The Masters of Wine (MW) bandwagon rolled through town on the weekend, with local students (not me) diving in for another round of intensive wine study.
Personally, I look on in admiration at anyone willing to subject themselves to the routine self-flagellation that is the MW program, as it really is the hardest qualification in the wine world. It’s an easier pursuit, perhaps, in London or New York (for example) where access to the classic wines of the world is better. But locally, 24 hours flying time from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo, it’s mighty hard work. Heck, the last Aussie male to pass (living locally at least) was David LeMire and that was nine years ago (though several Aussie females have passed since. Go girls)!
I’ll stick to finishing my Masters in Wine Technology and Viticulture methinks, and then wait until I’m feeling particularly masochistic before diving into the MW program.
Anyway, to finish this MW session the IMW again held a (very well run) public Bordeaux tasting at the ever-stunning Bennelong restaurant inside the Opera House (seen in the photo below from across the water), with the format following the pattern of previous years and focusing on a single Bordeaux vintage.
This time around it was 2011, a ‘challenging’ harvest borne off a year when all the seasons seemed ‘scrambled‘, producing wines that were infinitely more variable.
That was certainly the case at this tasting, where the reds – in particular – were very unpredictable indeed.
Despite all the negativity heaped on a harder vintage like 2011, it does makes for a more challenging tasting. The lack of uniformity from wine to wine means that contrasts are more stark, faults are more obvious, and the best makers really do rise to the surface. Intriguing, if not quite as much fun as a flattering vintage like 2010.
In fact, the only criticism I had was that the earlier MW scrum had hit all the classified growths hard, leaving us non-students to fight for tastes of the best wines. As a result, I worked much less wines this year, and had to retaste everything just to make sure I hadn’t missed a trick in a mad scramble for the last droplets of Cos.
That part was less fun.
The following notes then were something of a challenge to compile. I tried all the wines I scored more than once and changed my notes frequently, and no doubt there will be big discrepancies between different people’s favourite wines. But wading through top young Bordeaux is still interesting work, challenges aside, and I enjoyed plenty of wines in this lineup.
Notes are thus as written on the night and I marked hard – no doubt if I sat down with a bottle of one of these I’d probably rate some of them much higher. But the score at least gives perspective about where the wines sit against each other and how they taste now. There will be a followup to this post looking at the (delicious) sweet wines.
Chateau Haut-Bailly 2011
Leafy and just a bit thin. Some fruit sweetness but seems to show the mixed ripeness of the vintage. Awkward wine. 16.8/20, 88/100.
Chateau Brane-Cantenac 2011
Truffles and dark chocolate oak. Quite flattering and ripe. Maybe a bit oak dominant? Nice wine indeed. 17.8/20, 92/100+
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2011
Tight. Sexy oak. Very raw. Massive extract and power though. Warm finish. Such a beast of a wine! Undrinkable now. Important plus signs as unfun now. 17.8/20, 92/100+
Chateau Angelus 2011
Just a bit sappy. Nowhere near as OTT as last year. Maybe even elegant. Great tannins, without moving the earth. 17.5/20, 91/100+
Chateau Petit Village 2011
Sap and leaf. Crunchy acidity and a hint of capsicum. Even a bit sour. Middling, if long. Awkward finish. 16.5/20, 88/100
Chateau Clinet 2011
Very flattering and sexy. Lovely juiciness and a dark chocolate roundness. Really quite generous and Merlot forward. Pomerol love, with quality soft tannin. I liked this muchly, even if its a bit soft. 18/20, 93/100.
Chateau Calon-Segur 2011
Really seems propped up by oak. Awkward acidity, but palate still flows reasonably well, if weedy finish. 17.5/20, 91/100.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2011
Densely packed nose – real Cabernet, complete with hedgerow and even red fruit. Big impact but such a baby. Maybe a little lean and green on the back? Certainly power though and builds and builds. You’ll need patience though. Quality. 18.5/20, 94/100.
Chateau Montrose 2011
Really quite complete and graceful. Lovely tannins, nothing forced, no alcohol excess and smart wine on the leafy side without looking unripe. I’ll have this – it’s delicious. 18.7/20, 95/100
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases 2011
Really closed. Framed by alcohol, it’s dark and quite sullen, a black wine and with a very serious future ahead. 18.5/20, 94/100+
Chateau Pontet-Canet 2011
Cooked meat and a little capsicum. Lithe and alive if a meatier and more forward wine this vintage. Indeed it’s quite generous and soft. Lovely juicy flavours, if a bit meaty and warm to finish. 18/20, 93/100.
Chateau Lynch-Bages 2011
It sneaks up on you this. Very much a luncheon claret, but a ripe one, initially quite gentle but then gets blacker. Richer and more plump as the palate builds. Sure it’s chunky, but this is still refreshing, even and quite delicious in a very different style. 18/20, 93/100
Chateau Leoville Barton 2011
Curious olive oil note. Drying tannins and feels quite classy. Even and strong. You can smell a little herb and tannins are just a little lean. But the finish is strong and proud, if leafy. Smells and tastes quite different in this lineup – less convincing. 17.8/20, 92/100
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2011
Bacon bit. Definitely forward and soft and generous. It’s even quite round. Luscious texture. Really glossy and pleasurable. Top class and feels it. Maybe a little soft? Awfully pleasurable. 18.7/20, 95/100.