Lost ‘n’ found

Drinks: Wines
Location: Bordeaux, Europe, France
The River Café’s Emily O’Hare on Bordeaux en primeur 2011:

Last year I got very lost at the en primeur 2010 tasting. I got lost amongst the Pauillacs and Margauxs. I got lost between the Right Bank and the Left Bank, I worried I’d somehow managed to leave France altogether. I’d heard about THIS vintage (2010), the one that followed THAT vintage (2009). And I was excited at the prospect of tasting what many declared perfect. And perfect they were. Deep, opaque, glossy reds, flexing their firm tannins and pouting plump, plummy lips, trying to catch their own reflection inside their glass bottles.

But to me, they had no sense of place, and Bordeaux is all about that isnt it? In all the books writers tell of the sturdiness of Saint-Estèphe and the power of Pauillac, the austerity of the left bank, the generosity of the right. But everything in 2010 seemed to me to taste the same. Perhaps I’m a bit anti because I do like a bad vintage. Vintages where good sites sing, where winemakers prove their worth and wines seem to get a whole lot more fun. In bad vintages the good wines are so transparently good, so rich in character despite their poor beginnings. And the bad ones are so, so bad. I don’t mind the odd nightmare wine. Those with the terrifying tannins as bristly as a skinhead’s head, as tightly laced as his boots. Or those poor boney things, with acid that juts out and into the gums, moving through the mouth as painfully as a gaunt model along a catwalk, all elbows and hipbones and heels. They help you sit up straight when a good’un comes along. And so it was at the Bordeaux ’11’s – FUN. The wines performed they didn’t just sit, admiring their biceps in bottle.

First up Sociando Mallet – Haut-Médoc. It was uber fresh – you get a sense that the sea is not so far away. It was crunchy too. I really rather love a bit of crunch when it comes to Cab. High tannin, high acid and very purpley red fruit. It was lively and bright and I would drink it for lunch today if I had a bottle. I know you can’t drink these wines now, but if I could I would. It’s wrong, they’re too young, but with a plate of chops? Heaven.

Except it aint cheap. £20 a bottle. I don’t normally go up to £20 for lunchtime reds.

Moving around the tables and into Margaux, to Brane Cantenac. This wine was black, with more pronounced oak than the Sociando Mallet. But it didn’t obscure or overwhelm the fruit. With a swirl, the fruit snaked out of the glass. It was charming – sweet and ripe – and I preferred it to the 2008 that was also on show. Only a few wines in and I had made up my mind. I really like 2011.

Du Tertre, also Margaux, was fun, the colour of candy canes, jubilant berry, even morello cherry fruit. Not sure ‘fun’ is the correct word to define this wine. But I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it like that either. I didn’t find it terribly complex. Good depth of flavour, but it’s conversation wouldn’t keep me up all night as previous vintages from this château have.

The Margaux 2011s felt vibrant and vital (for the short term anyway). I held my breathe and wondered how the reds from Pauillac might display their famed masculinity? Not quite as I had expected. Both Pontet Canet and Lynch Bages had more weight and intensity than the Margauxs but they still felt deft and light on their feet. More intense on impact, more Astaire than Nureyev. They tap danced across my tongue. It was blissful.

Running short on time (I’d just left lunch service to catch the last couple of hours of tasting), I hurried over to Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. The difference in concentration between the wines from Left and Right Bank made me smile with relief. I wasn’t lost in the 2011’s: all the wines I tried had such definition, had something to say about where they were from and the vintage they’d seen. These wines from Figeac, Angélus and Rouget and La Conseillante were full on. My notes went wild in Saint-Émilion. The Figeac was the colour of tarantula’s legs, with aromas and flavours of black tea and expensive cocoa, rich and intense but with this wonderfully long and cool spearminty finish. Angélus was a real femme fatale, smelling sweet and smokey, all red lips and fingertips and vogue cigarettes. Château Rouget was super spicy, fruit cakey rich – it bellowed it’s Right Bank status. It was interesting to compare with La Conseillante which had similar concentration but felt more restrained, lifted, the fruit felt cooler, a little fresher.

In Sauternes I enjoyed the Guiraud, particularly the finish, the wine somehow became more interesting once it had been swallowed. My last wine was the Suduiraut. And I was lost again. This time far away. Somewhere in Greece, pastry in hand with pistachios and honey sticking to my fingers.

For me, Bordeaux 2011 looks super. Super because the wines are supple and drinkable, transparent and honest. I appreciate the wines do not have the complexity of those ’09’s and ’10’s and may not challenge the drinker like those previous two vintages will do in however many decades’ time. But they’re still delicious, and I left that tasting feeling happy and refreshed and found.

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