After tasting nearly 300 wines at en primeur this year, I came to a conclusion: While impressive in barrel, the 2012 Bordeaux vintage should be bought in bottle. Here’s why:
The 2012 vintage may not have been ideal, but it resulted in good quality, easy-to-drink wines. The year kicked off with a cold spring and uneven flowering, resulting in heavy disease pressure throughout the vineyards. It then evolved into a cool, early summer, followed by dry, hot conditions that lasted until the end of September. At that point, rain set in, dampening the end of harvest, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon and in Sauternes.
Yields were dramatically low—down by half in some vineyards. Selection for the top wines was difficult. The result is a small production of fruity, juicy red wines with attractive acidities, approachable alcohol levels and medium-term futures.
According to John Kolasa, director of Chanel’s Château Rauza-Ségla in Margaux, 2012 “shows Bordeaux can make nice wine despite all the weather hurdles thrown in its way.”
The question with this vintage remains: Will the prices be as easy on the wallet as the wines are on the palate? Prices will begin to be announced over the next two weeks. With less than 40 days until Vinexpo—where owners hope to woo buyers—they have to set their prices sooner rather than later. A few merchants, Christian Moueix of Jean-Pierre Moueix among them, have already announced market prices. Moueix told Wine Enthusiast on Monday that his Belgian prices are down eight percent from 2011.
But according to Olivier Bernard, president of the Union des Grands Crus and director of Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan, many chateaus have historically overcharged regardless of harvest conditions, potentially ruining the market for other owners. Certain chateaus, he claims, “made a mistake” when pricing the 2011 vintage. “The question is, are they ready to make a second mistake with the 2012 vintage?”
“This vintage is better than last year, so I should up the price—but the market is telling me I can’t,” said Otto Rettenmaier, owner of Saint-Émilion’s Château La Tour Figeac.
No Château Latour
This is the first vintage when Château Latour, one of the world’s most notable and expensive wines, is not available on the wine-futures market. Billionaire owner François Pinault’s policy is now to cellar the wine in new multimillion-dollar digs until it is deemed ready to drink. When is this exactly, and at what price? That’s to be determined.
Pinault’s decision led to much speculation about the future of Bordeaux’s en primeur system. But, says Alexander van Beek, general manager of Château Giscours in Margaux, “The withdrawal of Latour is not going to make any difference to us.”
Charles Chevalier, technical director of Château Lafite-Rothschild, says “Baron Eric de Rothschild has confirmed that we fully support the en psrimeur system. We have told the Bordeaux négociants that they can count on us.”
Van Beek is more realistic about the future of the event. “The en primeur system will evolve, but it’s the best we have at the moment.”
Wine of the Vintage: Château Haut-Brion
Château Haut-Brion’s red wine earns the nod as Wine Enthusiast wine of the 2012 vintage. With its highest-ever proportion of Merlot (65.5 percent) in the blend, the wine illustrates the great quality o the variety in this difficult year.
2012 Top Nine Bordeaux En Primeur Margaux, Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc red wines
94–96 Château Margaux 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. A surprisingly fresh Margaux considering that it’s dominated by 87% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dense tannins, black fruits and tight acidity combine to present a wine that shows, for a Château Margaux, medium-term potential. —R.V.
94–96 Château Palmer 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. This is a beautifully crafted wine with red fruits, a touch of black currant, great acidity and dense structure. A blend of half-and-half Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it shows both weight and a great lift. —R.V.
93–95 Château Giscours 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. This firm, dry wine is solidly rich and full in the mouth. With fine acidity and black currant fruit that show through the tannins, it is a wine with considerable potential. —R.V.
93–95 Château Rauzan-Ségla 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. This is a chocolate-inflected wine with a full mouth feel, and a very dark character. The palate is concentrated in tannins and a powerful, extracted feel. The aftertaste brings out more black-currant fruitiness. —R.V.
92–94 Château Brane-Cantenac 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. With marked acidity as well as black fruits, this is a wine with weight and richness. It has a dark core of firm tannins, although the aftertaste maintains the juiciness. —R.V.
92–94 Château Cantenac Brown 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. A solid effort, this is a wine with great fruit and firm structure to support it. Ripe and full in the mouth, it’s a firm and complex wine with a delicious juicy aftertaste. —R.V.
92–94 Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. This solidly tannic wine is powerful and firm. It’s a very complete wine, showcasing fruit and tannin elements to give a complex, structured whole. A wine that is for long-term aging. —R.V.
92–94 Château Margaux 2012 Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux (Margaux). Barrel sample. An austere wine that has distinct acidity and a black-currant character. The texture is tannic and dry, but it’s fragrant with a light green note that comes through at the end. —R.V.
92–94 Marjoallia 2012 Margaux. Barrel sample. This is a spicy, fruity wine that has excellent acidity and a rounded, fruity character. It has some extraction, giving a bitter edge, while the final effect is a rich, juicy Merlot. —R.V.