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Bordeaux 2011 Vintage Surprises Part 1

The 2011 Château Pichon-Longueville is classic Pauillac, power and finesse coupled with elegance and length, with a tannic structure at its core.
The 2011 Château Pichon-Longueville is classic Pauillac, power and finesse coupled with elegance and length, with a tannic structure at its core.
Patricia Decker

The anxious crowd jockeyed into position. Wine glasses in hand, they surged forward as the doors of the UGC Bordeaux Tasting 2011 Futures opened. Scattered across the California Room in LA’s Century Plaza Hotel, over 100 producers steadily poured their wines, despite early bad press. After a tasting frenzy lasting three hours, most agreed that the 2011 Bordeaux, while not consistently excellent like the past two years, was a surprise, with good wines to be found, even some excellent ones from top producers, with the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac the vintage winners.

The initial buzz before the public tasting was not good, the 2011 vintage of Bordeaux was of varying quality, not comparable to 2009 and 2010, which were spectacular years. It was touted as a case of buyer beware, and pick the wine producer carefully, as some were good, some decent, and others bitter, unripe, and tannic. The reality is that while the wines aren’t voluptuous, they are fresh, bright, and aromatic, with good acidity and balance, more red fruit than dark fruit, elegant in style, ready to be drunk and not cellared for the long term. It’s a vintage for those who love Bordeaux but can’t often afford to drink it. Prices for 2011 bottles are rumored to be cut 20-50% from the highs of the previous two years, acknowledging the lesser concentration, age-ability, and investment potential.

The Bordeaux 2011 vintage seemed cursed. Hail, drought, hot and cool weather at the wrong times during the growth cycle, and rainstorms all conspired to wreak havoc on the vines and winemakers’ dreams of a wine trifecta, three stellar vintages in a row. Part of Bordeaux’s mystique is making memorable wines in less than perfect weather conditions. Due to rising demand and better vintages, Bordeaux prices have soared over the past several years, putting them out of reach for most wine lovers. The 2009 and 2010 wines, dubbed “vintage of the century”, escalated to sky high prices, with some top tier wines doubling in price. So the 2011 wines were seen as a much needed pause, on many levels.

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC), founded over forty years ago, is an association of 133 top estates in Bordeaux dedicated to personally promoting their wines around the world. These wine producers proudly pour their recent vintages to wine professionals and aficionados alike. As the crowd savored these wines, swapping opinions and notes, a consensus seemed to build, that the 2011 Bordeaux were a pleasant surprise. While not the powerhouse wines yielded by Mother Nature from the past two years, skillful winemaking made delicious wines, supple and silky, with more cassis and cherry than ripe blackberry and licorice, sealed with the kiss of French terroir.

These wines will hit wine shop shelves in a few months, and here are some of the highlights to keep an eye out for.

continued in Part 2