Bordeaux 2011 four years on: massive blind tasting, with expectations met and some revelations

20 September 2015

By Panos Kakaviatos for

What is it like to taste over 150 tannic wines over a long weekend in Bordeaux?

Given the very comfortable surroundings of Château Bellefont Belcier, where I was housed, the excellent visits (I discovered a fine Saint Emilion, La Croizille, for example on the opening evening for a dinner there) and an engaging group of tasters from all over the world … it was great.


Bijan Jabbari, Bernard Burtschy and myself at the tasting. Photo by Birte Jantzen

Many thanks to friend and French wine critic Bernard Burtschy for his gracious invitation to take part in this marathon blind tasting held from Saturday morning, 5 September until Monday, 7 September. He organized the tasting and calibrated the scores as collected from all the tasters. He is the wine correspondent for Le Figaro and has been writing about wine for many years. Bravo to Bernard for putting this together!

The conditions of the tasting – all blind, with impeccable service from the team at Bellefont Belcier, fine stemware from Riedel, and great weather (sunny but not too hot outside) – were promising. So many thanks go to the staff of the Grand Cercle and to Emmanuel De Saint Salvy and his team from Château Bellefont Belcier.

About the 2011s at this stage

The 150 or so wines we tried from the 2011 vintage all are member of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux. Many thanks, too, to the Grand Cercle for providing the wines for us to taste. And to president and founder of the Grand Cercle, Dr. Alain Raynaud, who took part in and presided over the tastings. They were done blind, so that ensured fair play :-).


Panel taster Birte Jantzen: lots of wines to taste!

The 2011 wines were somewhat difficult to taste, displaying loads of structure at this stage. Some showed promise; others displayed (rather expectedly) tough tannins. It was particularly interesting for tasters to try these wines in a mixed manner: that is, we did not divide according to appellation, so that a Pauillac was followed, for example, by a Fronsac.

2011 is not a great Bordeaux vintage to be sure, but there were some diamonds in the rough.

About the tasters and the tastings

We were an eclectic international group that took part, including bloggers, restaurateurs and wine educators from around the world. The tastings were held blind in two sessions on Saturday, 5 September and Sunday 6 September and on one session on Monday 7 September. We also tasted white wines on the afternoon of 7 September but they were not 2011s. I will post on those at a later date.


Norwegian taster and En Primeur regular and pal Christer Byklum

It was a great pleasure to meet some friends again in a tasting panel and to meet new friends, including a fun and knowledgeable group of tasters from Sweden, who took part, including MW student Pontus Jennerholm, who is a mutual pal to a dear friend of mine in Stuttgart, Thomas Curtius, also an MW student.

Often the Swedish palates differed from the French!

Take for example natural wine aficionado Anna Vasseur, who had a lower tolerance for oak and high ripeness than most of the French tasters. She and other talented Swedish sommeliers who took part in the tasting panel, like Carolina Wällstedt Seibel and Fredrik Horn, explained to me that BYOW is quite rare if non existent in most Swedish restaurants. Also present was Swedish wine buyer Niklas Ödman. I hope to see them in Stockholm one day when I visit!

Check out this brief reaction, in the video, from Carolina, Anna and Pontus following one session, for example, that was particularly difficult ;-).


Concentrating! Photo by Christer Byklum.

Tasters also included longtime Luxembourg-based expert and winemaker Abi Duhr, who has worked with Bernard for many years; Bordeaux-based wine writer Yohan Castaing; fellow Washington-D.C. based #winelover Bijan Jabbari; manager of the famous Grains Nobles restaurant in Paris, known for superb wine tastings, Pascal Marquet; Paris-based, German wine blogger Birte Jantzen; Paris-based wine tasting organizer and manager of Cafe Latin, Nicolas Nguyen; Champagne specialist and wine writer Olivier Borneuf and my pal and Norwegian writer – whom I see each year at Bordeaux En Primeur – Christer Byklum.

In the next video, Nicolas, Bijan, Olivier, Birte and I sum up our thoughts on the 2011 tastings.

In addition to Dr. Alain Raynaud, château owners or reps (and members of the Grand Cercle) also took part in some of the tasting sessions, but they were blind, so it was OK. At first I thought it was odd that they also took part, but as the tastings were indeed blind, it proved to be an added benefit to hear their reactions after debriefings held after each session (we tasting in morning and afternoon sessions).

Some of the member châteaux of the Grand Cercle are very well known to international buyers.

Wines like Rollan de By and Greysac in the Medoc; Rol Valentin, Yon Figeac and the aforementioned Bellefont Belcier in Saint Emilion; de la Riviere and Villars in Fronsac; d’Agassac and Liversan in Haut Medoc; Couhins Lurton and de Rochemorin in Pessac Leognan; Bonalgue and Vray Croix de Gay in Pomerol among others are names most readers here know well.

On the other hand, others are rather obscure, and it was interesting to make some discoveries from bottle (I taste Grand Cercle wines blind en primeur on a regular basis, but this was my first comprehensive tasting from bottle). Indeed, while some obscure ones did well in the blind tasting, some better-known ones not as well.

The Grand Cercle’s origins were based on modern-style winemaking. Dr. Alain Raynaud for example is one of the founders of the Garagiste Movement. As readers know, this is not exactly my style of wine and the tasting proved predictable to me … for some wines. I am not a fan of high alcohol and high oak, and I disliked some wines exactly for that. On the other hand I found some lovely wines here – and from a challenging vintage, tasted in a challenging time, to boot.

I encourage you to plow through the tasting notes, as I took loads of time today, Sunday, to put them together.

They are linked as “tasting stories” under Cellar Tracker, here:

Weekend tasting of Grand Cercle Bordeaux member wines, 2011 vintage, blind, Part I 

Weekend tasting of Grand Cercle Bordeaux member wines, 2011 vintage, blind, Part II

Weekend tasting of Grand Cercle Bordeaux member wines, 2011 vintage, blind, Part III

For further reference, you can read – from my older website – previous evaluations of the 2011 vintage, from barrel and as tasted from bottle in January 2014, but from a tasting of the UGCB in Washington D.C.

Out of the 150 or so wines tasted blind earlier this month, all appellations mixed, I list the following:

My 15 favorites

Château Godeau Saint Emilion Grand Cru (90)

Clos Puy Arnaud Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux (90)

Château La Croizille St Emilion Grand Cru (90)

Château Le Moulin Pomerol (90)

Château Les Trois Croix Fronsac (89+)

Château Fleur Cardinale Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé (89)

Château Laroze Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé (89)

Château de Viaud Lalande de Pomerol (89)

Château de Pressac Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé (89)

Château Carteau Cotes Daugay St Emilion Grand Cru (89)

Château Greysac Medoc (88+)

Château Montviel Pomerol (88)

Château Fonbadet Pauillac (88)

Château Beau Soleil Pomerol (88)

Château de la Riviere Fronsac (88)

My 15 discoveries

Château Godeau Saint Emilion Grand Cru (90)

Château La Croizille St Emilion Grand Cru (90)

Château de Viaud Lalande de Pomerol (89)

Château Bel Air La Royere Côtes de Blaye (88)

Château Penin Les Cailloux Bordeaux Sup (88)

Château Lecuyer Pomerol (88)

Château de Laussac Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux (87+)

Château Faizeau Montagne St Emilion (87+)

Château Crabitey Graves (87+)

L’Ambroisie du Château La Croix des Moines Lalande de Pomerol (87+)

Château Pas de l’Ane Saint Emilion Grand Cru (87+)

Château Griviere Cru Bourgeois Medoc (87+)

Château Ramafort Cru Bourgeois Haut Medoc (87)

Château Haut Breton Larigaudiere Margaux (87)

Château Côtes Montpezat Cuvée Compostelle Cote de Castillon (87)

Several producers wished to remain anonymous in this tasting, so it was not possible to list them in any way.

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