Red Bordeaux, Vintage 2012 : What You Need to Know
Two weeks ago, I attended a tasting of the 2012 Bordeaux wines in the beautiful Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. A lot of prestigious châteaux were there, from all appellations, which gave a pretty good overall outlook on that vintage. It’s now the third or fourth time that I taste most of these wines and here are my conclusions on a year that most magazines, and therefore most people consider as bad.
First of all, a quick reminder of the weather conditions in 2012 and their effects on viticulture :
– After a cold and dry winter, April was very cold and rainy, making for a slow and heterogeneous bud break.
– A rainy and cool month of June disrupted the flowering, which increased heterogeneousness between grapes even more. Coulure and millerandage (vine diseases) affected Merlot vines massively.
– Following a cold month of July, August was one of the warmest and driest months in Bordeaux in years. However by the end of the month, you could notice green grapes alongside darker grapes on the same cluster: a sign of uneven maturity.
– Toward the end of September and in October, the weather got very humid and cold. In most cases, vine-growers were forced to harvest before the grapes were really ripe (especially Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon).
With such climatic conditions, a lot of winemakers in the region had trouble avoiding some flaws in their wine. Nonetheless, those who work the hardest, with rigorous daily work on vines managed to get better grape ripeness and therefore higher quality wine.
2012 proves that nowadays, most of the great growths of Bordeaux (because of their financial superiority) tend to make excellent wine every year regardless of the weather conditions. Not only do they use very elaborate technical equipment, but they also have the privilege to select only the best grapes that’ll make their wine, even if it means producing less bottles. That way, quality remains consistent. It is also necessary to say that those châteaux usually own better “terroirs” to grow vines, with great soils and sunlight exposure.
On the other hand, “smaller” estates that market reasonably priced wine do not share this privilege of selection. They need to make as much wine as possible and more importantly sell it. They simply can’t afford leaving a lot of grapes away, even if their quality is not up to standard. This is why the vintage might be a more important factor when it comes to “smaller” wineries. Then again, there are exceptions! Some few dedicated winegrowers make amazing wine year after year and sell it at a reasonable price. They’re just not easy to find!
Merlot is the most successful grape in 2012. As a result, wines from the right bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol…) made a better impression. Nevertheless, there are some superb wines on the left bank too. Here are some names you won’t be disappointed with, appellation by appellation:
– Saint-Emilion: The best wines in 2012 come from that appellation. Château Trottevieille is a wonderful wine, very fruity and perfumed. Clos Fourtet is the best bottle I’ve tried, refined, fresh, extremely aromatic, smooth, fine tanins, and a long beautiful finish. Perfect combination of texture and aromas. The classic Bordeaux style to its finest. A great success!
Château Troplong Mondot shows a lot of body and structure for the year. Part of it comes from the fact that their soils consist mainly of clay. It’s on that kind of soil that Merlot makes the most corpulent and concentrated wines. I also think that Troplong Mondot tends to make a different style of wine than, for instance, Clos Fourtet. A more globalized, Robert Parker style of wine, that you notice immediately in a wine tasting because of its frame. This wine is still very good, but not my favorite style.
– Saint-Julien: As usual, Saint-Julien is the most homogeneous and consistent appellation. The Barton family produced two of the best wines in the area with Langoa Barton and Léoville Barton (two different styles but two high quality bottles). Château Lagrange is also a success.
– Pauillac : Château Pichon Longueville Baron came out on top of the tasting. Its wonderful, long, aromatic and fine finish made the difference. Exceptional wine.
Until we know more about 2014, 2012 appears to be the best vintage since 2010. In comparison, 2011’s are much more austere.
2012’s suit perfectly today’s instant gratification world. Nowadays, less and less people have a proper cellar (or are patient enough) to let their wine age and mature slowly. Plenty of owners regret that most of their 2009’s and 2010’s have been opened already, way too early and still far away from their prime. These 2012’s are simple, ready to be opened, delightful wines. They will be good for another five to ten years (more for the best châteaux).
My advice is to open and drink those 2012’s, and enjoy them for what they are: extremely pleasant red wines. In the meantime, leave the more complex 2010’s in a corner of a cellar until they peak, because they will offer plenty of emotion to the patient wine lover in five, ten, twenty or thirty years!