During my annual tour of the best white wine addresses in Burgundy at the end of May, the producers I tasted with were eager to present their attractive, easygoing 2011s but were concerned about how the vintage would be viewed by the market. They were unsure of whether they could maintain the high prices they charged for the superb 2010s.
Their concern is understandable: after all, it's Bordeaux that produces the world's most important collectible wines and gets the lion's share of early media hype for every new vintage. The thousands of merchants and journalists who attend the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux the spring after the vintage shape the mass market's early perception of each new vintage in France. An early thumbs-up can result in higher prices and stronger sales for producers all over France; by the same token, a negative assessment of Bordeaux can cast a shadow over the other wine regions of France.
Most of the wine world, it seems, views French wine through claret-colored glasses.
The immediate problem for Burgundy and the rest of France is that 2011 was a tricky vintage of highly uneven quality for the red wines of Bordeaux. But the primacy of Bordeaux often does a disservice to other French wine regions. After all, there are often important climatic differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy, even if the two regions are just a few hundred miles apart as the crow flies. Bordeaux is distinctly temperate and Atlantic-influenced, while Burgundy, the northern Rhone Valley and Alsace, for example, are more continental and often more extreme. The grape varieties planted in these areas have dissimilar ripening curves, and different growing regions can also experience critical divergences in weather conditions during the key flowering and harvesting periods.
There are years when the two regions are mostly in sync in terms of both quality and style, as in the outstanding 1990 and 2005 vintages, but in most vintages one or the other area holds a distinct advantage. For example, Bordeaux clearly outperformed Burgundy in the watershed 1982 vintage, and again in 2000; the region also held an edge in '94, '96, and '06. But in many vintages, especially in cooler growing seasons, Burgundy has produced wines of considerable interest to long-time collectors who prize complexity and freshness of aromas and flavors, accurate soil character, and more moderate alcohol levels. I'm referring to vintages like 1991, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2008, years in which there was little rush to buy Bordeaux.
The extreme hype--and outrageously high prices--for the excellent 2009 vintage in Bordeaux (the first "vintage of the century" since 2005) predisposed the world market to buying wines from elsewhere in France. But no one is touting the 2011 clarets today, leaving producers in other regions of France with a marketing challenge made more difficult by the fact that the chateau owners of Bordeaux have already cut their prices for 2011s by a drastic 30% to 50% in an aggressive but so far mostly futile attempt to stimulate futures purchases of their wines in a difficult economy.
Bottom line: Veteran collectors tend to tune out reports on Bordeaux when they're considering other French wines, and you'd be well advised to do the same. Cooler years that can be problematic for Bordeaux can yield wonderfully fresh, mineral-driven white wines in Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Alsace, as well as aromatically precise, perfumed pinot noirs and syrahs. It's already clear that 2011 is a terrific vintage for Beaujolais, to cite just one example, and there will be no shortage of excellent wines from the Cote d'Or and Chablis. With plenty of press coverage available on other wine-producing regions of France (including in my own International Wine Cellar publication), it won't take a great effort on your part to do a little due diligence.
Full deep ruby. Enticing aromas of blackberry, violet and licorice accented by subtle oak spices. Supple, creamy and sweet, with lovely intensity to its dark berry, dark cherry and bitter chocolate flavors. This fine-grained, nicely balanced, fruit-driven cabernet shows lovely ripeness without any excesses. Finishes with smooth tannins and excellent lift. It's hard to find sweet, attractive California cabernet for under thirty bucks that avoids greenness. (ST)
Saturated ruby. Red- and blackcurrant and floral oils on the pungent, spice-accented nose. Juicy, deeply pitched red berry and bitter cherry flavors display a suave blend of density and vivacity and pick up spice and licorice qualities with air. Finishes with mounting tannins and impressive focus. I suspect that this wine will age slowly and gracefully. (JR)
Greenish-straw. High-pitched aromas of lime and lemongrass,
accented by a hint of white pepper and a sneaky, exotic pineapple
nuance. Packs a solid punch of orchard and tropical fruit flavors but
comes off almost weightless. The peppery note comes back strong on the
long, spicy finish. I like this wine's interplay of vivacity and power. (JR)
Bright, pale yellow. Bracing, slightly raw aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit and pepper. Then surprisingly supple following the nose, with a dense, tactile lemony flavor intensified by sound acidity. Vibrant, very dry and delicate sauvignon blanc with excellent length. (ST)
Good full, bright ruby-red. Sexy, slightly exotic aromas of black raspberry, graphite, charcoal, tobacco and stone. Lush and thick on entry, then densely packed and fine-grained in the middle, with excellent definition and cut to its concentrated flavors of medicinal black cherry and licorice. Really superb volume here. Finishes with compelling sweetness and early appeal for a young Bordeaux. (ST)
Bright medium red. Captivating, complex aromas of red cherry, raspberry, rose petal, fresh herbs and tobacco. Densely packed, suave and fine-grained, with lovely floral lift and energy and a texture that reminded me of Burgundy. Finishes with subtle fine but firm tannins and enticing rising length. This classic perfumed sangiovese is balanced to age but is irresistible already. (ST)
(made with 40% whole clusters): Light, bright red. Highly aromatic bouquet of red and dark berries, Asian spices, rose and minerals. Concentrated and energetic, offering spicy raspberry and bitter cherry flavors with a building floral element. Finishes on a sexy floral note, with excellent snap and lift. (JR)
(65% grenache, 30% syrah and 5% mourvedre): Full ruby. Fresh red berry and cherry aromas are strikingly pure, with floral and garrigue nuances adding complexity. Crisp and focused, with vibrant redcurrant and bitter cherry flavors, silky tannins and a subtle touch of licorice. Finishes brisk and spicy, with a hint of pungent herbs and very good freshness and length. (JR)
Bright yellow-gold. Fresh pear and melon aromas are complemented by
dried fig, iodine and jasmine. Tight and slow to open, offering juicy
citrus and orchard fruit flavors and a touch of tarragon. Shows very
good clarity on the finish, which features notes of bitter quinine and
citrus pith. This wine benefits a lot from air and has the balance to
reward patience; it is also an outstanding value. (JR)
Bright yellow. Cool, attractively high-toned aromas of peach, stone, licorice and lemon verbena. A step up in intensity from the Napa Valley chardonnay, showing more density to the peach and citrus flavors complicated by gamey and salty nuances. Finishes broad and nicely dry, with a subtle lingering smoked meat element. (ST)
Light yellow. Lively citrus zest and pear aromas are complemented by jasmine and chalky minerals. Racy, precise and nicely concentrated, offering nervy lemon zest and floral flavors complemented by a deeper note of sweet butter. Finishes spicy and persistent, with very good clarity and a lingering citrus note. (JR)
Light, bright violet. Mineral-accented red berry scents are complemented by exotic Asian spices and potpourri. Elegant, linear and gently sweet, with a silky texture to its musky, floral-accented strawberry and raspberry flavors. Becomes brighter with air and picks up a floral pastille quality that lingers on the very long, mineral-dominated finish. (JR)
(mostly grenache and syrah): Bright ruby-red. Ripe, perfumed aromas and flavors of dark raspberry, chocolate and dried spices. Rich, fleshy and sweet, with noteworthy texture and depth for the price range. This gentle, creamy-rich blend finishes round, sweet and seductive, with fine-grained tannins and lingering spices. An element of roasted herbs lets you know that you're in Mediterranean France. (ST)
Full deep ruby. Highly nuanced nose combines wild black cherry, blackberry, gunflint, smoked meat and violet; more northern Rhone in style than California. Concentrated, suave and intense, with a subtly saline quality providing contrast to the wine's sweetness. Medicinal black cherry and mocha flavors are complicated and energized by smoky minerality on the long finish. (ST)
Since 1985, Stephen Tanzer and his team of renowned, widely published regional experts have spent months of every year on the wine trails of the world, having their passports punched and tasting tens of thousands of wines annually, the best of which are reviewed in the independent, critically acclaimed, bimonthly International Wine Cellar (IWC).
Many wines featured in Second Tuesday will be selected from past, current and upcoming issues of the IWC. But Stephen and associate editor Josh Raynolds will also include superb recent discoveries that would otherwise slip between the cracks of IWC coverage.
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