Though 2011 is by no means a poor vintage, the red wines of Bordeaux are simply not good enough to warrant purchasing as futures. Most wines have less depth of fruit than usual and they are often excessively tannic. (On the other hand, 2011 is an outstanding year for the region’s dry white wines and even better for Sauternes). Overall, the 2011 reds are deeper and more complex than the 2007s but not as good as the 2008s, and of course they are nowhere near the quality of the wonderfully fleshy and satisfying 2009s.
That said, there were still some very good to outstanding wines made in 2011, as both viticultural and winemaking techniques have vastly improved over the last 25 years. Vintage conditions that might have been a disaster for Bordeaux back in the ’80s produce more than a few very good wines nowadays. And since most estates reduced their prices significantly for the 2011s, there will be many good buys once these wines start arriving in the marketplace next year. Price cuts range from over 50% for the first growths to a solid 30% for a majority of other wines. For example, the price of the 2011 Château Pontet-Canet is down 34% from the 2010 level, and prices for Lynch-Bages and Angélus show similar decreases. While this vintage will never achieve “collectible” status, it may well make sense to latch onto a number of very solid, well-made wines that will be much more affordable than they have been in recent years.
From Pauillac in the northern Médoc, it will be hard to beat Château Pontet-Canet, the most expensive wine I’ll recommend in this article. This estate has been on a roll of late, and their 2011 is a major success. It’s a blackberry fruit cocktail for adults, with very supple tannins. If you splurge on just one wine in 2011, this may be the one. Also from Pauillac is the less famous but very successful Château Haut Bages Libéral, more austere and classic ripe cassis aromas and flavors complicated by cedar, mineral and herbal nuances.
In Saint-Julien, Château Langoa-Barton is essentially at the same level as its more famous and expensive sibling, Léoville-Barton. Langoa’s telltale aromatic nose is present again in 2011, and its rich, fleshy, almost sweet red berry and cassis flavors last and last. Also owned by Anthony Barton is Château Mauvesin-Barton, in Moulis (with a small portion of its vines technically in the Haut-Médoc). This virtually unknown estate (2011 was Barton’s first vintage as his family only purchased the property in August of that year) was one of my real discoveries of 2011. The wine is an absolute knockout for its price, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to its more famous stablemates.
Another less than famous name but always a sure bet is Château Grand-Villages, made by the owners of the famed Pomerol property Château Lafleur. Clearly, this Bordeaux Supérieur, from a site near Fronsac on the Right Bank, plays at a lower level, but its rich cassis, coffee and floral notes linger nicely and there’s a creamy sweetness and depth to the wine that is uncommon in 2011, especially at this price point.
The single best wine buy of all in 2011 is the amazing Château Roc de Cambes, from the Côtes de Bourg, the “other” wine made by François Mitjaville, who also owns Le Tertre-Rôteboeuf in Saint-Emilion. I can’t even begin to describe this wine’s mesmerizing aromas and flavors of ripe plum, sweet coffee, milk chocolate and aromatic herbs. Simply put, it’s one of the top 20 or so wines of the vintage and will be by far the most immediately enjoyable.
In Saint-Emilion, Château Larcis-Ducasse is as good as it always is, with very pure mineral and floral aromas and flovors that are deep and persistent. Château Saintayme, made by the talented Denis Durantou, owner of the cult Pomerol L’Eglise-Clinet, is another winner that won’t cost an arm and a leg. I’m willing to bet that its ripe, creamy fruit and soft tannins will give it widespread appeal. Also in Saint-Emilion, Château La Serre, which sometimes makes thick, monolithic wines that could use more refinement, has produced a 2011 with an enticing creamy texture and very good depth of flavor.
Finally, in Pomerol, Château Lafleur-Gazin made one of its best wines in memory, with a lovely violet quality complicating rich, suave aromas and flavors of cassis and minerally dark plum.