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Bordeaux 2011: Whites set to shine as campaign gets underway

En Primeur week began yesterday in brilliant sunshine and broad optimism on the part of producers – especially when it comes to the white wines.

Bordeaux 2011: Domaine de Chevalier

The lack of rainfall in the summer – between March and June there was 74mm of rain compared with an average of 176mm – together with a cooler-than-average July and August might have caused problems for the reds in many appellations, but there is no such reservation with the white wines, both dry and sweet.

Consultant Denis Dubordieu, in his annual assessment of the vintage, has already said the white wines are excellent in 2011. This will undoubtedly be confirmed this week.

While he is better pleased with his red wine than he expected, Olivier Bernard at Domaine de Chevalier in the Graves is unashamedly delighted by his white.

Its freshness and acidity, he said, came from cool summer days and cooler nights. ‘It is very, very good and it has such balanced acids that it will last for a long time.’

Further south, at Chateau Climens in Barsac, Berenice Lurton is equally pleased by the quality of the wines.

‘The weather, which perhaps was not so good for the red wines, was perfect for whites, and for sweet wines, because it brought this wonderful precise freshness and acidity.’

Botrytis in Sauternes and Barsac came evenly and fast, necessitating only two or at the most three passes through the vineyards by the teams of pickers.

‘But we had to go fast,’ Lurton said. ‘Normally it’s a marathon – last year it was a sprint.’

When it comes to the red wines, one chateau owner summed up the feeling at this early stage of the biggest week in the Bordeaux year by saying, ‘I’m much happier than I was.’

Steven Spurrier, who covers the Medoc for Decanter, said the most noticeable thing this year is the quality of the fruit, and the freshness of the wines.

‘Tasting in Margaux I kept marking “cassis, cassis” in my notes. There is great precision of fruit, the wines are clean and fresh, although there is a certain dryness, which you would expect in the driest vintage in living memory.’

The best reds, as Gavin Quinney, owner of Chateau Bauduc in Entre-Deux-Mers said, are fresh and fruity – and not over-extracted, an Achilles heel of 2011.

‘Over-extraction happened in the vineyard as well as in the winery,’ Quinney said. ‘There was so little sun in August that people de-leafed to maximise exposure, then they did two green harvests. Then September was so hot that the grapes were pumped up as if they were on steroids.

‘The best wines are where the owner didn’t aim for concentration but left the wines to their own devices.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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