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As always, Jean de Boigne’s flagship Bordeaux shows a knack of capturing the personality of each vintage. With the classic graphite and dark-fruit character so typical of the best 2011s, this has pure intense merlot fruit overlaying admirable structure.
Product Code: CB4061
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The majestic estate of Château de Pitray has been in the de Boigne family for 600 years. Situated on the Gardegan plateau in the west of the Dordogne Valley, the property falls under the Côtes de Castillon appellation, but it lies just 8km from the better-known town of Saint-Emilion. Pitray is thought by many to be amongst the finest properties in the appellation. The château itself has been rebuilt twice, most recently in 1868 when it was built in a wonderful Victorian Gothic style, with a recent £1 million roof sprucing the place up after hail damage. The building is hidden amongst century-old oak and cedar trees at the end of a sweeping drive, with the vineyards planted around the outskirts of the estate to preserve the château’s serenity. Indeed, its builders thought that a view of the vines would be rather vulgar and hid them from sight. However, far from being an elite residence sequestered away, the château is hired out for elaborate cocktail parties and weddings, and some of its rooms are used for a memorable bed-and-breakfast experience. On top of all that, oak trees are now being planted with a view to producing truffles!Since 2003, the estate has been run by current generation Jean de Boigne. He farms the estate sustainably with the health of the soils, vines and the environment around them uppermost in his mind. The 37 hectares of vineyards are split into 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc, both of which enjoy the clay-limestone soils, and vines have an average age of 29 years. The cellar produces almost a quarter of a million bottles annually. Each parcel of vines – and there are many – is vinified separately according to its respective character and needs. The merlot undergoes maceration for longer than the cabernet franc, but both are kept at cool temperatures for the duration, retaining the grapes’ natural character and aromas.The estate’s main wine, Château de Pitray, and also our Society’s Côtes de Bordeaux, are aged in vats, with repeated racking. They then undergo fining with egg whites before blending. Cuvée Madame de Pitray is the result of vineyard and cellar selection of the best grapes, and is often sold en primeur. The wines have a magnificent propensity to age well, and many assert their quality rivals the famous appellation nearby.
The best growers in the less-fashionable regions of the satellite appellations Blaye, Bourg, and the old Premières Côtes have to work that bit harder to get their wines known and the quality is often exceedingly high while the prices remain sensible. Blaye is the northernmost of these satellites, named after the town of Blaye (pronounced ‘Bly’), which sits on the varied soils of the right-hand shore of the great Gironde estuary. Merlot dominates and the majority of the wines are soft and easy-drinking, balanced and flavourful, but without the dominance of new oak. The wines are usually ready to drink much sooner than those of neighbouring Bourg.Côtes de Bourg is a smaller region south of Blaye, where the Dordogne joins the Garonne to become the Gironde. The soils here are more homogenously clay with limestone and the wines, though still generally merlot dominated, are more robust with delectable tannins, and they benefit from a little more time in bottle as a result. They can develop extremely well with short to mid-term cellaring.Before the draining of the marshes of the Médoc in the 17th century it was these areas that provided a good deal of the wine exported to Britain.Castillon adjoins Saint-Emilion to the east along the Dordogne and inland to the north. It is developing a good reputation for its wines and several prestigious producers from neighbouring appellations have invested a good deal to make wine here and too very good effect alongside a number of excellent locals such as Château de Pitray. Merlot again dominates on a mixture of soils from clay to sand and gravel, though cabernet sauvignon is also has a presence. A wider umbrella appellation controlee called simply Côtes de Bordeaux identifies special terroirs, which includes Blaye and Castillon with one or two others on the banks of the two rivers Garonne and Dordogne. The vast majority of production is red, made mostly from merlot, and there are many excellent producers here, such as Denis Dubourdieu.
Nature threw many a challenge at Bordeaux growers in 2011 but the difficulties were faced down by diligent producers and many ripe, pure and traditionally styled clarets were made. An early harvest, sometimes by two or three weeks in some cases, benefited from largely fine weather, without which the cabernet sauvignon would not have ripened sufficiently. Spring had been hot, to the point of some vines shutting down at one stage, and though flowering had been even there was some uneven ripening later. Indifferent weather in August meant that strict selection was required at the harvest. Those who were rigorous in the vineyard and the cellar have made classic clarets characterised by ripeness balanced by refreshing purity of fruit and fine, tight-knit tannins that return to a more traditional style of Bordeaux that many enthusiasts have missed in the previous couple of vintages.Certainly the wines do not display the concentration and exuberance of 2009 and 2010, but there are outstanding examples throughout Bordeaux. Saint-Julien and Pauillac performed particularly well, as did the most favoured sites of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, though in every case the wines are fresher, more classically proportioned expression of Bordeaux than the two vintages that preceded it. Some have likened the vintage to 2001 and that has turned out to be considerably better than expected, and other have assessed the vintage as being somewhere between 2004 and 2008 in style. Wines made by the best producers with great terroir, and the resources to ensure that the necessary care was taken in the vineyard and the cellar, have produced wines that will age well for many years to come. Most are likely to need more time in bottle than the 2012s or 2013s.Sauternes and Barsac enjoyed their third excellent vintage in a row. The warm, humid conditions at the end of the season were a gift to these regions, whose winemakers have rarely seen such regular onset of noble rot. Here the rich but beautifully fresh style of the vintage makes for easier comparisons with the fine 2007, and perhaps the great 2001.
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