When offering this one year ago, I exclaimed Left Bank Bordeaux and the 2011 vintage had arrived in an astonishingly beautiful drinking window—one that most people could never have predicted. Here’s the inside scoop: There are a select few châteaux that bottled impeccably classic reds in this unsung year, and they’re far from sitting in the shadows of the powerful ’09 and ’10 vintages. Coming in at under $30, Château Cambon La Pelouse has everything you could want from a maturing Left Bank Bordeaux—depth, elegance, complexity, breed, the whole package—but among its myriad charms, the longevity here speaks loudest.
This will continue to evolve beautifully for many more years to come, and, originally, that was the plan for the remaining batch our warehouse—further bottle aging. We survived one year: the bottle from last week brought so much immense pleasure, I felt compelled to release what little we had left. That’s classic Bordeaux for you. There is a family-run château with age-worthy gems always waiting to be discovered, and we never tire of finding them. Situated just outside the Margaux AOC in the village of Macau, Cambon La Pelouse has been on a roll since Annick and Jean-Pierre Marie took it over in 1996, and this 2011 proves it in spades. If you love to drink classic Bordeaux, do not pass this up—it’s the last of our stock!
When it comes to selecting wines to offer here, we don’t cite critics’ scores and we don’t put much stock in broad-ranging “vintage reports,” either. The latter are an especially unreliable source of information because (a) wines change over time and (b) there are always plenty of high-performing wines in challenging years. While it’s ultimately our own palates and judgment we trust when considering wines to offer for SommSelect, we obviously read what others have to say—and when it comes to Bordeaux, no one has more to say than the British. In doing some background research on this wine and vintage, I came across a 2016 article by Decanter writer Andrew Jefford, who found himself questioning the conventional wisdom on 2011 Bordeaux after re-visiting a bunch of them in a tasting. He concluded that the negative assessments of ’11 constituted a “miscarriage of justice,” and went on the add the following exclamation point:
“The best 2011s are classic, generously constructed, well-built and enduring wines of true gastronomic potential which I would love to own and to cellar, and which I believe will prove popular with the legions of experienced red Bordeaux lovers who still throng the world’s fine-wine market, provided they give them at least a decade or so’s cellar ripening before sitting down to dinner with them.”
So there you have it—and as we approach the decade mark on today’s wine, I can say that it is just entering its window of drinkability, with a powerful mix of dark fruit and profound gravelly soil character. As Bordeaux aficionados know, Haut-Médoc is a wide-ranging appellation, stretching about 37 miles along Bordeaux’s “Left Bank” and containing more clay in its soils in the sections further away from the banks of the Gironde River. Macau, where Cambon La Pelouse has been located since the 1700s (and where Fifth Growth Château Cantemerle is a neighbor), is just marginally outside the Margaux AOC boundary and features sandy/gravelly soils like those of Margaux. Cambon La Pelouse’s vineyard holdings total 38 hectares, with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon comprising the majority of the plantings along with a small percentage of Petit Verdot. Average vine age is about 35 years.
Today’s 2011 blend of 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot matured for a little over a year in French oak barriques, of which 40% were new. It has the dark, brooding structure of a Margaux, with lots of black fruit character and a dense, viscous texture. In the glass, it’s a deep ruby moving to garnet at the rim, with expressive aromas of cassis, red and black plum, a hint of tomato leaf, tobacco, cedar, and crushed black rocks. It is medium-plus in body and its tannins have softened nicely, and while it coats that palate with saturated dark fruit and a hint of cacao it also has a lot of freshness on the finish. The wine’s savor and brisk, mouthwatering acid will make it a great “gastronomic” wine, to borrow a phrase from Jefford: Decant it 45 minutes before serving in Bordeaux stems at 60-65 degrees and pair it with a saucy steak au poivre, frites, and maybe some sautéed greens on the side. This is a delicious, old-school Bordeaux for food, and it’s got a way to go yet, so don’t be afraid to forget a bottle or two in your cellar. There’s more payoff ahead! Cheers!
Merlot 50%; Cabernet Sauvignon 47%; Petit Verdot 3%
Partial New French
Sand & Gravel