Unquestionably, 2011 has produced some very fine wines. There are many overextracted, excessively tannic efforts but many growers have managed to work the fruit intelligently - but I stress every wine has to be tasted and our final list will contain only those we are happy to endorse. Pricing is crucial and we expect to see reductions of at least 30% and hopefully 50%. Cos opened 50% down on 2010 and with yields of 36 hectolitres per hectare, that’s a brave, but wise, decision. Lafite opened just 25% down so we took the decision not to accept our allocation - it’s simply not worth the £5,000 per case price tag. If we can offer any advice, do please give us a call.

Day One

It's primeur time again in Bordeaux and Sunday’s arrival is greeted with a sunny 22˚C and the promise of a warm week ahead. There are three visits on the agenda tonight with the first at the Grand Theatre in the centre of Bordeaux, surely one of the most stunning cities in Europe, a tasting with Duclot and the night is set to conclude in Domaine de Chevalier in Leognan with tasting and supper.

The Grand Theatre, Bordeaux

It was in 1982 that our first odyssey into the region started and judging by weather patterns and vineyard reports it’s not a vintage in that league. However, every vintage is different and that’s what makes my job so exciting and unpredictable. I will be sending reports all this week and while I will be tasting up to 200 wines from the 2011 vintage I be searching out drinking vintages and value for money buys. I hope you stay tuned.

Sunday Nights tastings quickly proved that this is no easy vintage to taste - anything but homogenous, even next door neighbours have produced different styles. Those who have taken their foot off the extraction pedal seem to have handled the fruit better.

Highlights of the evening, Clos Fourtet, surely now a rival to Cheval Blanc and still undervalued? Conselliante, restrained, more low key than many of the others, D’Issan, Poujeaux, Pontet Canet, Domaine de Chevalier, Canon La Gaffeliere - a real star with La Mondotte not far behind. Domaine de Chevalier showed us a fairly new property which they bought a couple of years ago, Lespault - Martillac, one to watch.

Wines we enjoyed over supper were La Mondotte 2000, Domaine de Chevalier 2001, Canon La Gaffeliere 2000 and Domaine de Chevalier white 2001. The Domaine de Chevalier was the clear winner in my book with elegance, style and a long and refreshing finish. I think some of the 2000s I have tasted recently have reached a point where they are unlikely to get better?

Day Two

A day that starts in Haut Brion at 8am and finishes in Chateau Climens at 8pm is my idea of bliss, throw in Chateau Margaux, Lafite, Leoville Barton and Rauzan Segla to mention just a few - then you get an idea of what a busy life a wine merchant has! Highlights: the wonderfully textured and ethereal wines of Margaux, the sheer concentration of Haut Brion and the incredible length and persistence of pineapple fruit of Haut Brion blanc - the best dry white wine in Bordeaux and arguably the world in my opinion.

I tasted 175 wines today alone and probably the abiding memory will be the amazing visit to Chateau Climens and a cask tasting of the 2011 vintage with Berenice Lurton followed by a vertical tasting of vintages starting with 2009 back to 2005. These are possibly the finest sweet wines made in the world today.

I will follow with a full set of tasting notes and a few recommendations of lesser known gems. But it’s off to Chateau Montrose first thing and a day that will finish with a kitchen supper in Tertre Roteboeuf!

Day Three

Any day that starts with a visit to Chateau Montrose is a good one, although this is a really tough vintage for Saint Estèphe and the Montrose is not surrendering much charm and will not be top of the buying list. By contrast, the tasting at Calon Ségur is a revelation - a wine of polish, poise and high-toned, sweet-centred fruit; their second wine Marquis de Calon is also showing class and their baby property Capbern de Gasqueton potentially one of the great values of the vintage - juicy, full of racy fruit and surely a delight to drink in about 3/5 years. A quick spin into Sociando Mallet proves worthwhile - well-made wine and, if well priced, one to look out for.

Calon Ségur

Next stop Mouton Rothschild - another good effort from them and the second wine Petit Mouton is on form together with D’Armagnac, with Clerc Milon the only disappointment, just too green. A visit to Lafite reveals a closed wine with good concentration, but the dry, dusty tannins are a concern; Duhart Milon displays red berry fruit, quite high in acidity, but lacking the wow factor and, like many runners in the grand national, pulls up short. Lafite’s second wine Carruades, which now fetches prices which bear no relation to quality, shows good freshness, lightness in the middle palate and finishes short. Their opening prices will really have to be at least 50% down from last year’s. Even at that, will they represent any value? Lynch Bages is close by and we taste the range. Ormes de Pez displays good concentration with notes of new toasty oak with 45% of the ageing in new wood. Echo de Lynch Bages is young and racy with notes of spice and blackcurranty mineral fruit. Its big brother has tremendous concentration, high levels of tannin and just needs some more refreshing fruit to lift the end palate; it will take at least 8/10 years before a corkscrew is required.

Visiting Cos d’Estournel is always a treat. Their interior is the epitome of cool, their wine this year drastically reduced in quantity with well-heeled fresh, concentrated blackberry fruit; this will take a minimum of 8/10 years, but the second wine Pagodes which is fresher, but with a good rich middle palate, will drink in half that time and could be good value. Their third wine Goulée is also on form and, if it’s released at a tempting price, could be a good buy. Just down the road we arrive at Léoville Las Cases; the first wine is polished, quite richly constructed with the tell tale dry tannic finish so typical of the vintage. The second wine Le Petit Lion is ripe and pure and a really good effort but hard to find. Their Pomerol property, Nenin, displays sweet ripe fruit, quite fresh with elegance although their second wine Fugues de Nenin lacks engagement and is quite astringent. A 20-minute visit to the UGC tasting at Marquis de Terme is packed and uncomfortable with small spittoons filling up every 5 minutes. Brane Cantenac and Kirwan are the only two wines worthy of note.

Lunch time at Pontet Canet - we taste the 2011 first, extremely concentrated with the grapes being harvested at 32 hectolitres per hectare. The owner Alfred Tesseron then takes us to lunch, one of the highlights of the trip with possibly the finest cheese table ever assembled and the Pontet Canet 2003 to welcome the lamb. The 2003 is a delight to drink right now. A few final stops - Ducru Beaucaillou, disappointing wines, all quite closed. Jade Jagger has designed the label for the second wine Croix de Beaucaillou and the vintage is dedicated to Nicole Kidman - enough said! Our next appointment is at Château Malescot, late picked with rich opulent fruit; it’s long, complete, fresh and extremely good, one of the best efforts of the day - a case for my cellar please. It’s off to the right bank but we sign off on the left bank with a meeting with the owner of Chateau Boyd Cantenac, a château on the rise with a plush wine - long, perfumed and floral.

A furious drive to reach Tertre Roteboeuf for dinner by 7.30pm falls short by just 15 minutes. Francois starts by taking us for a tasting in the cellar. Tertre Roteboeuf, Domaine de Cambes and Roc des Combes are all on form and the latter two seem to have more weight than usual, but all display those tell tale signs - elegance, finesse and an almost Burgundian style that is Francois Mitjavile in a glass. He also shows us the 2010 vintage which no doubt is going to be one of the finest on record. Dinner is scallops, just out of the sea with delicious fresh black truffle washed down with Tertre Roteboeuf 2001, with the more robust 2005 the classic foil for perfectly cooked young venison.

Tomorrow’s agenda takes in Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, VCC, Larcis Ducasse and Pavie Macquin and finishes in Libourne with Christian Moueix, so it’s off to bed!

Day Four

Another 7.30am start with a visit to Ausone tasting the range of 6 wines concluding with the main wine. Largely disappointing with very closed and angular wines that will take patience; some leaness on the Fonbel, short finish on Sinard, Haut Sinard and Chapelle d’Issan. The Moulin St Georges is more stylish with racy fruit and the Ausone is highly concentrated with really good ageing potential - it needs to be considerably lower in price if we are going to take up our allocation. A quick 5-minute drive to Cheval Blanc and we arrive in the wonderful new £10 million chai and fabulous barrel room. A very difficult tasting for both Cheval Blanc and Petit Cheval both of which are a little numb, quite fresh and very tannic, but have concentration - there is no question that it’s almost impossible to fully assess these wines at present. The disappointment is their other property, La Tour du Pin - great last year but quite aggressive with dry, unripe tannin to the fore. Y’Quem is under the same ownership and we get a separate tasting - wow, this is a sensational wine - orange, mint and a finish that lasts a full 2 minutes. Exotic and decadent springs to mind. Together with Climens, this wine is the pick of the vintage.

Next stop Petrus - another classic, focused effort with beautifully scented red berry fruit, tremendous concentration, but quite closed with tannin levels around 10/15% higher than last year. VCC is just next door and the 35% cabernet franc really lifts the wine; it’s been a really good year for that variety and put in the hands of a perfectionist, Alexandre Thienpont, the results speak for themselves. Great wine sometimes needs little explanation and the Thienponts make great wine. Quickly to Le Pin and Jacques, as always welcoming, and proud of his new micro- chateau which is virtually complete; the Le Pin 2011 is just a delight, almost in the style of a top Burgundy, elegant, refined, rich and very long. He also introduces his new Saint Emilion L’if, a name and property to watch - let’s hope he positions the price at an affordable level - it’s really concentrated, beautifully constructed and in about 5/6 years a joy to drink.

The final stop at JP Moueix in Libourne with Christian and Edouard Moueix. The wines are amazingly fresh, balanced with even some violet notes in the Certan de May and the La Fleur de Petrus, never one to overextract which is probably the biggest crime in this vintage. Highlights are Chateau La Serre, which gets better every vintage, Magdelaine, attractive, bright and in 6/7 years guaranteed delicious. Providence, Hosanna, La Fleur Petrus and Trotanoy are all engaging, extremely concentrated - worthy additions to any cellar; La Fleur Petrus will take the longest time, at least 10 years.

A 20-minute hop and is all aboard Aer Lingus and back on the water!

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