There’s nothing like a week in Bordeaux if you need your cynicism topped up. I rarely need this, indeed I need frequent trips to Burgundy to do the opposite – like blood pressure medication – and after a week tasting 2011s and, more relevantly, listening to chateau proprietors and managers trying to sell them, I might just make an appointment with the doctor.
In Bordeaux, 2011 was a very, very difficult vintage in which to make good wine and there is a fair share of unexciting, hollow, astringent and overly tannic tosh, tosh which is only matched by the spin of the management. But there are some rather good wines, wines that, if you tasted them at six months old a couple of decades ago, would have been deemed to be potentially brilliant. It is easy to forget that the last two vintages that we have tasted at this stage have been of stellar quality, and that we have been spoiled.
The merchants have for the most part published their notes and, whilst they are in the business of selling it, some are more honest than you might think (though some merchants do appear to have been tasting a different vintage). The critics will follow – some already have – and Big Bob will publish at the end of the month. The established critics, journalists – whatever you want to call them – have varying degrees of competence at this barrel sample lark, though I’d put the case that there will be some confluence of opinion, perhaps more than usual, because in a tricky vintage the winners are easier to call. And what I also think will become clear is this: the guys (or girls) that know how to make good wine have made good wine. It’s almost Burgundian.
Looking back through my notes, there are clearly twenty or thirty wines that I genuinely liked and/or considered to have some quality to them (the two things are not the same). Indeed there is a handful of wines that are outstanding, particularly if you believe that a good wine is a translation of the vintage and the terroir of a particular vineyard. Possibly controversial example number one is Cos d’Estournel.
Just yesterday, one of the better-known and more ebullient members of the UK trade said to me: “it tastes more like Barossa Shiraz than Bordeaux”. Or at least he said something similar. Indeed detractors of modern Cos say: “it doesn’t taste like St Estephe”. My retort is this: no, maybe Cos doesn’t taste like St Estephe any more; Cos tastes of Cos.
Jean-Guillaume Prats has a Star Wars winery at his disposal; possibly/probably the most advanced in the world, and certainly the most advanced in Bordeaux (though the new one at Cheval Blanc is competition). He also has a very large chequebook at his disposal so if he needs to hire 500 pickers at the drop of the hat he can do so. He can vinify each parcel of the vineyard separately in its own tailor made stainless steel cuve (they’re concrete at Cheval Blanc and you sort of get the feeling that this may be on aesthetic grounds). He can afford to discard half the crop.
His aim with all this is precision – to quote him: “laser sharp”. You can’t make great wine from rubbish grapes but you can (a) discard the dross (b) pick at exactly the right time (given the circumstances) and (c) use the best possible equipment to do the rest. Some might say engineering; I like the comparison of surgery – you want a doctor with sharp knives and clean hands.
2011 Cos d’Estournel will divide, and I am intrigued as to what Mr Parker makes of it but, whilst it doesn’t necessarily taste of Bordeaux, nor St Estephe, it does taste of Cos. Not a miracle of winemaking – God does the miracle – but a testament to what we can do down here with what he gives us.
I wrote this last night. Cos released this morning and, after a few shenanigans, comes in at £1,200 per dozen. My note in its purest form is below. FWIII means “fine for what it is” on the Cos Blanc.