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Bordeaux 2011: growing confidence in quality

As En Primeur week gets into its first full day there is growing confidence that the vintage is a good deal better than expected.

Most winemakers and critics agree that quality is mixed: those properties with the money and manpower to work the vineyards, and practice strict sorting once the grapes had been picked, have produced a fine classic wine.

‘The best wines have lovely freshness, and a relatively traditional structure,’ critic Richard Bampfield MW said, adding that in the lesser wines, ‘fruit and mouthfeel is the issue.’

‘It is a classic vintage with a nice level of tannin and alcohol, good balance and fresh acidity,’ Gabriel Vialard, technical director at Chateau Haut-Bailly said.

Jean-Christophe Mau of Chateau Brown said it was a difficult year, ‘a vintage of extremes, with stress in the vineyard and tiny volumes’.

‘2007 is our reference point,’ he said. ‘It is not as good as 2002.’

As with all ‘difficult’ vintages it is the bigger, wealthier properties that have coaxed the best they could from a summer that was far from ideal.

Roederer-owned Chateau Pichon Lalande, for example, had ‘some green and brown berries,’ managing director Sylvie Cazes said. They dealt with that problem by sorting rigorously in the vineyard.

As Cazes conceded, ‘those with the most resources made the best wines.’

There was another factor: the willingness to take risks. As the cool August gave way to a splendid September, the temptation to bring in the grapes and avoid any danger of rot was strong.

Those like Pichon technical director Philippe Moreau, who pushed for a later harvest brought in riper grapes, were ‘flirting with rot’, as Roederer joint managing director Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon approvingly put it.

Wine merchants too are overcoming reservations, with Berry Brothers’ wine director Simon Staples tweeting with enthusiasm.

‘I’m very positive,’ Simon Davies of London merchants Fine & Rare said. ‘There’s a question mark over some of the tannins and the fruit character but there is this refreshing acidity.’

Another question mark of course hangs over the issue of price. Every indication this year is that the chateaux are going to release early, in order to get the campaign well under way before Vinexpo starts in Hong Kong at the end of May.

Others, like Alain Vauthier at Chateau Ausone reckon the ‘classified Growths, including First Growths, will be out within a fortnight.’

There are also indications that proprietors are aware that only a reasonably-priced vintage will sell this year. ‘We are very price-conscious,’ Cazes said.

She added that she was confident that the three major markets – Europe, the US and Asia – would be buying enthusiastically this year. The fact that the 5000 visitors to En Primeur proved there was interest.

Another factor that has galvanised the Bordelais is Robert Parker’s encouraging noises about the vintage.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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