Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth is in France, tasting the 2011 Bordeaux vintage and visiting select châteaus.
No sooner am I back from the Rhône and I'm off to Bordeaux. Luckily, I did get Thanksgiving off for some down time.
But now it's time for my annual December visit to Bordeaux, during which I taste the latest bottled vintage from France's largest and most important AOC, in this case the 2011 vintage. No, the vintage isn't another 2009 or '10. In fact, 2011 starts a run of three straight vintages of likely decreasing quality, with 2012 and 2013 looking even sketchier.
But does potentially lower quality mean it's easier to work through the wines? Quite the opposite. Higher and more consistent quality vintages are in my opinion easier to taste, irrespective of their being youthfully tannic. But while it might be harder to taste through a more difficult vintage, it's vintages like 2011 where I really enjoy rolling up my sleeves and diving into the wines to sift through and find the goodies amidst the dross.
Make no mistake, there will be some delicious wines in 2011. And based on a few hundred 2011s already tasted back in my New York office over the past several weeks, the vintage is fairly consistent in profile: The wines are lighter-bodied but fresh, pure and charming, with bright aromas, clean fruit and lively acidity. They are similar in mold to the 2001s, a vintage that drinks wonderfully right now. And that's potentially a good thing, since those of you who bought up 2009s and '10s will have to wait for some time for those wines to hit their stride.
It's an interesting time for Bordeaux vis a vis the U.S. market, perhaps even a tipping point. The hype (well-deserved) for the 2009 and '10 vintages kept Bordeaux at the forefront of the general wine discussion, despite exorbitant prices that caused lots of griping (well-deserved) from consumers and retailers. And Bordeaux is becoming hip again in some quarters, as a younger generation seems to begrudgingly realize how good the wines are. Despite an overriding image of Bordeaux as being that of blue-blazered corporate ownership, the newest generation of wine drinkers is slowly realizing that there are bargains to be had, and that there are legitimate wines of soul and terroir. With the Asian market suddenly cooling after a rapid run up in demand, Bordeaux may need to come back to America in earnest (maybe even hat in hand?), to drum up enough buying interest to carry them through the coming lean years. 2011 is the vintage to do that, as it's a year producing mostly drinkable wines right out of the gate.
Which means, of course, that prices for the 2011s will be a major sticking point. The original en primeur campaign pretty much fizzled in the U.S. market as prices dropped a little, but not much, from the high levels of 2009 and '10. The wines have not appreciated in value since then, nor are they likely to. So, with that in mind, where are the relative bargains? I aim to point the bulk of you to the overlooked and underappreciated values, while also helping the collectors find the qualitative highlights.
As always, I'll be tasting the wines blind, in flights arranged by Wine Spectator tasting staff using bottles of only finished wines provided by the châteaus. I'll work through about 400 samples over the next 10 days, mixing in a few visits to some of the châteaus in the region along the way.
You can check back here for initial thoughts as I taste along, as well as notes on some of my visits. In the meantime, if you need a refresher on the 2011s, you can reference my initial coverage of the wines from their in-barrel tastings back in March 2012. As always, thanks for reading.