En primeur’s last gasp?6th June, 2012 by Lucy Shaw - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2
Unpredictable weather, pricing issues and a high profile defection from the system might sound the death knell for en primeur, writes Lucy Shaw
2011 will be a memorable vintage in Bordeaux.
Not because of the quality of the wine – it is undeniably in the shadow of the near-perfect 2009 and 2010, but because of the issue of pricing, coupled with Latour’s exit from the en primeur system and the questions this poses about the future of wine futures. Heading into the 2011 campaign, wine writer Anthony Rose declared he was boycotting is annual visit to Bordeaux, accusing the en primeur system of being “in danger of losing its relevance.”
Weatherwise, 2011 was an erratic year. Early bud break at the end of March was followed by the second hottest April on record since 1900. A hot, dry May then brought about an early flowering, though drought conditions were exacerbated by a heat spike in June. Heavy rains swept through the region in July and August, causing a threat of rot, but a fine September improved the quality of the low-yielding harvest – one of the earliest on record.
Those producers who were willing to ruthlessly discard unripe grapes were able to make good wine.
Robert Parker describes 2011 as “very rewarding to those who got it right,” though a hard vintage to get “emotionally pumped” over.
Continually referred to as a “classic” vintage during primeurs week, the wines were generally fresh, bright, perfumed and aromatic with good acidity. Though less concentrated in flavour compared to 2009 and 2010, they are by no means under-ripe, but lower alcohol levels mean they are less voluptuous in the mouth than both 2009 and 2010.
Though not a vintage for long-term cellaring, most of the wines can age, and as with 2001, many of the wines will start drinking well in five to 10 years. On the Left Bank, St Julien and Pauillac were singled out as having made particularly attractive wines, while Margaux proved variable, along with Graves, Pessac Leognan, and a hail-struck St Estèphe.
On the Right Bank meanwhile, Pomerol outshone St Emilion, where overextraction was a problem, though Ausone picked up the highest provisional Parker rating in the entire Bordeaux region with a potentially perfect 96-100 point score.
The big talking point of the vintage however, was the quality of Sauternes. Morning mists in September followed by 30-degree heat for several days created a burst of noble rot.
“In 40 years of making wine in the region, I have only seen this phenomenon twice, in 2009 and 2011,” said renowned viticulturist Denis Dubourdieu. The resulting sweet wines have wonderful freshness and acidity coupled with complexity, concentration and depth – Parker justifiably gave Château d’Yquem a provisional score of 96-98 points.