Director Charles Chevalier was in a very good mood when I arrived, catching the sun as he stood in the doorway of the tasting room at Château Lafite Rothschild. "It's like summer," he said with a wide grin. "But one problem. Very, very dry in the vineyards right now. We got no moisture in February or March." We'll see what effect that has on the 2012 vintage when I return next year; today it's all about 2011.
The hail that arrived on Sept. 1, cutting across southern St.-Estèphe, just skirted the edge of Duhart-Milon Rothschild's and Lafite's vineyards in Pauillac and had minimal effect on the production.
The Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild Pauillac 2011 (75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Merlot) shows high-toned cherry, tobacco leaf, grilled herb and lightly mulled spice notes. Very formed already, with a lingering dusty finish as the herb note peeks out more and more with air (89-92 points, non-blind).
The Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac Carruades de Lafite Rothschild 2011 (55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 39 percent Merlot, 4 percent Cabernet Franc and 2 percent Petit Verdot) has a richness I haven't seen too often in 2011 reds, with roasted fig and plum notes and good smoldering tobacco and black tea, before the tangy damson plum and iron notes of the vintage finally start to emerge on the finish (90-93 points, non-blind).
The Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2011 (80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 percent Merlot) is tightly wound still and very restrained, but there's a serious well of black plum and macerated currant fruit in reserve, held behind substantial but well-ripened tannins and a strong chalk and iron note as well. The very driven, mineral finish has a nice austerity to it (93-96 points, non-blind). Overall, the Lafite estate brought in around 3.7 tons per acre and 40 percent was selected for the grand vin.
"It's not a vintage of high acidity, but rather low alcohol, which gives the impression of high acidity. After '09 and '10, '11 is fine, discreet," said Chevalier.
Chevalier also noted, like most other winemakers I've spoken with so far, that the 2011 vinifications were very easy, despite the difficult growing season. The grapes were healthy and acidities high, resulting in quick fermentation and malolactics.
"I'd always rather have the fastest and easiest fermentation," said Chevalier. "It reduces the chances of bacterial issues and allows you to have a clean maceration."
Tomorrow, scores and tasting notes for 2011 Château Latour and Les Forts de Latour …
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