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Bordeaux 2011 - Day Three: Wednesday 4th April - 4th April 2012
By Tom Gearing (Director) - Cult Wines Ltd -

Following two days on the right bank and South Gironde, today was our first day on the left bank and we started at the two most revered Pauillacs, modern and sleek Chateau Latour and traditional, classic Chateau Lafite Rothschild. We then planned our lunch around the UGC at Lagrange where we had the opportunity to taste a range of Pauillac, St Estephe and St Julien wines. Finishing the day off with visits to Ducru Beaucaillou (loving ducru…more on that later), Lynch Bages combined with a cheeky beer in Bages square ending with the two Margaux powerhouses.

Morning: Latour & Lafite:

Our first appointment of the day was at the venerable Pauillac estate of Latour. Not the grandest of estates, but some of the allure lies in its subtlety combined with the iconic watchtower. The tasting rooms are super modern and sleek – amazing considering they were built 10 years ago but they provide a delightful contrast. Following a slight accident from the host during the pouring and quick cleanup, we tasted the three wines of Latour; the Grand Vin, Les Forts and Pauillac de Latour. The Pauillac showed it’s merit as a third wine and for an early drinking, cheaper option it wasn’t bad at all. It was but an appetizer for the main fare, which was built up by a very nicely structured Forts de Latour. The Grand Vin which represents 34% of the production and is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot didn’t disappoint even in this ‘challenging’ vintage. It was expressive but delicate with precise fruit flavours underlined by silky tannins. A candidate for wine of the vintage, and is always the case with Latour they’ve done a bloody good job in an off-prime year.

Out of one first growth and it was up the road to our next stop Lafite Rothschild. Having tasted two of the first growths at this stage, placings were already being discussed en route and predictions were being made for what we had heard was a ‘classic’ style in 2011 from Lafite. As with Latour, the three estate wines of Carruades, Duhart Milon and the Grand Vin were available to taste. Starting with Carruades, which is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon 39% Merlot …… wasn’t particularly forthcoming but there was a nice structure and clean fruit, hinting at good things to come. The Duhart, showed once again that it is an estate that is going from strength to strength under the Lafite estate stewardship. Off the back of it’s highest ever Parker score for the 09, the 2011 won’t rate alongside that, yet still it was beautifully perfumed. The Grand Vin was again a little closed, which was maybe down to the weather conditions, but it had fantastic structure, freshness and the finish was wonderful evolving on the palette and leaving us with smiles on our faces. Technically great, but not as exciting as the Latour.

Lunch: UGC Lagrange:

One of the great things about en primeur week is the lunches put on at each UGC tasting – which is why we try to arrange our timetable around lunchtime visits to the UGC’s! There is of course wine to taste as well, and the Lagrange UGC covered St Julien, St Estephe and Pauillac. In keeping with 2011 the tasting was a mixture of fairly unexciting wines with a few exceptions. Those that have got it right stand out that little bit more, but our favourite moments came tasting the Langoa Barton and Grand Puy Lacoste (the Pichon’s and Lynch have been discounted as we will cover them on our private visits). The GPL continues to be a favourite of ours and if you’re looking for great quality and affordable Bordeaux – this is the wine. The 2011 was classy, well poised and expressive. Langoa Barton, won the battle of the Barton’s for us with a strong showing.


Afternoon: ‘Loving’ Ducru, Lynch Bages, Margaux & Palmer:

On the back of a nice lunch and a few glasses of the fantastic 2005 Les Fiefs de Lagrange (which I’d recommend picking up at around £20 per bottle) we set off to our afternoon tasting at Ducru Beaucaillou. Now, when it comes to reviewing Ducru there always seems so much more to report on than simply the wine (which was great). As Jonathan described it, ‘Ducru is like the PSG of the wine world because they’re happy to spend the money, classy to look at and an exciting team to watch’. For those not at En Primeurs, this analogy might be slightly lost but it’s well summed up by Bruno Borie’s comparison of the last three vintages of Ducru to famous women: ‘2009 is Beyonce, 2010 is Charlize Theron and 2011 is Nicole Kidman’ and with this, it’s clear Bruno employs the same high standards in recruiting their hostesses (Marie in particular who, if she were a Bordeaux wine, would surely have received VERY high scores from Robert Parker!) Nevertheless, it is Borie’s high standards when it comes to winemaking that we were there to evaluate and it’s safe to say, Ducru is on form again for this year with another fine effort. It was very expressive with hints of dark fruits. Well balanced with fresh acidity.

Having passed up the opportunity to taste both Lynch Bages and Ormes de Pez at the UGC, we got to taste these at the Chateau alongside the second wine, Echo de Lynch as well as Blanc de Lynch. Ormes de Pez has shown well over the past two years and this vintage was another good effort, as was the Echo de lynch which both exhibited purity of fruit alongside balanced tannins and acidity levels which promise quite delicious wines for early drinking. The Lynch Bages was most impressive; an elegant, classic framework exhibiting expressive black fruits, the promise of quintessential Lynch perhaps? And so onto the Blanc de Lynch, with the reduction of Semillon in the wine (a decision taken since the 2008 vintage) we were blown away with a wine exhibiting floral notes across a range of exotic fruits. Beautifully balanced, offering summers of indulgence (the 2011 is bottled next month and we suggest getting a case or two ordered ready for those lazy hazy days!)

We tasted with Paul Pontallier (or ‘the Professor’ as we’ve dubbed him!) at Chateau Margaux. With Pavillon Blanc on the cards we knew we were in for a great end to the tasting, but first we got stuck into the estate’s two reds; Pavillon and the Grand Vin. We were told that this was a particularly low yielding vintage, partly affected by the hale that decimated neighbours Palmer but also as a result of the unpredictable vintage that produced extremely high temperatures and a severe drought. Needless to say the team at Margaux are one of the best and they have dealt very well with this difficult vintage. This was apparent in the Pavillon which although 40% down, was dense with strong tannins but did have good ripeness of fruit. This lead us nicely into the Grand Vin. Without blowing us away, it showed a powerful structure with subtlety and finesse. Not the leading first growth for this vintage but a good effort nonetheless.

Our arrival at Palmer was preceded with discussion around talk on twitter. Earlier ‘tweets’ had placed Palmer on a pedestal, and with this in mind we commenced our tasting under ghostly lighting with high hopes! We started with the estate’s second wine, Alter Ego and immediately we began to understand the hype, just a delicious mouthful of ripe fruits and balanced tannin that was simply a delight, on moving onto the main course the Palmer was mind blowing in its elegance, purity and definition offering layers of fruit with tannins which suggest glorious drinking for those that can hang on for maybe 12-15 years.

That concluded our third day, with just over half of the right bank done we have the last first growth, Mouton, to look forward to tomorrow morning.


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Midway Thoughts:

2011 is an outstanding year for the dry and sweet whites. Both Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc flourished in the cool weather conditions throughout ’11 – and have produced some expressive, aromatic and complex wines.

2011 provided winemakers with a lot of headaches from unpredictable conditions; hale, oppressive heat and severe drought. This has lead to some wines producing very small yields compared to the average.

Cabernet Franc has been very impressive and for the top wines it has added complexity and character. With Parker typically not favouring wines with a high percentage of Cabernet Franc it doesn’t bode well for high scores.

On the whole there is a lot more average wines than very good, but conversely this has brought out those have performed well in 2011 accentuating them against the rest.

This is not a vintage for the taster but for the drinker, and at the top there is still some very good wines.


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