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Whether by design or by pure chance, there are in the world exceptional places. Cheval Blanc is one of these. Combining a unique soil with a symbiotic mix of grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Cheval Blanc produces a wine, which has the rare quality of being good at any age. It is without doubt one of the most consistent wines in the world. Cheval Blanc's unique identity is due to its varied soils, early-ripening microclimate, the percentage of Cabernet Franc in the vineyard, and the close proximity of the finest wines of Pomerol.
Château Cheval Blanc has the rare ability to be good at whatever age. It is enjoyable young or as much as a century old in certain vintages. However, a great wine only reveals its full potential and all its subtle nuances after several years in bottle. It takes time to show its true colours and before reaching its peak. Every vintage of Cheval Blanc is made according to the traditional philosophy that great wine needs to age.
It should nevertheless be said that wines with ageing potential go through several periods, and that each one has its own type of attractiveness. This is all part of Château Cheval Blanc's fascinating complexity. Three different bottles of Cheval Blanc from the same vintage drunk at five, twenty, and forty years of age will each show a different facet of the same wine, variations on the same lovely theme. A bottle of fine wine meant to age is like a library of flavours that develop throughout its existence.
Wine is a "cultural" beverage that is very much alive and develops countless nuances over time. That is why this long waiting period needs to be respected. It is crucial to the wine's evolution, so that it can deliver its very best.
2011 Cheval Blanc – From 52% Cabernet Franc and 48% Merlot, the wine will be aged in 100% new oak. The wine reached 13% alcohol and represents 65% of the harvest. This is a fresh, refined, elegant style of Cheval Blanc that offers soft, ripe, pure, fresh black and white cherries, floral, spice, truffle, smoke and earthy aromas along with supple textures. While refined and polished, 2011 Cheval Blanc lacks the depth of 2009 and 2010.
The vegetation period lasting from 1st April to 3rd September was warm and dry, in particular in April, May and June. On 26 and 27 June for example, temperatures reached 37.8°C. This very hot, sunny weather caused a few incidents of heat damage. July was cool, with average rainfall, while August was quite hot with higher than average rainfall (78mm against the norm of 64mm). The exceptionally hot, dry September allowed us to pick the grapes in optimum conditions. The budburst came fairly early: 26 March for the Merlot and 29 March for the Cabernet Franc. Flowering occurred extremely early, on 12 May for the Merlot and 17 May for the Cabernet Franc, due to the very high temperatures in April andMay.Mid-veraison was observed on 17 July for the Merlot and 24 July for the Cabernet Franc. This was the earliest ever recorded at Cheval Blanc.
The cool month of July and the rainy August resulted in a fairly slow, gradual ripening process. So while the harvesting dates were quite early they were less so than in 1997 and 2003. The excellent weather conditions in September allowed the grapes to attain optimum ripeness on each plot.We were thus able to stagger the harvesting over more than three weeks, from 6 to 28 September. The early drought caused a halt in the growth of the earliest branches on the gravel plots between end June and mid-July. On the clay soils growth stopped at the end of July. The rainy month of August maintained growth on the sandy soils through to mid-September. The pressure of vine disease such as mildew was extremely low until July, picking up slightly at the end of the season due to the August rainfall. The vines opened out generously and most of the plots required thinning. The final yield was slightly higher than the ten-year average.
The weight of the ripe grapes was slightly below average. This is a concentration factor which varies greatly from one soil type to the next. Sugar contents at ripeness were lower than the average over the period 2004-2011 for the Merlot. An almost unheard-of event occurred: the Cabernet Franc grapes had higher sugar content at ripeness than the Merlot. The Cabernet Franc is a laterripening variety than the Merlot and this year was able to make the most of the highly favourable conditions in September. Ph levels were relatively low in the Merlot and higher in the Cabernet Franc. Malic acid content was low in both varieties, indicating very good ripeness. On the gravel and clay soils, the grapes were richer in phenolic compounds than the average over the period 2004-2011, which is logical given the low weight of the grapes. On the sandy soils the values were close to the long-term average.
But we were below the record values of 2010. Several factors contributed to the quality of the 2011 vintage. The hot weather led to early yet complete ripening of the grapes. The water stress brought early growth to a halt and limited the size of the grapes on soils with low or medium water reserves (gravel and clay). The August rains penalised the vintage’s potential slightly, particularly on the sandy soils where the vines were not yet in a situation of water stress. The later-ripening Cabernet Franc suffered less in August and was able to reach its full potential in the beautiful September weather. The exceptional event was the fact that the Cabernet Franc grapes were sweeter, less acidic and had lesstotal phenolic compounds than the Merlot.
2011 Le Petit Cheval – With a large portion of Merlot at 75% and 25% Cabernet Franc, the wine opens to truffle, caramel and black cherry. Medium-bodied, with some dryness in the finish, the wine ends with black raspberry sensations.
Compleate Bordeaux 2011 Vintage Report: 2011 is a dangerous vintage
“2011 is a dangerous vintage. We lived through draught, rain and a lot of sun, all in that order. The draught did not impact our vineyard very much, because we have different terroirs. With each terroir, we performed specific work in the vineyards and we were lucky in our choices. The entire Right Bank of Bordeaux seems to be a success so far and yes, this includes not just St. Emilion, but Pomerol as well. From my recent tastings, 2011 Bordeaux seems to be a mix of two Bordeaux vintages; 2007 for the smoothness and 2009 for the maturity and sucrosité” says Jean Luc Thunevin.
In 1989, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud bought a small 0.6 hectare plot of vines with the dream of making great St. Emilion wine! The name of the estate is personal. Valandraud is a combination of its location and something more meaningful. The Val comes from Vallon de Fongaban. The second part, Andraud is Murielle’s maiden name.
Things have changed at the estate since its birth. With more land and more importantly, the Bordeaux wine of Valandraud is made entirely by Murielle. 2007 was the first vintage that allowed Murielle to call the shots for the wine making. This was a good move.
2009 Valandraud and 2010 Valandraud are two of the finest efforts from this unique, Bordeaux wine producer. The current 2011 vintage marks the 20th vintage for Valandraud as their first effort was the 1991 Valandraud.
Jean-Luc Thunevin: “We waited patiently, waited for our grapes to reach the right concentration before harvesting. We started on September 7 and managed to finish October 13. This is about two weeks earlier than usual. We normally start about September 20.
2011 Bordeaux is about sorting, sorting and more sorting. We sorted in the vineyards and in the cellars. Since the 2007 vintage, we have been using the Tribaie sorting machine, which allows helps us remove more of the bad grapes based on levels of sugar concentration in the berries. The machine performs densimetric sorting which is based on the desired levels of ripeness and sugar levels”.
The earliest harvest on record since 1893
Chateau Lafite Rothschild started to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon in their northern most parcels, located not far from Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Friday, September 2. 2011. This is on one of the earliest harvests on record for the property. You’ll be reading quotes from many Bordeaux wine producers that 2011 Bordeaux, for many chateaux will be their earliest harvest on record since 1893! However, growers situated in some parts of Bordeaux have moved up their time tables are harvesting even earlier than they previously expected.
Due to the massive, freak, hail and rain in barrage the Northern Medoc, centered near the Pauillac , St. Estephe border, to avoid possible problems with the onset rot, many chateau in that vicinity have decided to start picking earlier than they had originally planned on. The most notable property is the famed First Growth, Chateau Lafite Rothschild. It is possible that the storm, which dropped over a massive, half inch of rain in a twenty minute period caused some flooding to the cellars of Lafite Rothschild.
“With our 2011 harvest, we harvested earlier because the growing of the vines was earlier than usual, due to the very hot spring. But the weather conditions of maturation in summer were fresh and cool, so the wine is of a cooler style than a late vintage. The nice weather conditions at the end of August and September were very good for phenolic ripeness”. Fabien Teitgen from Château Smith haut Lafitte.
The 2011 vintage is not simple to handle.
Smith Haut Lafitte is not only making great white and red Bordeaux wine in Pessac Leognan, they are at the forefront with technology as well. They were one of first Bordeaux wine producers to begin using Optical Sorting, which came in handy with the difficult 2011 Bordeaux harvest. Fabien Teitgen, the long-time managing director joined us for a long, detailed conversation on what took place at Smith Haut Lafitte for the 2011 Bordeaux vintage.
“To my mind, 2011 is balanced with low pH and medium alcohol. So for those who picked at the right time, their wines will be balanced, with a good concentration and a good freshness. This vintage is not so simple to handle.”
Chateau Cos d’Estournel, St. Estephe, started their 2011 Bordeaux harvest, Monday, September 5.
Jean Guillaume Prats told us, 2011 set a modern day record for an early start to their harvest at Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He added, “This was the estates second earliest harvest on record. To find an earlier date, we needed to back to 1893!” While the specific date to start picking was not set in stone, the original plan was not to begin their Bordeaux harvest on September 5. But due to a ferocious storm that swept through the area, 2011 Bordeaux Harvest Massive Storm Slams the Northern Medoc, any hope of waiting went out the window. “We initially planned to start about September 9, with the young vines. After the storm, we gave ourselves the time over the weekend to assess the situation and make the appropriate decision: Waiting and see how it will develop in the days to come depending on weather. We are “lucky” this vintage is extremely early. The damages in terms of phenolic ripeness of the grapes should be very minor. If this was a later year, like 2008, 2009, or 2010, the effects would be much worse.
The day starts before the sun rises
Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion started harvesting their young vine Merlot, August 29. This is early for the First Growth estate. To give you an idea of how early, in 2010, Haut Brion started to pick their young Merlot vines, September 8. In that vintage, harvesting continued until October 9.
Between the two Pessac Leognan properties, with red and white grapes to pick, they have a busy schedule. The harvesters begin their day working on the grapes for their Bordeaux white wine, often starting their day before the sun rises.
Jean-Philippe Delmas explains why they harvest in the early morning: “The purpose of picking the white grapes early in the morning is to ensure the fruit remains cool. This helps the berries to retain their unique, fresh aromas. This year, we picked our white grapes between 7am and noon. The reason is, by that time of day, the skins are dry. None of the dew from the night is remaining.”
Since Patrick Maroteaux purchased Chateau Branaire Ducru in 1988, he has been on a mission to produce the best wine possible from this Fourth Growth estate. While 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009 are all potential candidates for the best wine yet from Branaire Ducru, I’m willing to place a bet the 2010 turns out to be his strongest wine yet. What about 2011 Branaire? Where does the most recent vintage stand? Patrick Maroteaux fills us in. “We will produce a rather powerful and colorful vintage due to the low ratio between the juice and the skin. So far the tannins seem rather approachable and elegant. The complexity of the structure will probably not be at the same level as the 2009 and 2010 vintages. We can position the 2011 vintage in the category of the very serious wines. We now know for sure that this vintage will show a very interesting balance”.