appealing fruit characteristics in its youth. However, after today’s tasting, I do believe that it is not the last time that we will hear (and taste) wines from Pessac Léognan in this vintage.
It felt to me that they were 2 main categories of wines within the reds: some of them seem to have aged quite prematurely and are already showing some development aromatically while lacking a bit of focus and vibrancy on the palate. Others, in contrast, are still full of youth and will need a couple of years in the bottle to “soften” and show their full potential. These wines will then be able to be enjoyed over an 8-15 years period, depending of the producer.
Regarding the white wines, 2011 had the potential to be an extremely good vintage and the best wines are showing a great ageing potential, concentration, tension and precision.
My favourite white wines of the day
Chateau Latour Martillac 2011 – 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc + 1/3 Semillon
The wine is fermented in barrel. Only 25% to 30% of the barrels are made of new oak and only the Semillon is put in new oak. After fermentation, the wine spends 15 months on its lees (10 months in barrels + 5 months in stainless steel).
The nose is intense, youthful, and complex. It reveals some aromas of ripe citrus fruits, waxy and curry notes punctuated with fresh basil undertones. The palate is dry, powerful but supported by a superb freshness that confers it a beautiful tension. The flavours, similar to the aromas found on the nose, are pronounced. The finish is clean, precise and leaves a sensation of purity that lingers on generously.
I remembered Chateau Latour-Martillac to be a much more opulent style and I have to admit that I love the style that they are delivering with this 2011 vintage. This can be enjoyed now or kept for another 8-10 years. (Price : +- €38/bottle)
Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2011- 80% Sauvignon blanc + 20% Semillon
The wine was fermented in barrel of which 50% were new and was then aged on its lies for 12 months.
The nose is clean, delicate and seducing. It shows some smokiness, sea characteristics (iodine), citrus fruits aromas and white flowers notes. On the palate the wine is vibrant, elegant with a beautiful “salty” minerality. The finish is precise, clean and zesty with some “iodine” notes in retro-olfaction.
It is a wine that shows a fantastic energy and personality, very different in style from any of the other white wines tasted on the day. Apparently, the subsoil of the vineyards is rich in limestone and sea fossils and could be a possible explanation for these unique sea characters found in the wine. Drink now for its fresh, mineral characters or cellar for up to 10 years (Price: +- €76/bottle)
Chateau Couhins 2011 – 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Chateau Couhins has the particularity of only using Sauvignon Blanc in his white wine. Before fermentation, a maceration on the skin is realized in order to extract the flavour precursors contained in the skin. During the fermentation, the yeasts will transform these precursors into flavours.The wine is fermented in 3 types of container: barrique, stainless steel vat and wooden vat. Then the wine is left of its lees during 9 months with some regular lees stirring.
The nose is clean, subtle and perfumed. It reveals some aromas of raspberry leaf, elderflower, citrus fruits and white flowers. The palate shows a remarkable vivacity and minerality. It is lean without being skinny with a beautiful mineral energy leading the wine to a clean and iodine-like finish. This is still a baby but can definitely be enjoyed from now with a platter of oyster or some razor clams. Kept in your cellar, it will keep for another 10 to 15 years. (Price : +- €27/bottle)
Domaine de Chevalier 2011 – 75% Sauvignon Blanc + 25% Semillon
The wine is fermented and aged in barrels of which 30% in average are new. The wine is kept on its lees until the end of the summer following the harvest and then is transferred into other barrels where it will stay until the following spring.
The nose is clean, discreet but with aeration reveals quite a lot of complexity. Aromas of citrus fruits, gorse flowers and elderflower are punctuated by vanilla notes coming from the oak.
On the palate the wine is still youthful and shy but let us however perceive the incredible potential that it has to offer. Under this first restrained impression lies an impressive depth of structure and flavours and a sublime minerality and precision. This is a wine to forget for at least 2 or 3 years in your cellar before even thinking of opening it. Potential for ageing: at least 10-15 years. If you decide to open it now, do carafe it to aerate it. This is the kind of wine that you wish you had a case of 12 bottles in the cellar to be able to open one from time to time and see how it evolves over the years. (Price: +- €100/bottle)
My favourite red wines of the day
Chateau Haut Bailly 2011- 50% Cabernet Sauvignon + 47% Merlot + 3% Cabernet Franc
Chateau Haut-Bailly has the particularity of producing only red wines. The Chateau, within their 30ha, owns a 4ha parcel, right beside the property, consisting in 100 years-old vines of different varieties co-planted (including Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec).
The Alcoholic fermentation takes place in concrete tank and the wine is then transferred into oak barrels (50% new) to mature for an average of 16 months.
The nose is clean, ripe and fresh, youthful, with notes of smoky minerality, noble earthy aromas and crushed cassis. The palate is extremely classy and elegant. The tannins are ripe, fine-grained and perfectly proportioned in ratio to the body and flesh of the wine. Beautiful aromatic freshness with quite a lot of floral and mineral components. Clean, vibrant finish on more smoky and mineral notes.
Drink now after aerating in a carafe or cellar for 10/12 years. (Price = +- €90)
Chateau Mission Haut-Brion 2011- 43% Merlot + 47% Cabernet Sauvignon + 10% Cabernet Franc
Apparently the wine spends 18 to 22 months in oak barrels (80% new) but no one from the Chateau was here to talk about the wines today so I could not find more details about the vinification.
The nose is clean, deep, complex but restrained. It reveals some notes slightly lactic at the beginning that seems to disappear after aeration. Aromas of red fruits (cherry, cassis) and noble spices (cinnamon, cloves) are coming through. They are completed by notes of tobacco and cedar.
The palate is ample, fleshy with pronounced flavours similar to those found on the nose. Really beautiful tannic structure and texture. Smoky mineral lingering finish. This is still a very young wine but its pulpous, classy, “lady-like” style make it quite accessible as a style. I would suggest to wait another 2 to 3 years before starting drinking it after carafing it. Potential for ageing: 15-20 years. (Price: +- €300/bottle)
I did not get to taste all the wines present on the day as I ran out of time and had to go back to work. For example, I did not get to taste at all Chateau Bouscaut and Chateau Olivier and as a consequence, I could not consider them for this blog post. I would like also to mention a couple of other wines that I liked but did not mention in “my favourite of the day” but which I would still be happy to order on a wine list in a restaurant or have in my cellar at home (budget aside) Chateau de Fieuzal white 2011, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte white 2011, Domaine de Chevalier Red 2011 and Chateau Haut-Brion 2011.
If you have had any interesting experiences with this “unsung hero” vintage, please send me your thoughts.
Thank you for reading and let’s keep on Tasting, Discovering and Sharing!