By: Ralph Sands | K&L Senior Bordeaux Specialist
2012 Bordeaux: Is it too Late?
I have just returned from Bordeaux and the evaluation of the 2012 vintage. This marked my 44th visit to the region and my 23rd vintage evaluation. With well over 1000 wines tasted. I believe I’ve wrapped my arms around 2012 pretty well, understand the style of the vintage, and have identified the best wines.
As always, the weather makes the wine. In 2012, the weather was normal…which means very difficult! Near-perfect vintages like 2005 and 2009 are very rare. Almost every vintage has numerous problems during the growing season, and 2011 and 2012 certainly had their share of problems.
Weather-wise, 2011 and 2012 could hardly be more opposite. 2011 had a warm spring with early bud break and early but uneven flowering; a mixed bag from May to June, mostly cold and wet. The summer was overcast and very cool. The vintage was saved by a warm/hot September and an early harvest ensued.
In 2012 the opposite occurred. Cold/wet conditions kept bud break late. Uneven flowering spread out for weeks, pushing things almost a month behind. Cool and wet conditions continued, causing worry of mildew. On July 15th (on the dot!) the weather switch-flipped and sunny conditions took over August and September, causing some stress in some plots and continued uneven ripening. Harvest was late everywhere. Most of the Merlots were harvested at good ripeness and mostly in nice conditions but a lot of the Cabernet Sauvignons on the left bank were picked in the rains of mid October. The rain and the fact that some Cabernet Sauvignon was just not completely ripe at harvest keep 2012 out of the very good category. These conditions also resulted in a small crop overall, with most estates making about 50% of their normal amounts.
It is common to refer to a Bordeaux vintage as either a Cabernet Sauvignon vintage or a Merlot vintage, and 2012 is definitely a Merlot vintage. The Right Bank commune of Pomerol made some fantastic wines across the board, with very good consistent quality also in St-Emilion. The areas of Pessac-Leognan and the Medoc were very uneven with many wines showing aggressive dryness and green notes on the finish. That being said, there some fine successes in 2012 from the left bank that do not have those green and drying notes, but certainly not as many as I would have liked.
I’m lucky this year as I will be going back to Bordeaux in June and I am looking forward with great eagerness to taste many of these left bank wines again. The main reason for this return is that the one month lateness of the vintage at all stages, especially the lateness of the harvest, delays all the stages of fermentation/blending and putting into barrel. So when I along with everyone else tasted this year on April 1st , it was a month early as far as the wine was concerned, and the weather had been very cold. There is no dancing around the fact that these wines were well behind in their development and difficult to access. So the expectation is that the six week period of additional development along with warmer spring weather should give the Cabernet Sauvignon blends a much better and fairer showing in June.
While 2011 produced elegant wines with strong acidities, 2012 produced riper wines with a darker core of fruit and more flesh, so I absolutely prefer 2012 to 2011. Where does 2012 fit in comparison to other vintages? Well, while it may not be in the league of great vintages like 2010, 2009, 2005 or 2000, I like it at least as well if not more than 2008, 2006 and 2007. My strongest comparison at this early stage would be to 1998, also a late and very fine Merlot vintage while being much tougher and closed on the left.
I have learned over the years not to dismiss the “tough to taste young” vintages on the left bank too soon. These wines develop slowly and vintages like 2004, 2002 and 1998 have turned out much better than most of the scores and reviews reflected at the time of release. Many have fooled us at recent blind tastings in Bordeaux where we thought they were from outstanding years.
The Blancs: The whites from Pessac-Leognan showed very well, refreshing and floral wines that are more on the elegant side. The Petite Chateaux and inexpensive Blancs also showed very well. Overall, 2012 is a nice vintage for the Blancs.
The Sweeties from Sauternes and Barsac: For lovers of the sweet wines this will always be a confusing vintage because Ch. d’Yquem publicly stated that they would make no wine in 2012 before the En Primeur tastings, which leads many to assume there will be no wine made anywhere. This is simply not the case across the board. While it is true that in the slow-growing gravel soils of d’Yquem and in neighboring Fargues (Ch. Rieussec, Ch.Guiraud, Ch. Suduiraut, and Raymond Lafon), little to no wine will be made; the grapes were so far behind that when good conditions for the boytrytis happened in these soils, the rains and humidity took over. However, just north in the sandy, clay and limestone soils of Barsac, the grapes were further ahead maturity wise and handled the conditions just fine in between periods of rain. Some lovely wines were made. These wines are not in the big, thick and powerful style; they are sweet, but elegant, fresh and charming. While tasting these wines I could not help but think about how nicely these wines will drink, even by themselves, on a warm summer afternoon or evening because they are so refreshing and not big and thick. Lovely wines were made at Ch. Clemens, Ch. Doisy-Daene, Ch. Doisy-Vedrines, Ch.de Malle, Ch. de Myrat, and Ch. La Tour Blanche, Ch. Haut-Peyraguey, Ch. Rabaud Promis, Ch. Rayne-Vigneau and Ch. Siglas-Rabaud, to name a few.
The Prices: Last but not least is the question of pricing. This will be a key factor in the success of the vintage sales-wise. We firmly told everyone in Bordeaux who would listen that 2012 presents a great opportunity to get people back to loving Bordeaux before it is too late…that they should offer this good vintage at steeply reduced prices, giving everyone a reason to buy and stimulating the marketplace. We will see if they listen or not.
Please feel free to contact me anytime with any questions or for advice on the wines of Bordeaux. I can be reached at extension 2723 or by email at Ralph@klwines.com.
Cheers and Go Giants!
Senior Wine Specialist
K&L Wine Merchants
Redwood City and San Francisco Ca.
1-800 247-5987 Ext# 2723
Direct Line 650-556-2723
Company Website- klwines.com