The 2011 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign was destined to struggle. It followed two great vintages in 2009 and 2010 – meaning that most Bordeaux lovers were already over-stocked with superb wines. On top of this, the market was in the middle of a correction from peaks the previous summer, and many châteaux simply did not reduce their prices close to the required level in order to entice buyers for the new vintage. Furthermore, the wines were difficult to taste En Primeur, presenting a tannic and closed profile. As a result, those with too much wine were offered an expensive vintage with mediocre reviews from critics and merchants alike. 2011s were quickly forgotten in favour of the charming, forward and lower-priced 2012s. But now, things are changing.
I worked the 2011 harvest at Château Latour and saw the fruit turn to wine first hand. Working at a First Growth may give a rose-tinted view of any vintage given the quality of viticulture, terroir and winemaking on display, but I travelled around the region to see the fruit in many vineyards and discuss the potential with other châteaux. On the ground, the weather leading to vintage was hot and often sunny. The issue was humidity; frequent rains and ominous forecasts led to rapid harvest as producers tried to beat dilution and rot. Our team had to briefly stop harvesting while a lightning storm in an adjacent vineyard skirted around us.
At the time, producers were still keen to promote the quality of 2010 and 2009, two great vintages that many thought could be the best wines they would ever make (though 2016 is now also a strong contender). They knew already that 2011 would not reach the same level. They were, however, positive about quality as fermentations began. The issue was structure. Even from the fermenting vat and press wine it was clear the wines were tannic with saturated colours. Though ripe, they lacked the amplitude of fruit shown in 2010. That was reflected in tastings and reports the following spring. Though Robert Parker – at the peak of his power at the time – conceded the wines were “surprisingly successful” in his report for The Wine Advocate, he argued “that it is hard to get emotionally pumped up over the 2011 vintage”, largely due to the need for a price correction.
It has taken time for the 2011s to come around. The 2012s have been a Farr favourite in recent years for their soft, charming approachability in their first decade. Now – on the left bank at least – many are being outperformed by their 2011 counterparts. The initially firm, unyielding wines have softened beautifully. What remains are deep and dark fruited wines with good backbones and fantastic freshness. There is now savoury complexity and excellent intensity when compared to the lighter, more delicate 2012s. At a decade old, they are now superb wines that fly under the radar. What’s more, the prices now look excellent value compared to vintages of a similar quality. Below are just a selection of excellent 2011s we have recently tasted – all are thoroughly recommended to those looking for red Bordeaux to drink now and over the next 10+ years.
Sociando Mallet 2011
Mid ruby-garnet colour. Cool black fruit, graphite, cedar and undergrowth on the nose. The palate is fine and fresh, with bright blackcurrant fruit softened by savoury spice. The tannins are fine but grippy, offering a compact, crunchy style. There are savoury notes of maturity offering real complexity and pushing through the structure. Ready to drink now with a harmonious finish, this should offer enjoyment over the next 10 years. 91+ points
Deep garnet colour, with an earthy nose of forest floor, spiced plums and dark cherries. The palate is dark-fruited with soft, integrated tannins gently framing the core. Now maturing nicely with savoury, earthy tones adding nice complexity, this is fine, smoky and leathery through to the finish. A fine, mature wine at an excellent price point. 91+ points
Mid ruby colour. Sweet spices, savoury earthy and classic sweet plum fruit on the nose. The palate is full of dried cherry, vanilla and nutmeg from the oak, and hints of leather and tobacco. The plump and rounded tannins bring a classic Pomerol shape to this wine. Crunch and flesh in equal measure with a healthy mature savouriness that lingers on the finish. 92+ points
Deep ruby colour. Cool and floral with cassis, violets, cedar and a savoury cigar tobacco note. The palate has light chalkiness from the tannins but these are melting into the wine. There is still a ripe dark cherry fruit at the core, but this is paired with leathery, savoury undertones from bottle age. This elegant and refined wine is absolutely delicious now, chock full of Margaux typicity. Drink over the next 5+ years. 93 points
Mid ruby colour. Cedar, dark cherry and graphite on the nose with hints of damp undergrowth – savoury and enticing. There is a cool, dense core of black fruit surrounded by chalky, crunchy tannins on the palate. Bright acidity lifts and refreshes everything, bringing with it a juicy red plum note against camphor, bay leaf and hedgerow. Restrained and refined, this elegant and savoury wine is drinking perfectly now and will continue to do so over 10 years. 93 points
Deep ruby in the glass. Powerful and aromatic on the nose, with smoky, dense black fruit and incense. The palate is rich with cassis but has drive and vibrancy from fresh acidity and chalky tannins. This wine has knit together fabulously, and is starting to drink well now. The black fruit and layered spices are still the focus, but subtle savoury and earthy notes from bottle age are starting to show through. Long and driven to the finish, this wine is ready to drink now but will only improve over the next decade, and will doubtless drink well beyond that. 93+ points
Mid ruby colour with a complex and earthy nose - layers of cassis, plums, toast and cedar come through. The palate is chalky and rich, with real density of fruit matched by ample structure. This is savoury and cool without being underripe. The fruit is in fact fairly dark and dense, complemented by notes of tobacco and pepper. The tannins soften through the mid-palate, yielding even more fruit and undergrowth at the core. The finish is long and fine. This is approachable now, but will only improve with more time in the bottle. 93+ points
Tertre Roteboeuf 2011
Deep ruby-garnet in the glass. Unmistakably Mitjaville on the nose, with a heady and intoxicating, complex aromatic profile. Dried flowers, dark cherry and brambly fruit intermingle with clove, incense and game. The palate matches powerful cassis fruit with mouthcoating but succulent tannic structure. The spicy, smoky oak is present throughout, offering an exotic richness. Leather, tobacco and cedar all come through with some barbecued meat in a broad spectrum of flavours as the wine opens up. Supple despite its rich texture, this intense and long example of Tertre Roteboeuf is a roaring success. Drink now – with a light decant – or over the next 10+ years. 95 points
Our full list of 2011 Red Bordeaux can be seen HERE