The 5 Things You Need to Know About Burgundy 2011.

The Burgundy En Primeur fortnight has come and gone. For those of you who missed the 25+ tastings held around London, we have distilled our thoughts, notes and discussions into the 5 things you need to know about the 2011 Burgundy Vintage.

Burgundy 2011

2011 Reds on show at the Philip Mould Gallery in Mayfair, courtesy of Goedhuis & Co

1) It is not “Vintage of the Century”.

Unlike the previous two vintages, 2011 is not a stellar/legendary/epic/amazing vintage. Simply put, the growing season was backwards and it’s surprising that the wines are as they are. Burgundy shared the same fate as the rest of France in 2011, where the growing season was upside-down; summer in spring and spring in summer. April to the end of June had abnormal temperatures, up to 30 degrees on some days, with flowering taking place over 3 weeks ahead of normal expectations, and with a distinct lack of rain. July till early August was beset with summer storms, with hail hitting parts of Chablis and Rully, although the rain provided the parched vines with must needed water, but meant that spraying was obligatory. Given the topsy-turvy nature of the growing season it’s surprising that the wines turned out the way they did.

2) It was, again, a small harvest.

The downside to the abnormal growing season was undoubtedly the smaller crop that was produced. Despite another record breaking early harvest at the end of August, yields were down, especially at those Domaines where the prudent decision to restrict yields to ensure quality was taken. Over all the volumes are similar to 2010, which will unfortunately mean higher prices despite the vintage being more comparable to a combination of 2007 and 2010 in quality, than say the stellar 2009 or muscular 2010.

3) The wines are better than you think.

Unlike Bordeaux 2011, which struggled with green, sandy tannins, and a lack of ripe fruit character in some parts, Burgundy 2011 is decidedly rewarding. Nearly all of the wines we tried were ripe and well balanced, with few showing any angular tannins, aggressive acidity, high alcohol or lack of backbone. What struck us most was quite how drinkable the wines are now, and how pleasurable they are. We’ve heard the vintage described as both “accessible and delicious” and from our own notes “approachable and very pleasant.”

4) The whites are more consistent but the better reds are more rewarding.

Probably the best comment we heard on the 2011 whites was that they were “relaxed”. Easily comparable to 2007, the general quality is good to excellent, and with alcohol and acidity levels lower than 2010, the whites are honest, reliable and will drink well young. The reds are harder to characterise with one broad definition, and as is always the trouble with Burgundy, there is large variation in quality amongst growers. That said, the general impression is that the reds are often charming, almost always balanced, and will save those who own them from opening their 2009′s and 2010′s too soon. For our part, the red s are ripe, fruit forward, often fresh and with low tannins.

5) Buy this vintage if you like drinking Burgundy.

Certainly something that we noted during the tastings was how rewarding this vintage is. The wines aren’t tough, or angular, and thankfully display their typicity without being overly cerebral. If ever you wanted to taste the difference between say, a good Meursault and a Rully 1er Cru, this is the vintage to do it with.

For our money (and of those we tried) the producers this year we were most impressed with for whites:

  • Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot – Ripe, but beautifully crafted gracious Puligny’s that you can enjoy young but will age.
  • Domaine Roulot – Elegant Meursualt’s, a great example of the terroirs of the village
  • Domaine Etienne Sauzet – Rich and borderline savoury Puligny’s, classic and well balanced.

And for reds:

  • Domaine Fourrier – Ripe, approachable village wines and Gevrey’s 1er Crus. His three new négociant wines are definitely ones to watch.
  • Domaine Meo Camuzet – Fine Cotes de Nuits, that are light but generous.
  • Domaine Sylvain Cathiard – Delicate, fruit driven Nuits and Vosne’s. This is Sebastien Cathiard’s first solo vintage at the helm of the Domaine and the quality is spot on.


Rhone 2011 – A Brief Glimpse

Last week, courtesy of the good folk at Goedhuis, the Vinetrade team were able to taste the first bottled samples of the 2011 vintage from the Rhone Valley, and we’re pleased to say it was not a disappointing tasting. Unfortunately the whites had only just been put in the ice when we arrived and as such we have not included them in this week’s post. Thankfully they’re as good as the reds in many cases.

The Growing Season.

As with all of France, 2011 was a growing season in reverse: Summer conditions in Spring and Spring in Summer. Certainly Spring was one of the driest on record and coupled with hot weather the vines developed quickly; with everyone anticipating an early harvest. Come July however, the consistency abated and the month was marked by warm sunny days interspersed with cold rainy ones (with up to 6cm of rain); thankfully this replenished the vines and restored them to a more normal development cycle.

Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy where the fluctuating weather continued into August and September, the Rhone Valley was fortunate to have their traditional hot and windy late summer days settle in. This coupled with an extended Indian summer meant many properties had a very healthy, ripe crop, if at times un-even and in some cases necessitated keen quality control. Marc Perrin at Chateau de Beaucastel said: “The grapes were very healthy and the crop yield was fairly large so we decided to carry out a ruthless green harvest to maximise the concentration”.

The Vintage Style.

Overall the vintage struck us as somewhere between 2006 and 2008 in quality, with none of the overtly “porty” richness of the previous two years, 2009 and 2010; one grower remarked that the sweetness and lightness was reminiscent of the 2000.

A decidedly pretty vintage, the wines have body, elegance and firm acidity but were surprisingly light in tannins; even amongst the more structured Cote Roties and Chateauneufs. The main feeling that we came away with was that despite their youth many of these wines were drinking very nicely now! This is definitely a customer friendly vintage that is early rewarding and eminently drinkable, unlike the blockbusters of the previous two years.

 The Wines.

Of the 30 or so that were available to taste, we thought that the below seven merited highlighting:

  • René Rostaing, Cote Rotie Ampodium  - Formerly known as Cuvee Classique, René Rostaing’s blended Cote Rotie did not disappoint this year, with a mixed nose of ripe blueberry and raspberry, greengage and scented violets. The palate is more complex than the nose hints at, with a mouthfeel that is both sweetness from the ripe fruit and savoury notes from the greengages at the same time, with good acidity and almost unnoticed tannins. A good wine, now.
  • René Rostaing, Cote Rotie La Landonne - More complex than the Ampodium and a more intense nose that leaves you with notes of clove and cedar spice, rolling tobacco, sweet plum and blackberry. The entry is really juicy, leading to a savoury mid palate as the mouth fills with the toasted spice notes that you get on the nose and warm finish.
  • Domaine de Colombier, Hermitage - At the moment the nose is dominated purely by sweet toasted French oak. Thankfully the palate is more rewarding than the nose at the moment with sweet, ripe and light red berry fruit notes, good firm acidity, light tannins giving an overall fresh and delightful mouth-feel. The best Hermitage on show.
  • Alain Voge, Cornas Vielles Vignes - Certainly the most interesting Cornas we tasted, with notes of Christmas Cake, clove spice, liquorice and blackcurrant. The entry is light and sweet with almost bracing acidity and a flavour profile that follows the nose, with more of that curranty goodness. The tannins are light and fine and well integrated, and this Cornas goes on for a while. Good stuff indeed.
  • Chateau de Beaucastel, Coudoulet de Beaucastel - Our first impression was reminiscent of tasting Bordeaux En Primeur with heady notes of sweet, gamy red berry fruit and cedar spice jumping from the glass. There is a raisined edge combined with hints of black pepper that give away the fact that this is Rhone. The palate was equally rewarding with similar flavours to those on the nose, a fairly weighty mouthfeel that’s carried by an almost tingly acidity, really light integrated tannins. An excellent example of why the 2011′s are so early drinking.
  • Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge - Unlike it’s baby brother the Coudoulet, the nose on the Chateauneuf was decidedly closed but deep, hinting at a richer, more complex heady flavour profile. The palate is wonderfully smooth with fairly high acidity giving it a succelent mouthfeel. What flavours are discernible hint at dark berry, pepper, perfumed violets and Provençal herbs. The tannins are there, but were almost unnoticeable and the finish was good and long. Drink this Chateauneuf once you’re out of 2008′s and waiting for your 2009′s to come around.
  • Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieux Télégraphe - With a nose that is as dense and as closed as the Beaucastel, this was the other great Chateauneuf we tasted on the day. What flavours we could coax out of the glass were sweet cedar spice, ripe blackberry, blackcherry, tapenade and some hints of cooked game. An equally smooth entry leads to a full bodied palate with fruit notes that follow the nose with more pepper, cherry and sweet spice. All carried by a high acidity, soft integrated tannins and leading to a long finish. You could give this a year or two, but a serious decant should be enough to make this wine delicious now.

When these become physically available we look forward to including them on Vinetrade.

Revisiting Bordeaux 2010 – UGC Tasting 12/11/12

Last Monday the great and good of the UK wine-trade and press descended upon the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to (re)taste the Bordeaux 2010 vintage.  With the wines now in bottle and no longer mutable cask samples,  this was an excellent tasting to get (re)acquainted with the vintage, and thankfully the 2010′s are coming along beautifully; an arduous tasting it was not.

The UGC Tasting was an excellent opportunity to see how the wines had developed from their enchantillon (cask) sample. Above Lynch Bages 2010 back in 2011, when it was still in this stage.

The UGC or Union Des Grands Crus de Bordeaux is a federation of the top Châteaux in Bordeaux. Established in 1973 by six pioneering Château owners to promote, not just their wines, but the great wines of Bordeaux. Today the Union has over 130 members/crus, both classified and unclassified, from all of the major appellations within Bordeaux, on both sides of the Gironde river; Medoc, Graves and Pessac-Leognan, Sauternes and Barsac, St Emilion and Pomerol. Whilst the top names, First Growths et al, of Bordeaux along with Châteaux Angélus, Calon Ségur, Cos d’Estournel, Ducru Beaucaillou, Evangile, Léoville Las Cases, Montrose, Palmer, Pavie and Vieux Château Certan were not on show on the day, there were all of the major representatives of the some of the best properties in Bordeaux.

As a vintage, 2010 is undoubtedly up there with the greats and whilst it has been said before, it is a vintage that easily ranks alongside 2005 and 2009 and will doubtless be hailed as one of the all time classics. One of the hallmarks of the year is it’s ripeness and concentration, something that cannot be overstated; even amongst the less storied Châteaux there was a sweetness of fruit and none of the austere bitterness or hollowness that you’ll find in the 2011. If ever you’re stuck on a wine-list, pick 2010 and you should not be disappointed. One criticism of the vintage, however,  that we heard on the day, was over-extraction; lean or “classic” are not the characteristics of the vintage. Certainly this is a vintage that is generous; full in ripeness, sweetness, acidity, body and tannins, although on Monday compared with tasting them from cask, the tannins were noticeably integrated and rarely aggressive.

From a collector/investor point of view, 2010 is definitely a vintage worth having, both in terms of quality and longevity.  However, the Borderlais themselves were well aware of this and so the wines are, to borrow a phrase from a well known lager, “reassuringly expensive”. Given the general price volatility that comes once the wines are physically available, we would advise waiting until the end of the delivery window, round about end of May, before jumping on this vintage, if you have yet to buy. As these wines become physically available we will add them to the Vinetrade list of wines and follow them with interest.

Of the 56 wines, that there was time enough to taste in, the stand-out Châteaux were:  Brane-Cantenac, Lynch Bages, Pichon Baron and La Conseillante; Pape Clement BlancChâteau Coutet and Château Suduiraut amongst the whites.

  • Brane CantenacShowing really well on the day, with a ripe nose of crème de mure and crushed earth hiding beneath the abundant black-currant and blueberry fruit. The palate has a really sweet entry, juicy acidity and a frankly delicious, medium weight body, with a flavour profile that follows the nose but finishes with liquorice and tannins skulking under the opulent fruit. Great stuff for the price.
  • Lynch BagesA highly intense, rich, dense blackberry nose; filled with sweet clove and peppercorn spice, rounded in smooth plum. A soft and light, but juicy entry on the palate leads to an almost bracingly high acidity that carries those same fruit characteristics on and on, through the concentrated mouthfeel and chewy tannins, that balance this cracking wine perfectly.
  • Pichon BaronThick and brooding, a veritable Bordeaux stew of ripe dark fruits including black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry and prunes, the layers of oak giving off dense but sweet spice. Despite the monstrous nose, the entry to the palate is supple, backed by firm acidity, wonderful, if slightly closed, flavour complexity and great overall balance. The flavours almost finished a bit short, but that is probably more down to it’s youth, than pedigree. A stellar wine that given time will undoubtedly be one of the greats of the vintage.
  • La ConseillanteNot as floral or perfumed as it was En Primeur, but still with great intensity; notes of vanilla, plum and blueberry, warm but not hot. The zingy acidity was what stood out on the palate on the day, but not overriding in its intensity. Integrated tannins lent wonderful balance to this delightfully pure wine. Certainly the best Pomerol on show.
  • Pape Clement Blanc2010 was not just a good vintage for the reds, the dry whites are undeniably gorgeous and Pape Clement Blanc is no exception: notes of lime, cream, marmalade and custard dominate the nose. In the mouth there’s an excellent citric attack with a intriguing bitter note on the mid palate, the finish is as equally zingy as the entry. Ready to drink now!
  • Suduiraut - A classic rich, Sauternes nose of honey, lemon juice, nail-polish, lanolin and toasted brioche. In a Greg Wallacean way, the first thought on the palate was just “Yum!” Unctuous and full, the mouth-feel is wonderfully balanced between the fresh acidity and the lingering sweetness. The flavour follows the nose on and on. Storming stuff.
  • CoutetHaving recently been fortunate enough to try several back vintages of Coutet, this was a really interesting one to try. The nose was quite intense with all the hallmarks of Coutet: honey, acacia blossom, lemon, some hints of botrytis. The palate was almost oily in its richness but with that classic “Coutet blade” of minerally acidity that cuts through the fat, effortlessly balanced and very rewarding.
Also worthy of consideration: Batailley, Figeac, Langao Barton, Leoville Poyferre, Maucaillou, Pichon Lalande and Rauzan Segla.
There were several Châteaux that we had high hopes for, but were either having a bad day or had closed down for the short term; that or it was a root-day

Focus On – Château Coutet

A fortnight ago, two of the Vinetrade team were lucky enough to be invited along to a wine dinner and tasting near Vinopolis in South London. It was hosted by 12× and led by the ever-accommodating Aline Baly, who very generously had brought along not one, but eight wines from Château Coutet. Needless to say they were delicious and whilst we were tempted to include them below, our “seven word wine reviews” just weren’t long enough to do the wines justice.

A selection of some of the better recent vintages of Château Coutet, as well as Cuvée Madame and Opalie.

A Short History of Château Coutet

For those who haven’t heard of Château Coutet before, it is one of several top Sauternes producing  Château in Bordeaux. Sauternes is the one of the most famous sweet wines in the world, vinified from white, rot-stricken, dehydrated, raisined grapes. The rot in question, is often referred to as Noble-Rot and is a result of the rather unique terroir in the Sauternes appellation. Around 25 miles south-east of the city of Bordeaux lies the river Ciron, a tributary of the Garonne, whose waters are several degrees cooler. Where the two rivers meet, the convergence causes Autumnal mists to form, creating the ideal conditions for the noble-rot (Botrytis Cinerea) to form on the grapes, which slowly desiccates them, concentrating the sugar and making for a much sweeter, richer must. This micro-climate, whilst not unique in the world, is restricted to just five communes in the Sauternes appellation, including Sauternes, Barsac, Preignac, Bommes and Fargues.

Château Coutet itself is regarded as one of the finest producers of Sauternes and was classified as a Premier Cru Classe in the 1855 Classification; rated as one of the top nine amongst twenty-one other properties in the Sauternes appellation, and it is one of two Premier Cru château in Barsac, the other being Château Climens. Today the château is owned and run by the Baly family, who purchased the property in 1977, but there is a storied history of wine production going back as far as the mid 17th century, with such historical footnotes as Thomas Jefferson noting that Château Coutet produced the best wines from Barsac.

The Property

Unlike it’s neighbour, Château Climens, down the road with 29 hectares, Château Coutet has a slightly larger vineyard holding of 38 hectares under vine and produces on average around 4500 cases of its top wine a year. All three  of the grape varieties, allowed by the Sauternes appellation rules, are planted; around three quarters Semillon, one quarter Sauvignon Blanc and a smattering of Muscadelle. The vines are located between the Garonne and the Ciron, south of the village of Barsac where the soil is predominately clay over limestone, ideal for these white grapes, and with an average age of around 38 years old per vine. The château building itself dates back to the 13th century and was constructed by the English as a citadel to dominate the surrounding land.

The Wines

Today the Château produces four wines and we were fortunate enough to try an example of each (bar the second wine). The word Coutet derives from the old Gascon word knife, and it is that cutting quality, the way that there’s depth and richness to the palate that is laced through with acidity, that is quintessentially “Coutet”. The four wines each share this characteristic:

The wines we tried were the delicious Opalie 2010, six recent vintages of Chateau Coutet including the underrated ’02, the warm ’04′, the soft  ’08, the distinguished ’97, the luscious  ’07 and raisined ’89, finishing with the 100% Semillon, stand-out Cuvée Madame 1995.