2012 Bordeaux Blind Tasting at Southwold
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 by Stephen Browett
If it’s January, then it’s Southwold time. Every year, for a quarter of a century now, I’ve headed off to this charming little seaside town (home of the famous Adnams Brewery) to taste through the latest Bordeaux vintage to be physically released onto the market. When I started attending this great annual event I was the youngest person there, but certainly that is no longer the case! Sadly, we have lost Richard Peat, Bill Baker and John Avery from our ranks whilst Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and Roy Richards have de-camped to Burgundy. However, our group of twenty tasters still comprises the great and the good of the British wine world with young Masters of Wine Alex Hunt and Matthew Hemming joining senior MW’s David Roberts, Sebastian Payne and Mark Savage. There are representatives of the leading UK fine wine merchants as well as critics Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier.
This year it was the turn of 2012, and it was quite a marathon, with probably more wines to judge than ever before. We blind-tasted our way through 23 peer-group flights of 12 wines per flight over the course of three days. As always, the bottles were served in random order within their flight with no discussion until after the scores were taken.
After last year’s rather underwhelming 2011 tasting we were very pleasantly surprised by 2012. This was a vintage that showed reasonably well from barrel but, in my opinion, the wines in bottle are showing better than expected. If I had to generalise, I would say that the communes of Pessac-Leognan and Pomerol have produced the best wines across the board. Saint Emilion (and environs) are very good but mixed and in the Medoc the wines have turned out to be really quite good. I asked everyone present to rank 2012 against other recent vintages (red wines only) and here are the results (13 votes for the best vintage, 12 for second best and so-on down to 1 vote for the least good vintage).
Not only has this turned out to be a good middle-ranking vintage, but it also has the advantage of being a vintage where the wines are relatively forward with well-rounded tannins that will give early drinking pleasure. Some of the less famous names are already approaching drinkability. It’s also a very decent year for the dry white wines of Bordeaux but a bit of a disaster for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Moving around the communes, here are notes on some of my favourite wines of the vintage:
Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion are, of course, the stars here but there were also outstanding performances from Smith Haut Lafitte and Pape Clement. There was also an excellent effort from the moderately priced Malartic Lagraviere which scored over 16/20 in the averages – a score that beat many “super-seconds” in this vintage. This up-and-coming property certainly must be in there with a shout for having produced the “Best Value Wine of the Vintage”
There really are an enormous amount of wines to taste from Saint Emilion and we had to split them into 6 flights. Taking aside the big names (Ausone just pipping Cheval Blanc to the winning post), I was hugely impressed by a totally seductive Tertre Roteboeuf (that received my top score) and a beautifully balanced Figeac that manages to be both subtle and sophisticated whilst also having the stuffing and density that it sometimes lacked in the past. This is a Chateau to watch as this truly great terroir is now on top form but prices are still reasonable. The equally superb Angelus, for example, is a great wine but it is 5 times the price of Figeac in the market today. For value in Saint Emilion, Quinault L’Enclos has had a real transformation under the wine-making team from Cheval Blanc and this 2012 is gorgeously soft and silky – and just about ready to drink.
This was probably my favourite commune in 2012. All of the leading Chateaux made excellent wines. My highest score went to L’Eglise Clinet (yet again!) with Lafleur, Petrus and Trotanoy just behind. For value I would recommend the succulent and seductive 2012 Clinet which was delightfully smooth and creamy – and nearly ready to drink. At £40 per bottle this may not be cheap, but it is priced well below the wines that achieved higher scores.
The two Margaux flights have often been the weakest in past Southwold tastings but there were some lovely wines made here in 2012. Not surprisingly, Chateau Margaux itself is head and shoulders above the rest, with Palmer receiving my second highest score. Once again (as we have found in recent vintages) there was a very impressive effort from Issan.
The winner here was the superb second growth Léoville Poyferré which, at this early stage in its life, shows a bit more flesh and puppy-fat than the other two Leovilles. A very impressive Saint Pierre was in second place whilst stable-mate Gloria did extremely well – especially when one considers the very modest price. Overall you won’t go wrong in Saint Julien in 2012. Clearly behind 2009 and 2010 of course, these wines could well rival the 2008 vintage whilst being more forward and less firmly structured.
Normally this flight is always won by Montrose or Cos d’Estournel so it was a nice change to see them narrowly beaten, by Calon Ségur. For value for money there were good efforts from Phelan Segur, Meyney and Capbern Gasqueton.
There are some very good Pauillacs in 2012. Latour and Mouton achieved my highest scores but the two Pichons – Baron and Lalande were not far behind. For value I’d go for Batailley. This is a fine Pauillac that has soft tannins and a cashmere texture. For controversy you should try Pontet Canet. This is a wine of impressive concentration but it has a unique character that has more than a hint of late-picked Grenache to it. It will be fascinating to watch the development of this wine.
In conclusion, 2012 is a good vintage – very good in places – that will be ready for drinking well before 2009 and 2010. It is definitely superior to 2011 (and of course 2013). It’s probably not a vintage in which to buy second labels, but there is plenty of value in the £15-30 price range, with very good wines such as Quinault L’Enclos, Malartic Lagraviere, Gloria, Batailley and Capbern Gasqueton.