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Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - A Comparative Tasting of 2011 and 2013

By Xavier Auerbach 

On 7 March 2016, I attended the evening session of the Amsterdam UGC tasting this year, which featured wines from both the 2013 and 2011 vintages. Below you will find my notes on the wines I tasted. There was little time, there were many friends and discussions were lively. By consequence, I have only some 40 notes and they are relatively brief. The overall picture that emerged, is clear however.

The 2013 vintage is indisputably a difficult one, in which very careful selection and sensitive wine making were required, but the best wines turn the lack of power and weight into feminine charm. With their light structure they will provide lovely drinking from now until eight to ten years after the vintage. The right bank fared best with its earlier ripening Merlot, but there clearly are successes to report on the left bank too.

The 2011 vintage by comparison displays much more structure and depth of fruit than 2013, but few wines escape the tell-tale dryness in the tannins and austerity on the finish. Many wines still need a few years to soften, but obviously bottle-age is no cure for unripe tannins. In both vintages, caveat emptor is the motto, as they are by no means successful across the board.

For Sauternes and Barsac, both 2011 and 2013 seem to be good to very good vintages. Of these two, 2013 is perhaps more variable, but capable of delivering real elegance and grace. In contrast, 2011 looks a little more solid and sturdy and a few wines will need some time to find their feet.

After the tasting, some 35 of us gathered for an informal Winemakers' Dinner at Café De Klepel, hosted by David Bolomey (Bolomy Wijnimport) and Xavier Kat (Wijnkoperij Okhuysen). It was attended by Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier), Alexander van Beek (Château Giscours and Château Du Tertre) and Nicolas Thienpont (Château Pavie-Macquin, among others). I also include my notes on the wines, which had been graciously provided by the Châteaux.


White Graves / Pessac-Léognan

2013 Château de Chantegrive - 88
Rounded, supple, lemon and grapefruit, light but complete, a lovely wine to drink young.

2013 Domaine de Chevalier - 93
Power and precision, finesse and balance, needs a few years. Stands head and shoulders above the rest.

2013 Château de Fieuzal - 90
A solid wine, but much coarser than the Domaine de Chevalier 2013, a bit one-dimensional, vegetal, slightly underwhelming.

2011 Château de Fieuzal - 91
More finesse than the 2013, good expression and well-judged oak.

2013 Château Smith Haut Lafitte - 92
Rounded and ripe style, spicy oak, quite powerful in the context of the vintage, needs time to integrate.

2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte - 91
Lots of spicy oak - does it lack the weight and ripe fruit to counter the onslaught of the wood?

Right Bank

2013 Château Canon - 87
Thin and drying. Weedy, but there is some nice fruit. Not one I would recommend - a fine expression of the difficulties of the 2013 vintage.

2011 Château Canon - 90
Much more depth than the 2013 that preceded it, ripe cherry fruit, lovely hint of oak, drying finish. Should turn out all right.

2013 Château La Gafflière - 90
Ripe fruit, light structure but considerable charm and style, nice oak spice and decent length. Embraces the delicacy of the vintage to good effect.

2013 Château Larcis-Ducasse - 90
Good presence, truffle, ripe fruit (slightly overripe perhaps?), quite a firm tannic structure. Ambitious.

2011 Château Larcis-Ducasse - 91
Powerful, tannic, structured, drying finish but the fruit is ripe. Very typical for the vintage and the style of wine making.

2013 Château Pavie-Macquin - 91
A very serious 2013, ripe and velvety in the context of the vintage, quite deep and rich.

2011 Château Pavie-Macquin - 92
Very complete, ripe fruit, rich and spicy, full-bodied, harmonious, tannic, with the hint of austerity on the finish that is so typical for the 2011 vintage,

2013 Château La Conseillante - 92
Above-average weight and complexity, still a bit closed and needs time to settle, but the balance a structural components are all present and correct.

2011 Château La Conseillante - 92
Wonderful typicity, perfectly judged concentration and extraction, slightly drying finish.

2013 Château Clinet - 91
Good richness and ripeness in the context of the vintage, plump almost and certainly juicy. A fine 2013.

Left Bank

2013 Château Cantenac-Brown - 91
Polished and elegant, light style and structure, but lovely fruit and ditto oak.

2013 Château Lascombes - 91
Ripe fruit, elegant and balanced, spicy oak, good length. A very good 2013.

2011 Château Lascombes - 92
Recognisable Lascombes style, more depth than the 2013, hints of menthol and fresh red meat, very good length.

2013 Château Branaire-Ducru - 92
Elegant but tight, harmonious, subtle layers, great finesse. One of the stars of the left bank in 2013.

2011 Château Branaire-Ducru - 91
Powerful and serious but perhaps without the finesse of the 2013. Quite tannic and drying.

2013 Château Langoa Barton - 91
Classical style, light and juicy but does not lack structure, elegant and well-balanced. Lovely, but drink in the first 10-12 years of its life.

2011 Château Langoa Barton - 91
Classic, masculine, tannic, slightly dry finish. Needs time but will age well.

2013 Château Léoville-Barton - 92
Really well done, an excellent 2013, the kinship with the Langoa is evident, classical style, good fruit. Very much in sync with the vintage.

2011 Château Léoville-Barton - 90
Very dry, very structured but little in the way of fruit. Austere. I am not a fan - I prefer the Langoa in this vintage.

2013 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion - 89
Light but lovely, gentle and refined, very feminine and elegant.

2011 Château Larrivet Haut-Brion - 91
Predictably, this has more depth and weight than the almost ephemeral 2013 and more spicy oak too; avoids any austerity or dryness in the tannins, really lovely.

2013 Domaine de Chevalier - 91
Ripe fruit and elegance, quite tannic and a bit drying, but there are layers of floral finesse.

2013 Château du Tertre - 89
Very floral, light and Burgundian, almost Pinot Noir in character, juicy, very elegant, just a hint of pepper.

2011 Château du Tertre - 91
Much more depth than the very light 2013, spicy and with good fruit, no dryness on the finish, delicious.

2013 Château Giscours - 90
Lovely Giscours typicity, restrained wine making, perfectly judged tannins, very good balance.

2011 Château Giscours - 91
Sturdy, masculine, slightly medicinal, hint of cream, well put together.

Sauternes / Barsac

2013 Château Doisy-Védrines - 93
Très belle réussite, fresh, excellent rôti, balanced and elegant, complete and pure, subtle warmth from the oak, energetic and refined.

2011 Château Doisy-Védrines - 92
More heft and weight than the very gracious 2013, rich yet elegant, tropical fruit, good bitters.

2013 Château Guiraud - 91
Rich and tropical, resinous oak, intense and concentrated but not yet harmonious. Not really my style.

2011 Château Guiraud - 91
Powerful and rich, deep and complete but lacks elegance and finesse.

2013 Château Rayne-Vigneau - 92
A wonderful Sauternes, very pure and elegant, has weight and poise, cream and honey.

2013 Château Sigalas-Rabaud - 90
Good weight, rich and velvety, but actually neither very powerful nor very refined.

2013 Château de Fargues - 87
Rich and tropical, very resinous oak, hot and disjointed, woody.

2011 Château de Fargues - 88
Made for power in a vintage that allows this approach better than 2013, but the lack of finesse is palatable.

Winemakers' Dinner

2001 Château du Tertre - 92
Magnum. This is such a wonderful vintage for Du Tertre - what a pity that it took almost a decade to come my way again. It is fully mature now, with lovely tertiary development and complexity, whilst retaining its elegant and fresh core. Lovely flavours and length.

2004 Château Pavie-Macquin - 91
Magnum. Lovely evolution, good depth and balance, slighly drying Cabernet Franc, spicy and rich.

2001 Domaine de Chevalier - 93
Magnum. Wonderfully lively and balanced, energetic, cool, spicy, ripe and fresh, medium weight, powerful and elegant, long. Excellent. Classic Claret.

2001 Château Léoville-Poyferré - 92
Magnum. Perfectly mature Poyferré, with its characteristic generosity, amazing fruit, balance and structure, vegetal notes, gentle, vital, bright.

2001 Château Giscours - 92
Magnum. Almost twelve years since I last tasted this and it has developed very well. In 2004 it was outshone by the youthful energy and greater weight of the more powerful 2000, but after fifteen years it has attained a finesse and balance all of its own. Elegant, with nothing lacking.

Posted 15-03-2016


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