2011 Vintage Overview

2011 Vintage Overview

2011

This was the third harvest of the new century to begin in August – compared to only one per century in the previous few hundred years. As with 2003 and 2007, it is unlikely to prove as successful overall as many of the vintages that were picked later. There are some clear parallels with 2007, but no two vintages are ever quite alike.

The weather A moderately severe winter – though without the deep freeze of the previous year – ended early, and a fine spring was ushered in from the middle of March. The wind patterns were unusual, blowing mainly from the north (the benchmark wind on Palm Sunday), cool and dry, or veering right round to the south, warm and dry. Normally a south wind then swings to the south-west and brings rain, but not this year.

Two previous vintages were in everybody’s mind: 2007 began with an equally precocious spring, including an exceptionally glorious April, calmed a little bit in May and declined noticeably thereafter. Nineteen seventy-six was a year of severe drought and considerable heat. In both cases the vintage began in August. (Note: 2003 was quite different, the season being marked by prolonged and exceptional heat spikes in late June and the first half of August.)

The first flowers were seen as early as May 10th, almost exactly the same as in 2007, and properly looked-after vineyards were bursting with health – those which had never been ploughed looked much stragglier. There was, however, a long-term fear for the build-up of drought problems, especially if the season were to develop along 1976 lines. But, as in 2007, May was a little cooler than April and with a few more showers, occasionally storms. The village sages were talking of a hot and stormy summer – apparently the magpies were nesting close to the houses, which they do when storms are in the offing….

Useful rain in early June was rapidly followed by a hosepipe ban – which immediately brought more rain: could this be the same deteriorating pattern as 2007? The sun came back with a vengeance at the end of June, flirting with 40°C, and causing some grilling of the grapes. The first week in July was dry too, bringing thoughts of 1976 back into view. When it rained on Thursday 7 July, solidly and evenly without stormy side-effects, the growers were thrilled – ‘this is like gold!’ they said. But further rain over the next few days was less welcome, and the whole month of July proved to be cooler and wetter than usual. Having started to talk about bringing forward the harvest from the initially-suggested August 25, producers were now pushing back towards the beginning of September. Indeed, veraison was by no means complete at the end of July, and the grapes are usually ripe for harvest one month after colour-change.

Overall the season was less stormy than expected, apart from minor hail in Corton-Charlemagne (May 20th), Gevrey- Chambertin (July 23rd) and Puligny-Montrachet, plus one really devastating storm in Rully on July 12th following a more minor attack in June.

August began clear and sunny, but the July pattern of showery days returned with temperatures below, or approaching, the seasonal norm. There was at least some rainfall from August 3-8 and again on the 12th, 14th and 15th, though little sustained rain and happily no violent storms. However, some localised rot was appearing in a few red-wine vineyards, though the whites continued to look healthy.

The next week or so continued hot and humid (which was slightly worrying) before a welcome drop in temperature on Wednesday 24th. One or two people began now, picking plots which were ahead of schedule or in danger of major rot issues, but the weather forecast was poor for the Thursday (in fact just one very heavy shower) and terrible on Friday (heavy rain for most of the day), while Saturday was grey and drizzly in the morning before perking up in the afternoon. The sun returned on Sunday – but with lower temperatures and a fresher feel, allowing the ground time to dry out without advancing any rot too precipitately. The optimists point to the good weather which followed, enabling the grapes to be picked without any further rain, but the pessimists, or perhaps realists, consider that the heavy rain on Friday 26th was one storm too many.

First impressions Like 2010, but perhaps not to quite the same degree, 2011 is a vintage which gained in stature and quality during its time in barrel. The grapes were ripe to the taste but were lower in sugar levels than in recent years, generating a welcome freshness. Though the growing-season may have been similar to 2007, the wines came out differently because the grapes had thicker skins, offering greater density of fruit and more structure. No vintage comparison is exactly right, but there are some parallels with the fine and fresh 2002 reds.

The flowering in the white-wine vineyards was more successful than the reds. Careful vignerons who judged their picking dates intelligently have produced a healthy crop of delicious wines, with some flesh on the palate and good acidity: very nicely balanced for medium-term ageing. They have the fresh aspect of 2007 but a little more weight. The wines also showed quite well from Mâcon and Chablis, though with fewer touches of excitement than 2010 or 2012 in Chablis.

The Wines in Bottle At ten years old, the 2011 whites are probably at optimum drinkability. They have remained balanced throughout, the only possible criticism being a slight lack of personality. They are now open and easy going but do not for the most part show the extra intensity and grip which would suggest that there is further benefit to come.

The reds began to develop a little of the pyrazine lean and green character, a lighter version of the scourge of 2004. In most instances, it has shown as an inflection in the wine, rather than a dominating character. The wines have developed a little less weight than I anticipated, and are mostly good to drink now.

 

Tasting Notes

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Click to read tasting notes on wines from 2011

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