Bordeaux En Primeur 2011: Rating Bordeaux 2011 En Primeur

4 April 2012
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee

There will be a lot of varying opinions about the quality of this vintage. Some will tell you that it was a vignerons vintage – that those who knew what they were doing in the vineyard and winery made terrific wine. Others will tell you that it was a terroir vintage – where vineyards on great sites were able to withstand the months of drought and crazy weather made the best wines. Others will point to the age of the vines and explain that the older vines were able to source water and whatever was necessary from the depths of the soil during the mixture of warm, hot, rainy, humid and cool weather conditions, which never came at the optimal times in 2011. Some will point to their optical sorting machines or the extra people in the vineyard and the cellar, who were solely employed to eliminate less than perfect berries that contributed to ultimately quality. 


Depending on the producers, all of these reasons may be right. However, don’t believe the hype that 2011 was in any way a good year. If it had occurred thirty years ago when the understanding of ripeness was not as well understood and selection was less rigorous, this would have been a poor vintage. But we are in 2011 where we have managed to subvert mother nature, except perhaps when she descends upon us in the form of hail storms. Rain is much less of an issue and so is rot these days. But there is only so much that we can do to create concentration, depth, complexity and a balance, somehow still requiring the blessing of mother nature.
It was an average year in Bordeaux at best for most people and looking at the 300+ wines I tasted thus far in Bordeaux, my scores reflect this. I have always been a harsh grader and 90 points in my book means I would highly recommend it to my friends and family. We have gone too far in the world of wine reviewing and rating, liberally handing out 100 point wines as though it is easy to make perfect wines.
Perhaps it is the allure of having your ratings used more often by merchants and the wine trade that propels critics to give inflated scores. I have been requested, sometimes directly and sometimes not so directly, to ‘get with the program’ and give higher scores. “You will turn more people on to wine if you give more 100 points,” one wine merchant told me. “We would promote your ratings more if you were just a bit more generous,” another négociant said to me. 
Everyone has their own criteria when judging wines but for me, a 100 point wine doesn’t only tick all the right boxes. It moves me in a special way that makes time stand still; it can bring tears to my eyes or make me pause in stunned silence as if I am confronting beauty or truth for the first time. 100 point wines are not meant to be common; perfection is not meant to be found all the time, everyday. That is why they are special. 
In these young 2011 Bordeaux, I have not found a perfect 100 point wine thus far. However, I am open-minded and humble enough to realise that beauty can take time to surface, that wines change and evolve and what we can do as wine writers is only forecast what may be in the future. I believe in Sleeping Beauties.