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2012 Ten Years On

Monday, 14th February 2022 by Thomas Parker MW

The annual “Ten Years On” blind tasting returned to its normal schedule after recent delays due to the pandemic. This year we looked at the 2012s, with 2018 Southwold fresh in our minds.

This tasting group has run for several decades, this being my tenth involvement. It continues to take place at Farr Vintners’ bespoke tasting room in Battersea overlooking the River Thames, as has been the case in recent years after nomadic beginnings. The wines are tasted, as always, blind in peer groups of 12. In each flight we know which wines are to be served but not the order.

This year the group included writers Neal Martin (of Vinous), Mark Andrew MW (of Noble Rot), Jancis Robinson MW and Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW (formerly of The Wine Advocate and now of the Wine Independent).  Nine Masters of Wine and the wine buyers of the most respected UK Wine Merchants were in attendance.

2012 was charming in its youth. After the blockbusters 2009 and 2010, 2011 was both too expensive on release and so tannic it underperformed both en primeur and at Southwold (though, as Stephen Browett’s recent blog on the 2011 Ten Years On Tasting shows, some of these wines are now showing beautifully at a decade old). 2012 stood in opposition to 2011 – the tannins soft, fruit more expressive and forward and an overarching lighter touch after three concentrated years was praised. Prices, too, had come down after three years of heady releases and a market correction. 2012 was open almost from release and it offered drinkers a chance to enjoy a recent vintage of Bordeaux while others slept in the cellar. The questions now are - how well have they held their charm, and where do they go from here? 

A selection of the top Right Bank wines - including the special Angélus and Pavie bottles and Eglise Clinet, the overall winner.
A selection of the top Right Bank wines - including the special Angélus and Pavie bottles and Eglise Clinet, the overall winner.

We started on the right bank. It was clear that Robert Parker’s influence was still strong here; several wines showed the over-extraction and heady ripeness that is now thankfully in decline. The best Merlots were however the strongest wines in the entire tasting – this is due to rains that affected Cabernet Sauvignon’s ability to ripen on both sides of the river. From the satellite appellations, Cruzelles was a very strong performer and indeed beat several expensive wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol.

Saint Emilion was particularly varied, the extracted styles polarising opinion at times and drawing universal criticism at others. Though this was the first vintage of Grand Cru Classé A status for Angélus and Pavie (celebrated by black and gold labels) in what is now a much maligned and contested classification, it was in fact Canon that rose to the top. The finesse and elegance of this wine shone through – it is sumptuous and refined, a marker for the 100-point score that followed with the 2015 vintage. An outstanding performance from a wine that offers much better value than many names in this appellation – it remains under £1,000 per dozen in bond. Cheval Blanc came second, with Pavie in third place. 

Pomerol was more consistent in style than Saint Emilion. These are perfumed and seductive wines with tannins fully melting into the fruit by this stage in all but the very top examples. L’Eglise Clinet was the clear winner – and was in fact the top-rated wine in 2012 by the group. It is more muscular than most yet remains harmonious with intense and driven fruit at the core. It will be one of the longest-lived wines in 2012 and stands apart in quality for the vintage. This has been an incredible wine from the first tasting from barrel and it is no surprise to see it finish on top. Just behind were Lafleur (in 2nd), and the rare Le Pin. Those looking for wines under £100 a bottle should consider Gazin, or the aforementioned Cruzelles, which from the border of the appellation achieves quality in keeping with many of the loftier names. 

Léoville Poyferré shone once again in Saint Julien.
Léoville Poyferré shone once again in Saint Julien.

After the Right Bank we moved to Péssac-Leognan. Haut Brion is deep and brooding in 2012 – it will need more patience than most before becoming approachable. It was understandably the top wine here. La Mission came second but seemed more open and expressive at this stage, bringing the earthy sense of place together with succulent fruit and silky tannins. Domaine de Chevalier came in third and is one to buy this year – it is excellent value for money and offers a similar combination of silky structure and typicity to La Mission in a much more affordable package. 

Margaux was the weakest of the Médoc appellations in 2012. Though Château Margaux eased to victory here it was the lowest scoring first growth. Palmer was the best of the rest, with Rauzan Ségla in third. There were no surprises here – the top names showed their class while others struggled at times. Though the fragrance of the vintage lent itself to lovely aromatics in these wines, they lacked a certain intensity and drive on the palate. Most are very approachable now and are for the mid-term. 

Saint Julien offered the consistency to which we are accustomed, and it was yet another victory for Léoville Poyferré – this seductive and succulent style impressed tasters and shone out in the crowd. Second place was a three-way tie – between a deep and brooding Léoville Barton that will only get better, a seductive yet airy Ducru Beaucaillou, and a shock entry from Saint Pierre - the toasty wood spice was ambitious and brought several high scores. Buyers can remain confident in this appellation providing reliability, and in 2012 there is an added approachability to the wines. All of the three Léovilles are either approaching or in their drinking windows. 

Meyney was the standout value wine both in Saint Estèphe and the entire tasting.
Meyney was the standout value wine both in Saint Estèphe and the entire tasting.

Pauillac was impressive in 2012. Despite the conditions seeming not to favour Cabernet, many of these wines were rather impressive. Latour was – again – the top first growth, with vintage-defying depth, intensity and structure; a true vin de garde. Mouton Rothschild and Lafite were not far behind, completing the podium. Pichon Lalande was an outstanding performer outside the first growths, quite a muscular structure but retaining its signature fragrant finesse.  Lynch Bages and Pichon Baron were also superb, as was the highly refined, elegant Grand Puy Lacoste. This is a wine that doesn’t shout and choses precision instead. It should offer superb drinking over the next two decades. 

We finished with Saint Estèphe on the reds. This produced the biggest “shock result” of the tasting, though after a string of recent successes perhaps we should adjust our perceptions. Meyney won the flight by a distance. The wine is constantly compared to Montrose, though I would suggest it is less structured and more fruit forward – it will require less patience. This deep, savoury wine offers fantastic value and can be drunk now with a decant, or aged over the next 10-15 years. Calon Ségur was a reliable performer in second place, sweet and smoky in equal measure. 

A passing comment on Sauternes. Several producers did not make a 2012, including Yquem, due to the inclement weather. Barsac fared better due to their faster-draining soils, but unfortunately these are not great wines that are priced at the same level as many better vintages around them. We were hoping for pleasant surprises but though these wines will offer pleasure, there are better options available. 

The empty bottles after two days of tasting.
The empty bottles after two days of tasting.

In conclusion, our opinion of 2012 remains largely unchanged. The vintage offers approachable, soft wines of fragrance that are ready to drink other than at the very top end. The right bank has some real stars but also remains patchy as many tried to extract too much. The left bank largely went by rank, the best vineyards and producers performing as expected. Pauillac, Saint Julien and Pessac-Léognan are buyers best bets. For all the friendly approachability, there is some question as to how many of these will be better in another 10 years. My suspicion is that 2011 will slowly overtake 2012 (particularly on the left bank) in that time. Buyers with deep pockets should seek out L'Eglise Clinet, Latour, and Lafleur – these were the stars of the tasting. Those more conscious of price should buy Meyney, Cruzelles, Léoville Poyferré and Domaine de Chevalier – all have a place in a drinker’s cellar. 

Vintages in Bordeaux are always contested in order, but perhaps it is best to look at the last decade in tiers (2019 and 2020 are not included as we have yet to taste them at Southwold) :

Great Vintages: 2016, 2010, 2009

Very Good Vintages with Great Wines: 2015 (great in Margaux), 2018

Good Vintages with Some Standout Wines: 2014 (very good/great in northern Médoc), 2012, 2017, 2011

Weak Vintages: 2013

2012 Red Bordeaux

Tagged with: Blind tasting | Bordeaux 2012 | Ten Years On
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