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St Emilion 2011: Tasting Notes

Now with the joy and sorrow (you choose which is which!) of Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pavie, Figeac and Beau-Séjour-Bécot behind me, I should give a quick rundown of the remaining estates here. And what I found in these first few estates is repeated through the rest of the appellation, with many very decent wines as well as some that display all the over-ripe fruit and over-extracted characteristics that we are used to in St Emilion.

I found the polished fruits and supple textures of the wines of Jonathan Maltus had a sure-footed appeal, with Teyssier bound to provide some good value. The substance of Canon-la-Gaffelière also showed very nicely, as did Clos Fourtet, two of the commune's more reliable estates. In this vintage where a gentle hand with extraction gave good results, though, I found a couple of lesser wines which came close or indeed matched the quality found here. The wines of Grand-Mayne and Larmande both showed appealingly ripe fruit, without any suggestions of having been over-worked, and for that they held a certain appeal. Rol Valentin was another surprise over-performer.

As for those that failed to realise that this was not a vintage for excessive hang-times and heavy extraction, practices that seem more common in St Emilion than elsewhere, these wines were real flops. There is little point in me rattling off their names here; the notes below should give some guidance as to which wines I certainly won't be adding to my cellar.

The following wines were tasted in Bordeaux in April 2012 at a number of tastings, beginning with those hosted by the Vintex Vignobles Gregoire and Ulysses Cazabonne négociants. A number of wines were tasted at the UGC St Emilion tasting, and of course during visits to Ausone and Cheval-Blanc. The Quintus wines were tasted at La Mission Haut-Brion. Click to locate stockists. (24/4/12)

St Emilion

Château L'Arrosée 2011: This wine has a reserved, slightly smoky, dark and grainy black fruit character on the nose. On the palate it has some restrained fruit character, although the overall texture is fairly soft, the grip and acid sitting beneath it all feeling slightly inadequate. On subsequent tastes it feels more harmonious, some softness and elegance showing through, but remaining defined and rich. And there is a bright grippy character too. 13.5-14.5/20

Les Astéries 2011: A Jonathan Maltus wine, a single-vineyard cuvée, from 80-year old vines between Fonroque and Clos Fourtet. Really vibrant fruit character on the nose here, with a fresh, bright, lightly acid and floral forest-fruit style to it. The texture on the palate has a creamy presence, but there is a great depth of substance behind this which is enticing. The fruit remains fresh despite the texture and tannic core it hides. An impressive wine which will cellar very well. 15.5-16.5/20

Château Ausone 2011: The yield was 29 hl/ha, the blend the now familiar Cabernet France 55%, Merlot 45%, with the grand vin taking 69% of what was bottled. A really dark fruit character to it here. Dark, reserved, a little reductive this sample (as were a number of other wines poured at Ausone) making judgements difficult. Very reserved fruit, with a little cashew element from the oak, some black cherry fruit after a while, and increasingly some floral notes too. The palate is polished, clean, the fruit showing a very rich and lightly grainy character. The style of the structure is reserved, but very fine and precise, with the substance of the wine well reined in, and this fine-boned and stylish character carries through the finish. This is very tight and linear, with massive intensity but it is all very tightly packed in. Less flattering than expected right now, but I suspect in the long run a remarkable wine. 17-18/20

La Chapelle d'Ausone 2011: The second wine of Ausone. The blend here is Merlot dominant, at 60%, with Cabernet Franc 30% and Cabernet Sauvignon 10%. This is another wine with a strong matchsticky notes of reduction here, but with time I can sense the fresh and dark fruit that lies behind it. The fruit character on the palate is polished, savoury, rich, and dark, the tannins really rather firm and cottony, but the acidity is fine. Rich and stylish. Again a difficult wine to judge with that reduction but the substance and elements beneath are good. 15-16/20

Château Balestard La Tonnelle 2011: Dark, concentrated, cherry fruit on the nose here, with a slightly warm feel to it though. A rich, tightly-packed and creamy wine, showing some less appealing balsamic tones to the fruit here as well. On the palate the substance is quite forceful, the tannins domineering and giving the wine a powerful grip, and the overall effect here feels a little over the top, especially with those raging tannins waiting for you in the finish. 12.5-13.5/20

Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot 2011: This wine has a very dark and concentrated hue, with a vibrant rim though. There is a dark, black cherry character on the nose to match, with bright edges to the fruit despite the darker depths though. A good depth of substance on the palate, showing dark and rich fruits, creamy but not light or too rich, instead it feels appealingly savoury and structured, with a ripe and appropriate seam of tannins. A very polished style, harmonious, certainly rich with its ripe and velvety tannins, but it does not feel overdone. And it has a long finish. This is a stunning performance from this estate in the context of the vintage, with such harmony and composure. 16.5-17.5/20

Château Bélair-Monange 2011: Firmly established as a Moueix property now. A ripe and exotic, open character to the fruit aromatics, showing a clean, creamed, forest fruit style, although it feels tightly reined in rather than sweet. There is a more elegant and supple style here, a wider seam to the texture, the midpalate better filled out, although there is some really prominent structure coming through too. Some graininess to its character too, and some remarkably bright acids. This should keep a really fine freshness as it ages. 15.5-16.5/20

Château Bellevue-Mondotte 2011: One of the Perse estates, tasted at Pavie. Another wine with a super-saturated appearance here, inky-dark, with crimson intensity at the rim. The nose resembles young Port more than Bordeaux; there is a whisky mash scent to it, which will go, but behind this there are dark fruits steeped in liqueur. And these fruits have a big, velvety, pruney texture and flavour. A glossy, creamy palate. There are some ripe tannins here, and they are more deeply buried than in some of the other Perse wines, but I still find this to be completely over the top. 12-13/20

Château Berliquet 2011: This has a really bright and expressive nose, with a pure dark fruit character, with a plummy tinge. The palate isn't quite so open and ready as the aromatics suggest through, as there is a wall of tannin coming through the middle and the fruit struggles to cope a little with this. It also has a slightly warm and baked character evident here, matched by a big chewy style on the finish. The fruit is close to coping, and the acidity is fresh, but it is still a fairly robust style. 14.5-15.5/20

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière 2011: A really exotic, deep and concentrated fruit style here, all black cherry but with a really pure lift to it rather than anything over the top. Dark and slightly savoury, but so bright. A really appealing creamed fruit character to the palate, the structure elegant and very integrated, fresh and very harmonious. On returning to it the tannins really start to show, the substance velvety but firm. The acidity is good and the fruit is not over-worked. Only fleeting hints of a warmer side to the fruit detract from the experience. 16-17/20

Château Cap de Mourlin 2011: The aromatics are redolent of creamed cherry fruits, with a ripe and dense character. The palate shows a rather bold style, slightly warm, with chewy tannins and plenty of acidity though. Rather high-toned, with a touch of balsamic to the fruit, certainly a style lacking in freshness, feeling baked and a bit over-ripe, and looking at the tannins in the finish maybe a bit over-worked too. 12.5-13.5/20

Château Cheval-Blanc 2011: The traditional dominance of Cabernet Franc here at 52%, with Merlot to balance at 48%. A fine and floral purity on the nose here, sweet and fragrant, open and yet showing concentration. There is a lovely smoky purity to it, very clean, very floral, and certainly suggestive of ripe Cabernet Franc, with a fine violet tone to it. This is cool, pure and fragrant, and those violet tones keep popping up on the palate as well. A classic style, with great polish, a supple character, and some elegance too. A very complete texture and stance through the midpalate, with a fine and ripe fruit character, draped over the rich, velvety but nicely composed tannins. There is a very confident potential here. 17.5-18.5/20

Le Petit Cheval 2011: The second wine of Cheval Blanc is Merlot-dominant with 75%, and Cabernet Franc makes up the remaining 25%. There is an earthy, clay-like tinge to the fruit here, restrained and Pomerol-like; this doesn't seem at all unlikely considering the estate's position and terroir, atypical for St Emilion. A seductive fruit sweetness here, with perfumed, dark-violet aromas. Elegant fruit. This is polished and yet there is a wonderfully fresh acidity to it. Full, supple, yet restrained and well formed, with a fine lick of oak to the finish. Delicious, really impressive, and yet there is a real depth to it. 17-18/20

Château La Couspaude 2011: This has dark fruit with a slightly meaty tone to it, as well as a medicinal suggestion that does not speak entirely of the freshest and purest of fruit. The palate does indeed show this; the start of the palate is immediately fat and creamy, the midpalate giving way to spice in abundance, with peppery, baked fruit characteristics, and a touch of balsamic too. And also some big, ripe chewy tannins. The fruit is not fresh here. And yet, thanks to the cool summer surely, it has acidity despite this. 14-15/20

Château Dassault 2011: A dark fruit intensity here which is moving into a slightly more porty style of fruit. Dried, desiccated fruit character, more fruit-skin than fruit-flesh. A rich and creamy texture on the palate, soft and supple and enveloping, but in the middle there is a huge attack of tannin and acidity, and the midpalate shows a really firm structure underneath the chocolate-tinged, dried-cherry fruit. Plainly holding too much structure and feeling slightly warm, this also lacks freshness in the fruit character on the palate. 13.5-14.5/20

Le Dôme 2011: A Jonathan Maltus wine. Mostly Cabernet Franc here (75% of the vineyard is dedicated to this variety), the rest old-vine Merlot. A dark and dense hue. The aromatics have a floral purity to them which appeals, white flower petals coming out ahead of the darker fruit tones. The palate begins in a supple and controlled fashion, gentle and almost unassuming, but as the texture plays out on the palate the tannins that lie underneath make themselves known. They are ripe, concentrated, broad but very taut, powerful but integrated and fine. This is an impressive wine with excellent integration and a long, tannic finish. And the texture is so supple and integrated, laid so finely over the tannins. 16.5-17.5/20

Chateau Dominique 2011: Very creamy and accessible dark fruits here, with a dark vein lightly suggestive of charcoal running through it. But there is freshness and lift promised too. The palate has an elegant restraint, soft and supple at first, with a really good grip from the tannic backbone of the wine. An attractive perfumed edge to the aromatics actually. Overall I find this attractive, very structured, ripe and grippy, but not at all overdone. 15.5-16.5/20

Château Figeac 2011: A very dark hue, different to many of its peers, less vibrant. And a very pure fruit character on the nose, with blackcurrants backed up by a red cherry freshness, and there are appealing extra dimensions here, floral elements, with a perfume to the black, fresh-fruit intensity. It has an almost pastille-level intensity of fruit, from the Cabernet Sauvignon surely. Pure, restrained, quite linear at the start, showing a more supple but less well defined midpalate. The tannins here are gentle, ripe, elegant and clearly taking a back seat. Supple fruit, good acids, and a pretty, lengthy, lightly tannic finish. This is very attractive, and with some real purity to the fruit, just ripe but with no overt greenness. Well done. 16-17/20

Château Fonbel 2011: A Vaulthier wine. The yield was 45 hl/ha, the blend 63% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 7% Carmenère, so very similar to last year. Really perfumed, bright and well defined fruit here. Elegant, aromatic character, showing some white peach on the nose. Floral and fragrant. The palate is linear, unprepossessing, stylish and it shows beautifully refined fruit and fresh acidity, all wrapped around some appropriate tannins. Lovely unassuming, and with plenty of finesse, just a little darkness to the fruit in the finish. A very good effort. 15.5-16.5/20

Clos Fourtet 2011: Dark and restrained, with some subtle black cherry fruit here. The palate has a firmer and robust style, with a very bold and heavily structured midpalate. There are lots of tannins giving a slightly powerful grip here, although the acidity brings some freshness, and the fruit has a defined if rich and rather dark style. Pure, richly fruited finish, but stacked with grippy tannin here too. A good wine but showing a great deal of framework underneath the fruit. And a big, tannic finish too. This is going to have to spend quite some time in the cellar. 16-17/20

Château Franc-Mayne 2011: Some slightly dried-fruit elements on the nose here, all plum skins, very concentrated. The fruit on the palate has a polished style, concentrated as the nose suggested, accompanied by a good texture and structure in the middle. There is a supple feel to the overall substance of the wine, but with a nice acid lift, and velvety-ripe tannins. Not a detailed wine nor one brimming with finesse but one that is nicely put together. And not overworked. It may well provide some decent value. 15-16/20

Château La Gaffelière 2011: There is certainly a touch of spearmint complicating the aromatics here, and I sense it is ever-so-slightly vegetal too. On top of this there are some firm tannins on the palate, giving a very chewy feel coming in at the sides, while the fruit remains light and rather sharp through the middle. And there are more vegetal tones on top of the fruit here. This doesn't appeal. 12.5-13.5/20

Château Grand-Mayne 2011: This sample doesn't seem very expressive aromatically. There is some backward fruit, with a dark and rich character, but it is hard work getting to it. The palate shows a really supple and elegant style though, with a plum skin richness to the fruit character, and a firm and fully rounded velvety grip of tannins. There is a lot of structure here, but it feels ripe rather than over done. The freshness is there, and the fruit feels good too. Potentially a really lovely wine here. 16.5-17.5/20

Château Haut-Simard 2011: Yields 45 hl/ha, the blend Merlot 70%, Cabernet Franc 30%. Dark and surprisingly slightly gamey fruit here, with some meaty edges to it as well. A very polished start on the palate, but it quickly shows a more angular structure going into the midpalate. The tannins are really very velvety and ripe though, with fine acids, but they give plenty of grip. Nevertheless it does sit well within the fruit substance. Like one or two other samples at Ausone there is a little matchsticky reduction here, holding it back a little. But a very good effort I think. 15-16/20

Château Larcis Ducasse 2011: Creamed plum skins here on the nose, slightly sweet and certainly intense, with dark and charcoaly tones to them as well. This is certainly very bold in character. The substance on the palate though is a little more flattering at first, with some supple dark fruits, but then in the middle a more intense showing from the tannins. In fact this is very tannic, with an almost bitter style as a result, and it is showing a slightly hot edge to the fruit as well. And in the finish some heavily worked, drying tannins which speak of aggressive extraction to me. 14.5-15.5/20

Château Larmande 2011: Really attractive fruit here, rich, complex, with red and black edges, hints of cherry stone and plum skin with a sweet, ripe edge to them. The palate is beautifully supple at the first, with a showing of soft, plush, slightly floral fruit like that on the nose, plus a light seam of tannins slowly coming in through the middle. It feels balanced and restrained, an achievement in this vintage. And on the finish, attractive tannins with a supple, ripe feel to them, not overworked. 16-17/20

Château Magdelaine 2011: A Moueix wine. A vibrant perfume to the fruit here, with sweet but dark and grainy berry fruit, and a ripe plum skin character. The fruit is certainly fresh, but also dark and serious. Bright on the palate, a little leaner at the start than I expected, the substance deep and very firm underneath. The fruit character has little note of clay to it which appeals, it is certainly ripe, and there is a suppleness to it, but also lots of tannin coming through, with quite a rich and grainy edge here too. A ripe tannic finish with some length. Good. 15-16/20

Château Monbousquet 2011: One of the Perse estates, tasted at Pavie. A much cleaner and more open nose here than some of the other Perse wines, showing a dark and smoky character. But again we have here dried fruits, and a little suggestion of the Douro. Some brown fruit character here too - more raisined than rotten though. The palate is just a sledgehammer of force. It shows a hot character, carried along by over-ripe, raisined and dried fruit. Massive dried tannins complete the picture. 12-13/20

Château Moulin-Saint-Georges 2011: A yield of 35 hl/ha, the blend Merlot 80% and Cabernet Franc 20%. Really pure and defined forest fruits here. Dark fruit but with a white flower-petal, fresh and floral edge. The palate feels rather firm and bold, although in the middle the fruit does come to the fore. Some yeasty, whisky-mash notes from the fermentation. But underneath there is great structure, supple and moving into a more silky style, with rounded fruit. And a good, grippy finish too. This is a little difficult to judge as there is lot of winemaking scents here which should fade, but I sense the structure is good and the fruit fresh. 15.5-16.5/20

Château Pavie 2011: A dark and glossy wine, with an electric-crimson rim. The nose has some dried fruit character to it, but not the pruney, overdone suggestions found in the rest of the Perse range. There are cleaner, more smoky edges to the fruit here. It certainly has a big, ripely tannic palate, showing a huge tannic structure but it is also a huge wine in terms of fruit and substance, with a rich and creamy palate. There is some welcome acidity here. A bruising style, with a firm yet warm character, and showing a massive grip in the finish. And yet it all seems to work. 15-16/20

Château Pavie-Decesse 2011: One of the Perse estates, tasted at Pavie. An amazingly dark and saturated hue here. The aromas are redolent of black fruits left in the sun to dry, giving them a sweet, concentrated, port-like intensity. In the mouth it doesn't let up, showing here a huge texture; again I can only describe it as port-like. A mouthful of massive, drying tannins and spicy, dried-raisin fruit character. For me, this monolithic and unbalanced wine is just too far over the top. 12-13/20

Château Pavie-Macquin 2011: This has a very perfumed nose, showing notes of yellow peach and flower petals, with lighter red-fruit tones coming in behind. The palate is very bold and ungiving, the substance of the wine tightly packed in, the midpalate very dependent on tannins and acidity. This seems rather bold and slightly warm in terms of style. It also has a rather ungiving finish. It feels full of effort and rather heavily worked. 14.5-15.5/20

Château Quinault L'Enclos 2011: Under the direction of the team at Cheval Blanc, and tasted alongside. Merlot 70%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%. An intense hue with a dark core here, but a vibrant and regal hue to the rim. On the nose there is dark and rich plum fruit. Smoky with a stylish elegance. A supple texture, polished and very convincing, clean and defined, with a great purity. A very fine texture and constitution through the middle here, finely balanced too, supple and with a smoky finish. Top notch quality. 16.5-17.5/20

Château Quintus 2011: The blend here is 50% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc, although the vineyard is two-thirds the former and one-third the latter. Alcohol 13.9%. Not hugely expressive aromatically, with restrained fruit, dark, certainly ripe, a touch of gritty plum skin, slightly roasted but not over done. A chalky edge to it as well. The palate has a supple feel, quite rich, with much more appealing tannins than the second wine. They have a finer substance although they are just as present. It does open out a little on the nose with some time, showing more perfumed fruit, and a touch of raspberry. At the higher end in terms of tannic concentration. Unusually for the vintage the acidity seems a bit muted. 14.5-15.5/20

Le Dragon de Quintus 2011: The second wine of Quintus. Alcohol 13.8. Dark, glossy, crimson, with notes of wild plum, with a slightly warm and open style of fruit, The palate has a full, rich, tannic and spicy feel. The tannins have a very dense, velvety feel to them and they come in from the sides of the wine in a fairly robust fashion. Straightforward otherwise, not really particularly deep or complex. And showing a firm tannic finish. An uncomplicated second wine. 13.5-14.5/20

Château Rol Valentin 2011: Very dark fruit on the nose, with oyster shell nuances alongside the huge, deep and richly concentrated seam of fruit. The palate has a surprising harmony to it, rich and with creamy fruit here, but this is well bound in by a solid texture and a dense frame of ripe tannin. The tannins, while rich, don't intrude, and the overall style is on of high-level harmony with grip, balance and nothing over-done. A good achievement in this vintage. 16-17/20

Château Simard 2011: This is Merlot 80%, Cabernet Franc 20%, with a yield of 45 hl/ha. A very dark, grainy, savoury fruit style here, rich and rather smoky. Dense, and a touch meaty even. It has a cool style on the palate, the fruit here shows a much fresher style than it does on the nose. Still dark in character though, and it is complicated by a note of matchsticky reduction which runs through all the samples at Ausone. Underneath there is plainly a supple style to it though, and a bright structure that brings some promise. 15-16/20

Château Soudard 2011: Rather a cool and slightly steely note to the fruit on the nose here. It has some attractive, lightly crunchy, well defined fruit. The palate is fairly laid back in terms of texture, and it is supple too, although it feels a little warm in the middle. This leads into a finish that feels a little hotter and bolder than I expected. And there is a little yeasty, whisky mash ferment note here as well. Clearly embryonic and difficult to judge right now. 14-15/20

Château Teyssier 2011: A Jonathan Maltus wine. A really dark colour in the glass, but the fruit character on the nose feels restrained and fresh despite this. The palate carries the same character, with defined fruit, fresh acidity at the core of the wine and a ripe seam of tannins cutting though it all. Attractive, harmonious, concentrated, rich, but with balance too, the texture enough to blanket the ripe tannins, the fruit style fresh and defined, rather than overly ripe. The finish shows a really harmonious elegance. This is likely to be great value. 15-16/20

Château La Tour du Pin 2011: From a small property between Figeac and the appellation boundary with Pomerol, close to Cheval Blanc; the two estates are under the same management. The blend is Merlot 80%, Cabernet Franc 20%. Very dark, sweet fruit here but it is defined and pure. A bright style despite this darkness to the fruit though. Smoky, elegant, supple. A restrained palate, textured and yet defined through the middle, and the tannins are very fine. A good velvety texture to the tannins, fresh and bright, with a lovely harmony, and a grippy finish. There is plenty of promise here. 16-17/20

Château La Tour Figeac 2011: A slightly warm and very diffuse fruit character here, chalky and with dark red-black tones, lifted but with a very open, slightly confected character. The palate feels a little hollow and bold, the fruit character not really coping with the structure especially as the tannins show a really firm, cloying, chewy style. Lots of big structure here, trying to hide light and delicately sweet fruit; it is cleanly styled but not showing a desirable balance. 13-14/20

Château Troplong-Mondot 2011: Tasted at the château as well as at the UGC tasting. This has some rich, very concentrated fruit on the nose, with a rich and ripe plum skin. Quite intense in style, with a slightly dried-fruit edge to it. Creamy, slightly baked. The fruit character on the palate is the same, intense and dried. A really massive wall of tannins here, huge and enveloping the fruit of the wine. Slightly creamy fruit, a bold style trying to impress. I can sense the alcohol through the middle; this sample is about 15%, but the finished wine will be somewhere between 14.5 and 15.4%. It doesn't have the character of an over-worked wine, but the alcohol is certainly there, all grainy and warm. And some more massive, dried tannin on the finish. Brawny and lacking charm. 14-15/20

Château Trottevieille 2011: Some dark and attractive fruit here, showing a nice freshness but also a little cashew nut element, probably oak-related. Lovely fruit character, so fresh and open, forest fruits, berries, a touch of vanilla cream. Certainly expressive. A supple style on the palate, with a gentle texture, some moderate substance, and a creamy style. The tannins build through the midpalate very nicely and bring the wine to a rather complete whole, showing elegance with a little substance and backbone here. And a clean finish with some substance. Its a good effort from Trottevieille which I often find underwhelming. 14.5-15.5/20

Vieux Château Mazerat 2011: A Jonathan Maltus wine. The château that has long been the source of Le Dôme. Roasted nut overtones on top of the dark fruits here. A very harmonious character, very deep and concentrated but again in keeping with the house style the fruit is pure, harmonious and not over-worked. Rich and ripe but certainly no softness here, there is a tense grip of tannins beneath the substance of the wine. This has an admirable substance, muscular in terms of its composition, but in no way over the top or out of balance. Impressive. 16-17/20

Château Villemaurine 2011: Some dense fruit here, with a darker and concentrated style to the fruit. The palate seems very primary with a yeasty note coming in. Otherwise though it feels quite harmonious, the fruit texture holds down some good, grainy but ripe tannins pretty well, and there is some fresh acidity here. Overall the effect here is fairly good. 14.5-15.5/20