En Primeur, Day Two: The Magic of Merlot

Ratings and reviews of stellar wines from Saint-Émilion and Pomerol.


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Everyone is talking about the magic of Merlot at this year’s En Primeur—and based on today’s barrel tastings of the 2012 wines from the Pomerol subregion, they will indeed be buzzworthy bottlings.

For lovers of opulent, rich Merlot-based Bordeaux blends, this vintage will be one to savor. With 13.5 percent alcohol, and ripeness balanced by fresh acidity, these Pomerol-produced wines show impressive uniformity. Saint-Émilion, too, is not far behind in producing some stellar wines.

“We had great luck with the Merlot, and we decided it made the wine,” says Jean-Luc Thunevin, owner of Château Valandraud, newly promoted to a Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B, of his 2012 vintage, which is 100 percent Merlot. He, like many producers, had problems with the Cabernet Franc—a star of the past two vintages—because it was picked after the Merlot and suffered from harvest-time rain.

While tasters laud the Merlots, they are worried about pricing—and for good reason. After over-the-top prices in 2009, 2010 and (unjustifiably) 2011, American wholesale buyers are looking for good wines at good prices to bring American palates back to Bordeaux.

Gregory Balogh, president and CEO of major import player Maisons Marques & Domaines, based in Oakland, calls the 2012 vintage Bordeaux’s opportunity to make a “market correction.”

Translation? To bring the price down—or, as Matt Tornabene, of Manhattan Wine Company, puts it, to provide “a lot of value at a particular price point.” Tornabene stressed that 2012 can be the vintage that brings Bordeaux back for collectors who want drink-now options and don’t want to tie up a lot of capital waiting for wines to mature.

From a supplier standpoint, négociant Christian Moueix says that the older vintages from his stable of Pomerols and Saint-Émilions are at better price points and in great demand.

Meanwhile, China is a conundrum. Many of the Bordelais who put all their bottles in the China basket are finding it was a mistake, considering the poor 2010 and 2011 En Primeur sales. Yet Bordeaux remains the number one wine region in Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea. Editor and Founder of the Mandarin magazine Wine Now, Lan Chi Sun, claims the future market for Bordeaux is strong, despite the recent blips and the new government’s crack down on extravagant wine banquets. But these problems have sent many Bordelais back to the traditional markets like the United States.

Check out my top 10 Bordeaux 2012 Saint-Émilion and Pomerol barrel-tasting ratings and reviews.

Bordeaux wines tasted from barrel are awarded scores in three-point ranges. When the wines are bottled in two or three years, the wines are reassessed, and final ratings are given.

96–98 Château Pétrus 2012 Pomerol. Barrel sample. The first vintage from a newly-constructed cellar, this is a beautiful wine, with glorious Merlot flavors. It's full of spice and dense with velvet tannins. The wine has great opulence and its fruit is well integrated into the structure. —R.V.

95–97 Château Ausone 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. Dominated by Cabernet Franc, this is a firm, solid and beautifully perfumed wine, lighter than some wines from Ausone. The tannins are velvet although with a strong mineral character. It's fruity at the same time as being structured—a wine for long-term aging. —R.V.

95–97 Château Cheval Blanc 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. An impressively dense wine with a serious structure. Dusty tannins go with a powerful structure and a wonderfully deep texture. Very solid and chunky. —R.V.

95–97 Château Valandraud 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. Promoted to Saint-Emilion’s elite Premier Grand Cru Classé category, Valandraud's 2012 shows both a mineral character and intense acidity to go with the smooth and beautiful black currant fruits. Power and elegance. —R.V.

94–96 Château Angélus 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. Barrel sample. A seriously rich, full, extracted wine, packed with dense tannins and complex fruits. The wine has weight, dark tannins and a solid character that will certainly age well. —R.V.

94–96 Château Belair Monange 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. Now incorporating the Magdelaine vineyard, Belair-Monange is a fine, complex wine, dense and just austere. The wine is firmly in the tannic style—dark and brooding. —R.V.

94–96 Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol. Barrel sample. Perfumed, elegant wine with an unusually high proportion of Merlot at the expense of Cabernet. Spicy, fruit cake and dried fruits go with a stylish blackberry character. Complex and set for a long aging. —R.V.

94–96 Château la Fleur-Pétrus 2012 Pomerol. Barrel sample. The neighbor of Pétrus, La Fleur Pétrus is darkly tannic, rich, spicy and powerful. It's rich—touched by wood and black plum skins— and intently structured for long-term aging. —R.V.

94–96 Vieux Château Mazerat 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. A very fine, concentrated wine. Full of solid black fruits and tannins, it's seriously powerful, driven by its great fruits and intense mineral texture. For long-term aging. —R.V.

94–96 Château Pavie 2012 Saint-Émilion. Barrel sample. This is a powerful wine which exhibits a change in style towards elegance in recent years. The palate has delicious Merlot fruitiness along with black-currant acidity and a dense structure. Fine minerality at the end with juicy acidity. —R.V.

94–96 Château Trotanoy 2012 Pomerol. Barrel sample. A rich and powerful wine with great fruits and solid tannins. This shows the power as well as elegance of Merlot in 2012—dark, ripe and fruity. Dark structure and acidity shine at the finish. —R.V.

Read more Saint-Émilion and Pomerol ratings and reviews in the Buying Guide >>>

Read En Primeur, Day One: The Surprise Vintage for reviews on Sauternes and Barsac >>>

Read En Primeur, Day Three: The Great Whites of Bordeaux for reviews on Pessac-Léognan and Graves wines >>>

Read En Primeur, Day Four: The Year of the Three Ps >>>

Tomorrow, read En Primeur, Day Three: Reds and Whites from Pessac-Léognan and Graves.

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