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Bordeaux 2012

by Geoffrey Dean, 04/13

Geoffrey Dean has been writing about wine and winemakers for Harpers since 2010. He is a second year student on the Master of Wine programme, having won the Institute of the Masters of Wine Esterhazy Scholarship in 2012. This is his first piece for wine-pages.com.

Each spring, the Châteaux of Bordeaux invite the world's wine buyers and press to taste their latest vintage. This year, Bordeaux 2012 was on show, and this report includes detailed notes on the vintage as well as scores for recommended wines tasted during Geoffrey Dean's tasting-packed week in the region.

Merchants offering En Primeur

   

Vintage overview

pichon baron Despite some challenging and difficult weather conditions in 2012, Bordeaux has produced some outstanding wines, especially on the Right Bank. That did not seem at all likely after a shortage of sunshine in the first half of the growing season, but the vintage was saved by hot and very dry weather from mid-July to September that enabled a large proportion of black grapes to ripen fully. Cool nights in those months allowed white grapes to retain their acidity, a key factor in the production of exemplary white wine in Pessac-Léognan.

In Sauternes, however, too much humidity and insufficient wind mitigated heavily against the production of quality sweet wine, with three of the top players - Yquem, Rieussec and Suidiraut - declining to make any grand vin. A few, led by Coutet, produced some outstanding results, but yields were extraordinarily low.

While 2012 will be remembered as a Right Bank vintage (Merlot and Cabernet Franc ripened without difficulty), parts of the Left Bank still conjured up some remarkable wines, if none quite as good as those of Ausone and Cheval Blanc. Significantly, Merlot became the dominant grape for Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut Brion and Palmer. If many observers arrived for the primeur tastings expecting to find more greenness than they cared for in Cabernet-dominated wines, they were pleasantly surprised. For there were very little green notes to be found in Médoc and Pessec-Léognan reds.

Wineries confessed that their teams had never worked so hard in the vineyards, taking bunch-thinning and leaf-plucking to new levels. Getting the grapes off the vine before the rains arrived was another vital necessity, with Lafite-Rothschild hiring as many as 450 pickers for their Lafite and Duhart-Milon vineyards to beat the rain that arrived in mid-October and barely stopped till mid-February. Indeed, it has been one of Bordeaux's wettest winters in living memory. Above: Château Pichon-Baron.

And what about the wines?

margaux cooperage But enough of the Bordelais' trials and tribulations. What are the wines really like? Across the board in the classed growths and at Cru Bourgeois level, there is real precision and sweetness of fruit, while tannins are generally soft, ripe and well-integrated. There is some remarkable concentration too. Aromas are more lifted and pronounced than 2011, an inferior vintage in most cases. Above all, there is typicity, with a real expression of terroir. It may not be a consummate year in the mould of 2009 or 2010, but Paul Pontallier said that his Margaux grand vin would have been "a great wine had we not had '09 and '10, which reset levels that were unthinkable."

Left: the tonnellerie at Margaux.

Therein, perhaps, lies cause for gratitude, as this is likely to be a year for the drinker rather than investor. Jean-Christophe Mau, head of leading Bordeaux négociant, Yvon Mau, spoke of the large stock of 2011 that the Place de Bordeaux has still to unload. That is bound to affect the prices of the 2012s, making the better wines more affordable.

Finally, a word on Sauternes and Barsac. The skill of pickers was almost as important as the fruit this year, ensuring its purity. "We owed a lot to our team of 80, who responded very quickly when we called them," said Aline Baly of Coutet. "We had four pickings, with the most important in late October after a weekend of sun and wind." The result is the sweet wine of the vintage - fabulously concentrated with more residual sugar than any other producer (145g/l), yet showing delicacy, freshness and perfect balance. Coutet's yield was just 4hl/h for its flagship wine, but Guiraud trumped that with a startling 1hl/ha.

Top wines tasted

Best Sweet Wines

  • Coutet 96/100
  • Guiraud 95/100
  • Rayne Vigneau 95/100
  • Clos Haut-Peyraguey 95/100
  • Climens 94/100
  • Rabaud-Promis 94/100
  • Lafaurie-Peyraguey 93/100
  • La Tour Blanche 93/100
  • Filhot 92/100
  • Nairac 91/100
  • Doisy-Vedrines 91/100

Best Right Bank

  • Cheval Blanc 96/100
  • Ausone 96/100
  • Le Pin 95/100
  • Figeac 94/100
  • Clos Fourtet 93/100
  • La Conseillante 93/100
  • Angelus 93/100
  • Canon La Gaffelière 92/100
  • Valandraud 92/100
  • Le Petit Village 91/100
  • Canon 91/100
Note: Petrus not tasted

Best Left Bank

  • Haut-Brion 95/100
  • La Mission Haut-Brion 95/100
  • Palmer 95/100
  • Margaux 95/100
  • Lafite 94/100
  • Montrose 94/100
  • Haut-Bailly 93/100
  • Pichon Baron 93/100
  • Pontet-Canet 93/100
  • Mouton Rothschild 92/100
  • Grand-Puy-Lacoste 92/100
  • d'Issan 92/100
  • Calon Ségur 92/100
  • Léoville Las Cases 92/100
  • Rauzan-Segla 92/100
Note: Latour not tasted

Best Second Wines

  • La Chapelle d'Ausone 92/100
  • Le Petit Cheval Blanc 92/100
  • La Parde d'Haut-Bailly 91/100
  • Le Pavillon Rouge 91/100
  • Les Tourelles de Longueville 90/100
  • Le Carillon de l'Angelus 89/100
  • La Dame de Montrose 89/100
  • Le Petit Mouton 89/100
  • La Fugue de Nenin 88/100
  • Le Jardin de Petit Village 87/100

Best Dry White

  • Domaine de Chevalier 97/100
  • La Mission Haut Brion 96/100
  • Haut-Brion 96/100
  • Pape Clément 96/100
  • Smith Haut Lafitte 95/100
  • Carbonnieux 95/100
  • Fieuzal 95/100
  • Brown 94/100
  • Couhins 94/100
  • Le Pavillon Blanc 93/100
  • Malartic-Lagravière 93/100