Bordeaux 2012 Impressions

Bordeaux 2012 Impressions

I attended the primeurs week organised by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux last week, curious in some way to find out for myself whether the vintage was as bad as some had made it out to be.

Well, the answer is a resounding NO. True there were some pretty poor wines on display, but a number of producers made, good, if not, very good wines. It’s true, that nobody has made a great wine, but then, vintage conditions were so much against this. What one can truly remark on, is that if these conditions had occurred 20 years ago, the quality would have been nothing like as good as this vintage has turned out to be.

A cold dry winter was followed by a cold wet spring, with above average rainfall in April, in particular, followed by a mild May and a cool and wet June which led to uneven bud break and late and uneven flowering, coupled with  some risk of mildew. This led to some flower abortion and uneven grape size and the start of ripening being delayed for three to four weeks.

From mid July to mid September there followed a hot dry spell, with a number of heat spikes in August causing sun scalding on some bunches. Two rounds of crop thinning were therefore considered necessary by a number of chateaux and leaf removal delayed until the weather cooled in September. Hydric stress did set in in August accompanied by a substantial variation between day and night temperatures, but this allowed the vines to do some catching up after the late flowering and provided excellent conditions for the grapes to mature. In the second half of September, warm days, cool nights and some much needed rain accelerated the ripening conditions, resulting in a good development of the phenolic compounds, thus allowing most chateaux to harvest in the first two weeks of October before the deluge of October 19th.

With such an unusual weather and ripening process, there were bound to be large variations in the quality of the fruit: Merlot and Cabernet Franc seemed to have generally fared the best, with the Cabernet Sauvignons  suffering the greatest problems of consistency. Terroir also played an important part in expressing quality. Those great chateaux with recognised superb terroir on good sites with good drainage excelled, whilst those of lower rank struggled to obtain sufficient ripeness resulting in excessive over extraction in some cases.

After tasting several hundred wines over the last week, my conclusion is that this is an average vintage in terms of modern winemaking contexts. Such a vintage in the latter half of the 20th century would have been hailed as above average, such has been the progress of vini- and viticultural techniques over the last 15 years or so. Of course, being average does not mean that it is uniformly average, although I did find many wines which had a “sameness” about them. There were some pretty dull and hollow wines made but at the other end of the spectrum, some very worthy wines were produced.

It’s too early to make hard and fast judgements, especially in a vintage like this. Wines will change from day to day, almost, in this current period of their evolution and whilst in other, more even years, you could get a pretty good idea how the wines will eventually turn out at this early stage, I think that the nature of this vintage could see wines moving up (or even down) in the months to come.

For what it’s worth – here is a list of my best shots. As you know, I mark on a one to five star rating with half stars for a little superiority in a given rating.

5 stars


4.5 stars

Cheval Blanc
Pichon Lalande
Le Dome
La Pointe
Petit Village
Larcisse Ducasse
Smith Haut Lafitte
Leoville Las Cases
Lafite Rothschild
Mouton Rothschild

4 stars

Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux
Clos Fourtet
La Gaffeliere
Belair Monange
La Fleur Petrus
Rol Valentin
Domaine Chevalier
Haut Bergey
Pape Clemant
Haut Bailley
Carruades de Lafite
Cos D’Estournel
Lynch Bages
Cos Labory
Les Astieres
Vieux Chateau Mazerat

There were a goodly number of chateaux with 3 and 3.5 stars.

I didn’t have time to taste all of the first growths, hence their absence from the list.

All in all, this is a vintages that has sorted out the men from the boys. Of course, the top chateaux have not only the terroir, but considerable mechanical and technical resources to aid them such as optical sorters, for example, and this has given them a distinct advantage.They have made good wine, so don’t expect them to drop their prices much, if at all, but if the prices are right, there are going to be good drinking opportunities in the lower echelons. At least, this will be a drinker’s vintage, rather than a speculator’s.

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