2012 Bordeaux shines in bottle
Tuesday, 9 June 2015 by Thomas Parker
When we first tasted the 2012 Bordeaux En Primeur wines in spring 2013, the sense of a system struggling to attract customers and a feeling that Châteaux needed to drastically improve their pricing was the main topic of every conversation. Coupled with the recent memory of the truly outstanding 2009 and 2010 vintages, the quality of the wines was secondary to market forces at the time. The prices for young wines needed to fall back into line with mature vintages. Now in 2015, little has changed as far as En Primeur is concerned, but now that the 2012s are in bottle and being retasted, there is a ripple of excitement at the quality and approachability of the vintage. With that in mind, the Farr team got together this week to taste twelve 2012s over dinner to see just how good they are. With the right bank and Graves the most lauded of the vintage, we focused on these areas.
Rather than jumping straight into Bordeaux, we began the evening with some Egly Ouriet 2004, which is a delicious, Pinot-dominated Champagne. It has a full, rich nose of apricot, white strawberry and all-butter biscuit, but a fresh palate which is balanced by crisp acidity. It is long and complex, ready to drink but with the structure for serious ageing. Following the Champagne our Chairman, Stephen Browett, served us a flight of white wines blind. These were immediately identifiable as three Chardonnays with some age, and after a little deduction, as a trio of 2002 White Burgundies. All three were made by Jean-Marie Guffens, with two Verget wines and a Guffens-Heynen. The first, Saint-Veran “Terres Noires” was just £85 per dozen in bond on release, but this wine that would mostly have been drunk up well before 2010 was showing superbly. A golden colour with a slight orange hue, the nose was fully mature with buttered popcorn and brioche. The palate was opulent without being flabby, rich with creamy caramelised peaches and a lightly spicy note. The second was a more reserved Chablis les Vaillons 1er Cru “Vieilles Vignes des Minots”, which had a medium gold colour with lively lime and fresh herbal notes on the nose, reminiscent of nettles. The palate showed a more creamy, marmalade character with a fine acidity and a real minerality. A lovely aged Chablis. The last wine was the blockbuster Pouilly-Fuissé “Clos des Petits Croux”. This has a wonderfully rich and expressive nose of lemon curd, peaches, brioche and candied orange peel. The palate was ripe, intense and amazingly concentrated, but there was still such freshness to the wine. The lemon curd note and flinty, smoky complexity built with more time in the glass. The finish was long and complex, with a real balance between the ripe fruit core, toasted spices, and creamy notes from age. A special wine.
After the whites we moved on to the main event. We split the wines into three flights of four, grouping them together by region. The first flight was served knowing which wine was which, but we opted to serve flights two and three blind to make our assessments of quality and value completely unbiased.
Flight 1 – Pessac-Leognan:
Malartic Lagravière Rouge - £240 per dozen
Deep ruby colour. The nose is bright with blueberry and black cherry fruit and a slight toast from oak. The palate is polished with soft, smooth and rounded tannins giving a lovely texture to accompany a juicy black cherry and blackcurrant fruit core. The finish is long and lifted by refreshing acidity. This is a really charming, rounded wine that will give excellent early drinking pleasure. This must be the best Bordeaux 2012 you can buy at this price. Superb value for money. 17/20
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge - £330 per dozen
Deep purple colour. Blackcurrant, black cherry and cocoa on the nose. The palate is dark and brooding, with a dense core of black fruit layered by sweet spice and smoke. There is good grip from the ripe tannins, this wine will need a few years in bottle to come round, but there is real intensity and power to the fruit core. There is a long and spicy finish, hinting at great things to come. 17+/20
Pape Clément Rouge - £540 per dozen
Deep purple in the glass. The nose is ripe and rich with blackcurrant fruit, coconut, and nutmeg. A real blockbuster nose. The palate follows in the same vein, with a dense, opulent core of ripe black fruits. The tannins are ripe and in balance with the smoky oak and full bodied texture. There is a saturating intensity to the fruit that lingers on the long finish. A real powerhouse of the vintage. 18/20
Haut Bailly - £450 per dozen
Deep purple in colour. The nose is very pure with blackcurrant and a little smoke and earth. A classic Graves character. The palate has real focus, with the blackcurrant core of fruit given structure by firm Cabernet tannins. This is a serious wine, that will need time to soften and flesh out, but it has all the structure to be long lived and improve with age. 17/20
Pape Clément, with its seductive style and ripe character, won this flight. It’s exotic, hedonistic fruit is still balanced by the structure, making it a real crowd pleaser. The Domaine de Chevalier and Haut Bailly both needed time in the bottle and promise great things for the future, exhibiting true Graves character at excellent prices. The Domaine de Chevalier at £330 looks a great buy. But the value for the flight has to go to Malartic Lagravière. Discussing it afterwards we all agreed this looks an amazing bargain, and I’m sure it will slip into one or two of our team’s cellars. With no hard edges, cool ripeness and real early drinking pleasure, this wine is a ‘no brainer’ in 2012.
Flight 2 served blind – Saint Emilion:
Tertre Rôteboeuf - £1200 per dozen
Deep ruby colour. The nose is incredibly aromatic with blueberry, red and black cherries and dried flowers, with a little smoke from new oak. The palate is sweet, soft, round, and gently smoky. Oodles of ripe red and black fruit give juiciness to a wine that is super smooth, layered and lifted. A really precise and long finish round off a stunning bottle that could be drunk now but will last for years. 19/20
L’If - £1500 per dozen
Deep ruby colour. Black cherry and blackcurrant on the nose, very pure, with a hint of something floral and sweet spice. The palate is cool, pure and focused. The black fruit core is given structure by ripe tannins, and given complexity from a little toasty oak. This is a serious wine which has a long and complex finish. You could just about drink it now but it is bound to improve with age. 18/20
Belair Monange - £720 per dozen
Medium-deep ruby colour. A ripe red cherry and bramble fruit nose here. The palate is juicy with red fruits and a hint of black cherry, with super silky tannins and real vibrancy. This is light on its feet, with lots of floral character and a lifted finish with sweet spices. This is a very approachable style that has a wonderful smooth texture with a bright intensity. Perfect to drink now, but with potential to age. 17.5/20
Figeac - £520 per dozen
Deep purple colour. A rich nose of black cherry, blackcurrant and black pepper. The palate is intense, with lots of ripe black fruits, wood smoke and toast from new oak, and grip from ripe tannins. This is a smoky, intense wine which will need time in the bottle before opening, but has superb concentration and balance. 17.5+/20
Tertre Rôteboeuf was the winner in this flight. Its purity, balance and structure make it a wonderful wine to taste at this young age, but its complexity and intensity offer more for the future. It has a unique Burgundian character that helped it to stand out and to score well (the majority correctly guessed this wine as Tertre Rôteboeuf blind). Jacques Thienpont’s new St Emilion, L’If, showed very well and proved to be a special wine that stood up to stiff competition in the line-up. Figeac 2012 was the first vintage with Michel Rolland consulting and the changes show – there is no greenness or hint of under ripe tannin. The intensity and ripeness were all there, as was a good lick of oak. This is a more modern style, but with time in the bottle it should prove to be a real winner.
Flight 3 – Pomerol:
Clinet - £500 per dozen
Deep ruby colour. An aromatic, earthy and floral nose with blueberry and violet notes to supplement the black cherry core. The palate has real intensity, with blue and black fruits to the fore, but there is a liveliness from refreshing acidity and soft, silky tannins that make this wine and absolute joy. The balance and precision are truly excellent, and the lightly smoky finish adds complexity to a truly exceptional 2012 from Clinet. 17.5/20
Le Gay - £560 per dozen
Deep purple colour. Explosive aromatics of blueberry, black cherry and dried flowers with vanilla pod and toast. The palate is juicy, with highly polished, supple, soft tannins giving a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel, lifted by acidity. The black cherry fruit core is intense, and lingers on the long finish. This wine is soft enough to drink now, but has real potential for age. Another highlight of the right bank in 2012. 18/20
Vieux Château Certan - £960 per dozen
Deep purple colour. A very distinctive nose of graphite, blackcurrant and green pepper. The palate is intense with fresh black fruits and garrigue, with fresh acidity and structure tannins. This is long, refined and perfectly poised. On revealing the identitiy of the wines, it was no great surprise as this exudes classic VCC character with the Cabernet Franc notes coming through. It will need bottle age some before opening. 17+/20
La Violette - £1980 per dozen
Medium-deep purple colour. Another ripe blueberry nose, layered with black cherry, fresh cherry blossom and sweet vanilla. The palate is very juicy, with highly polished tannins giving a silky texture to the cherry fruit core. There is a real intensity to the fruit that drives a pure, floral note through to the long finish. The density to the wine is balanced by acidity that leaves the palate with clean layers of ripe blue and black fruits, sweet spice from new oak, and a very aromatic, floral character. 18/20
In blind tasting Le Gay won out in this flight, thanks to its super silky texture and easiness of drinking even at this young age. Both it and La Violette were definitely of a style and were an identifiable pair to everyone. They are both so refined and silky on the palate, but with purity and power to match, that they are real favourites for the Farr Vintners team. Vieux Château Certan was another very easily identified wine – its freshness and structure thanks to the Cabernet Franc made it stand out next to three very smooth, Merlot dominated Pomerols.
After we had finished the tasting and discussed the wines as a whole, our main impression was just how consistently good the quality was for the twelve wines. 2012s have slipped under the radar, but the smooth and refined tannins, juicy fruit cores and approachable tannins mean these have a real place in the market, and the cellar. You could open most of these wines tonight and really enjoy them, but they also have the fruit to last. There is no hint of greenness that the 2011s can sometimes display, but a pure and cool ripeness. Certainly on the right bank and the Graves, this vintage sits just below the great ones, and could be a new 1998, 2001 or 2008. They really are wonderful wines for drinking, and now that they are physical do look good value for money given their quality. It has certainly reinforced my opinion that this is a great vintage to have to drink at home while waiting for the 2009s, 2010s and 2005s to mature.
We finished the night with some mature wine, drinking a Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1990 from magnum that is at a perfect age with lots of earthy, cedary undertones layered with juicy blackcurrant fruit. The tannins were mellow and rounded, and the finish was very long. This shows time and again what a fabulous wine was made here in 1990. Following that we closed proceedings with a beautifully mature Yquem 1983. This was a deep gold with hints of amber, but the nose was still incredibly fresh, a mix of marmalade, acacia honey and tarte tatin, with complex earthy undertones. The palate was honeyed apricots and brown sugar, still with freshness of acidity and a truffle-like complexity on the finish. A wonderful wine that lingered on the finish as we found our respective ways home.