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2011 vintage guide for Bordeaux

Médoc & Graves: Keep

Poor summer led to mildew and rot. A warm September saved the vintage, but uneven ripening and a difficult harvest.

St Emilion & Pomerol: Keep

A poor summer but less rot on the Right Bank than on the Left. Sorting essential, but Pomerol had some excellent wines.

Sauternes & Barsac: Keep

Rich, concentrated wines that could come to rival 2001 and 2009. Particularly fine in Barsac.

Weather Conditions

After two excellent vintages, 2011 brought a return to reality.

This was a strange year for weather – as many said at the time, it was summer in spring, autumn in summer, spring in autumn. So a hot start to the year (from January onwards there was lower rainfall than normal) that meant early bud break and flowering that was two weeks earlier than in 2010. From April, drought conditions were noted, with temperatures in April 6°C higher than average, and more sunshine than is usual to have in July.

Flowering was on average fully underway by May 17th, the earliest date ever recorded. From the second week of June, the weather began to change (excepting one hugely hot weekend right at the end of June with temperatures up to 40°C) that scorched berries in some areas, particularly cabernet sauvignon on gravel soils.

By the time July itself arrived, summer pretty much disappeared, with low levels of sunshine hours, cool temperatures and a rainy August. In September good weather returned for harvest, although it was never comfortable for growers as storms and rain threatened at regular intervals.

Best Appellations

Uneven colour change due to the rainy August, and more especially the rainy difficult harvest that led to some dilution and rot meant that this vintage favoured the producers who had the manpower and the budget to spend plenty of time in the vineyards, and who were very attentive to picking dates.

One style of wine had a clear success in 2011 Bordeaux – namely dry whites. White wines like cooler summers, and are not so badly affected by rain before harvest (they only need two weeks of dry weather compared to four for red to achieve maximum quality), particularly as the hot early season meant that flowering had been quick and even.

The sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac also had an exceptional vintage, approaching that of 2001 for quality, because the cool harvest maintained their acidity levels, and the windy days allowed the botrytis to dry out.

Red wines fared less well. The cabernet sauvignon grapes had great difficulty reaching full ripeness in many cases, which meant that many Left Bank wines suffered, although those estates that held on were rewarded with far better weather in October. Saint Estèphe was particularly affected by a hail storm on the eve of harvest.

Merlot was uneven, with some successes but as on the Left Bank ripening was hindered in some cases by the rainy summer which meant the green shoots on the vines kept growing, taking the energy of the vine away from the berries where it needed to be concentrating. Generally speaking cabernet franc did much better, and estates with high levels of this grape in both Pomerol and Saint Emilion fared well. Some good early drinking wines across both banks, with fresh fruits and some excellent gentle tannins. Excellent restaurant wines in many cases, but not consistent.

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