The wines of 2012 have been compared with those of 2008, neither iconic, neither straight-forward, but neither disappointing. I think it’s safe to say that 2012 needs to be approached judiciously, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have plenty to offer. More than anything, it displays just how far Bordeaux has come. In days gone by, the resulting wine from a vintage such as this would have been drastically different, vignerons wouldn’t have gone to the lengths that they go to today, such as sacrificing yield to sustain quality. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a vast improvement in viticultural practices, today more producers are harvesting grapes at optimal ripeness, thanks to improved pruning throughout the year, higher trellising, more astute use of agro chemicals, and the implementation of canopy management.
Price is undoubtedly the major lynchpin dictating the overall success of this campaign. No one likes being overcharged, and that is precisely what happened last year. As a result, there was a very defensive air hanging over the campaign. This year, merchants, journalists and aficionados all clubbed together to echo the same message, that prices must be reasonable.
The barrel room at ‘Cheval Blanc’
We received e mail confirmation on Friday morning advising us that first growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild had released their prices, which were considerably lower than last year; follow this link for more information: http://www.wineinvestment.org/wineblog/bordeaux-2012-releases-update/
The question is, will they be the first of many to release at a modest price? If so, the first hurdle will be potentially cleared, meaning that our attention can now focus on the price quality ratio of the wines.
Our overall conclusion was that for this so called ‘lesser’ vintage, vineyards on the best sites maintained quality through targeted wine making practices, whereas vineyards on slightly inferior sites perhaps didn’t fare so well.
For the wines of the Médoc, achieving ripeness for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was the major preoccupation. Avoiding methoxypyrazine accumulation, which manifests itself in the wines as ‘greenness’, or ‘herbaceous’ character, was a paramount objective for producers.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild for instance sits smugly on the highest part of the gravel coupes of the Medoc (30 m high), and under the leadership of technical director Philippe Dhalluin has seemingly far from struggled this year. In an interview with James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator Dhalluin explained that: “Budbreak, the date of flowering, and of veraison and harvest, were all within the normal range.” He then went onto explain that: “It was the weather at that time of those events that was different. The vines did what they do normally and they ripened the fruit, but under difficult conditions. In the end, look at the blend of d’Armailhac, for example—it’s basically the same as always, including Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. So yes, we did get ripe fruit in the Médoc. But selection was critical.”
Dhalluin also stated that the due to the drought, the berries were very small, which helped ripening to occur. Ripeness here refers to the phenolic or physiological ripeness, which signifies a change in tannins occurring in the seeds, skins and stems, and the assimilation of acids and accumulation of sugars. On tasting the Chateau D’Armailhac, Clerc Millon and the grand vin, Mouton Rothschild, we would have to agree. In optimal years, Mouton gets described as almost exotic, in truth, the 2012 isn’t, and whilst we noted power it is a lot more graceful than the 2009 or 2010, expressing poised cassis, damson, and classic Pauillac cigar box notes.
Another major objective in Bordeaux this year was avoiding the autumn rain, which started on October the 18th, Mouton started on the 11th and had stopped picking by the 15th. Luckily for them, phenolic ripeness was achieved by this date. Optical sorting was also carried out in order to counteract any outstanding heterogeneity amongst the harvested grapes, resulting in harmonious wines, without a hint of over-extraction: (follow this link to read more about the definition of extraction in wine making).
The whites were an absolute pleasure to taste this year, expressing immense elegance and personality. The harvest in Pessac- Léognan and Graves was two weeks later than it was in 2011, conditions throughout the ripening period were perfect, warm sunny days, cool evenings and nights, which helped to preserve aromas and acidity. Grapes were harvested in perfect condition, without any sign of grey rot, sugar and acid levels were higher than they were in 2011. Hence, the whites at best were opulent and already harmonious, and more than anything we discovered that there is a tremendous amount of diversity. However, at worse, the wines displayed flabby oily characteristics, where the grapes had not been harvested in time to savour the acidity.
Semillion provides structure to the blend and makes the wine have more affinity with oak, whereas Sauvignon Blanc provides vibrancy, consequently a high proportion of Semillion results in a more full bodied wine with more propensity to age. Bordeaux whites are extremely versatile, working as an aperitif wine, and also matching anything from seafood to game. The table below details some of the our favourite whites from en primeur week.
Buying Advice whites:
We have tried to highlight wines that won’t break the bank and also ones that would be worth breaking it! Some of these have already been released and are available to buy.
Estimate Price: £ = less than £20 p/b ££ = £20 -£50 £££ = £50+
Chateau Cos d’Estournel Goulee £££
Pape Clémant Blanc- Pessac- Léognan £££
Smith Haut Lafite Blanc Pessac- Léognan £££
Chateau Monbousquet (£35 IB) ££
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc Pessac- Léognan £££
Clos des Lunes- Bordeaux Blanc – (£12.50) £
Buying Advice Reds:
We encountered some outstanding second wines this year, in fact certain members of the team consistently rated these wines in preference to the grand vins. However, there was a distinct degree of variability, and with yields being down on last year, there was a feeling that some of these wines were too heavily laden with the rejected grapes from the grand vin’s. However, through process of elimination we sought out the beauties amongst the beasts, gallantly tasting our way through, discovering some wines that offer spectacular value for money. Of which some of our favourites included:
Estimate Price: £ = less than £20 p/b ££ = £20 -£50 £££ = £50+
Pezat- Bordeaux Superieur (Ch. Teyssier) £ (less than £10)
Ch. Lascombes ££
La Conseillante £££
Le Carre (Ch. Teyssier) ££
Chapelle D’Ausone ££
Château Capbern Gasquerton ££
Château Duhart- Milon (£47 p/b IB) ££
Alter Ego (£35 p/b IB) ££
Petit Cheval £££
Clerc Milon (£28.75 p/b IB) ££
Château Bellevue Mondotte (£95 p/b IB) £££
Goulee (Cos d’Estournel) £
Chateau Gloria £
Investor & Collector Advice:
As previously mentioned inevitably this year the focus is very much on pricing with everyone in agreement that prices need to come down to generate buyer interest. Negociants described this as a ‘restaurant’ vintage and a ‘buy and sell’ vintage, but on closer inspection the quality in some cases was significantly better than expected. But regardless of the quality of the vintage for 2012 wines to sell and work there needs to be a real incentive for buyers, still it seems that both proprietors and merchants were on the same page, and this has already been in evidence with the early and well-priced release of Mouton Rothschild 2012 at a 33% decrease on 2011. At the market price for private customers at £2,750 it makes the 2012 the cheapest available vintage of Mouton on the market and significantly less than lesser vintages such as 2004 & 2007 (c. £3,150).
This will be a campaign of wait-and-see for investors and collectors. Historical data shows that some of the most speculative returns in the past have been generated from off-prime vintages such as 2008. Of course Parker scores could completely change the complexion of things but with many critics giving positive praise to the best performers, solid if not spectacular scores are expected.
It will be interesting to see how the other Chateaux react to the first week of releases but if wines are priced below any available vintage by 10-20% at least then it should capture people’s imaginations.
A strong case to buy?
First Growths: ex-chateau release price of 150-200 euros would merit investors and collectors attention.
Super Seconds/Flying 5ths: minimum of 10-20% below any available vintage should work. More than 20% and a definite buy recommendation.
Right Banks: good vintage for many of these wines and with much lower production than left bank counterparts hard to see significant price drops. Value versus Quality will decide investment merit.
View from the ‘Le Pin Vineyards’
CULT WINE TEAM – Favourite wines of the week
Helen Tate: Le Pin ‘The experience was undoubtedly enhanced by the rarity and the scale of the property, everything was miniature, from the tanks to the barrel room. But aside from the actual experience, the wine was unreal, very delicate and perfumed with astonishing length’.
Tom Turner: Le Pin ‘Hands down the top wine of the trip. Ausone not far off… But Le Pin just has a uniqueness, a smooth & full texture that makes you feel like you could drink a bottle on the spot. Unlike nearly all other 2012’s there’s plenty of ripe fruit there, leading into a delightful long finish – encore s’il vous plait??’
Philip Gearing: VCC ‘Always such a delight to visit VCC for the sheer quality of the wine and the pleasure of tasting with the Thienpont’s. The 2012 is has beautifully delineated layers of fruit, very elegant, very feminine style with a perfumed nose that will delight those who prefer subtle complexity. Bravo’
Tom Gearing: Palmer ‘A property known for its higher proportion of merlot in the blend really shone through. Furthermore with damage to the vineyard in 2011 reducing yields, it’s even more impressive they’ve turned out such a fantastic effort in this vintage. Powerful & elegant’.
Aarash Ghatineh: Pontet Canet ‘After producing perfect wines in 09/10 & one of the superstars of a below average 2011 campaign, Pontet 2012 had a lot to live up to… it didn’t disappoint. The 2012 represented one of the wines of the left bank for me and suggests that the recent great success of this estate is no accident. Biodynamic philosophy of the estate sets Pontet Canet apart in more challenging vintages & always a pleasure to discuss the vintage with the charismatic Alfred Tesseron’.
Jonathan Stevenson: ‘Cheval Blanc In the words of Cat Stevens ‘the first cut is the deepest’ and these words rang true for me last week at EP2012. Cheval Blanc was the first visit of the week and although many fantastic wines followed, none seemed to quite compare with this fabulous and refined effort from Saint-Emillion. Beautifully soft and long in the finish with a rich sweetness throughout that reminded me of my grandma’s jam…delicious!’