Following the classic-quality 2009 vintage and the potentially even more impressive 2010 wines, Bordeaux châteaus have a tough sell ahead as they prepare for their first official unveiling of the 2011 vintage. France’s most famous wine region got thrown a few curveballs during that growing season, leading to uneven quality, and consumers will need to choose wisely to find good deals.
The year was full of ups and downs—an early, hot spring followed by a cool, cloudy summer, with August rains that encouraged the development of rot. Luckily, warm, dry weather arrived in September and lasted through October, giving careful vignerons a chance to make excellent wines, some of which will reward cellaring. (Read more about the 2011 harvest.)
Early impressions of the young wines, which are still aging in barrels in the château cellars, indicate that the 2011 red Bordeaux feature a slightly snappy profile that contrasts with the lush fruit of 2009 or the well-integrated structure of 2010. The dry whites and the sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes look promising.
Later this spring and summer, the producers will offer their 2011s for sale en primeur, as futures, for delivery in about two years, after the wines are bottled. Buying wine futures ensures you secure the wines you want—often at the best possible price (as long as strong demand causes prices to rise later).
However, in the case of 2011, don't expect much appreciation in value. The 2009 vintage had been the most expensive ever—until 2010 immediately topped it. Since 2011 can’t compete with either of those, prices may come down somewhat. We’ll find out just how much in late April and early May, when châteaus typically begin to formally release their prices to the trade.
How can buyers know which wines are worth acquiring as futures? Many members of the wine trade will visit Bordeaux this spring and taste the young wines for themselves. But most consumers don’t have that option. That is why Wine Spectator is sending our team to the region. We try to be the consumers’ advocate, giving independent evaluations to help you make good decisions.
To do that, senior editor James Molesworth will be visiting top châteaus this coming week, blogging about his visits and sharing notes on the wines. (Any wines tasted non-blind at châteaus will be clearly indicated.)
Over the following week, he will conduct blind tastings of more than 300 additional barrel samples that Wine Spectator requested from the region’s most recognized names and noteworthy, but less familiar, properties. Organized by tasting coordinator Nathan Wesley, the tastings will be held in rented space in a facility capable of storing barrel samples properly to preserve their freshness.
Scores and tasting notes for all the wines tasted will be posted here, with a full report on 2011 Bordeaux slated for the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator magazine. As these are unfinished wines, they are scored in four-point ranges (eg. 89-92 points) to indicate that the ratings are still preliminary. When the wines are released in bottle, they will be reviewed with their peers in blind tastings and given a final score. If you’re not already a member of WineSpectator.com, join now and be among the first to see all of our reviews.