IG Wines returned from Bordeaux this week after tasting throughout the Haut Medoc, Saint Emilion and Pomerol. 2012 is a winemaker’s vintage, where severe selection and good wine-making has been practised some excellent wines followed with good ripeness and fruit concentration. Conversely poorer efforts have resulted in thin wines, particularly on the left bank, devoid of weight in the mid-palate. Broadly speaking it is a better vintage than 2011 and the Bordelais are promising a reduction in release price. If they are good to their word it will be an excellent vintage to cellar and attractive financially.

Robert Parker’s 2012 Bordeaux en primeur report will be released at the end of the month, however, releases will start as early as next week. After speaking with the proprietors and negociants it is clear that the mind-set is more commercially sound than last year. Two precepts abound: prices need to be closer to those in 2008 thus lower than the 2011s. Moreover, the chateaux need to release evenly, not in a mad flurry five weeks into the campaign…common sense really. Several top estates are expected to release before Parker’s verdict.

The Weather

2012 was dominated by vagaries of weather. A rainy spring caused cool damp conditions slowing vine growth; diminutive flowering proceeded slowly throughout the first weeks of June and this was the primary reason for reduced yields.

Summer finally began at the end of July; August was very dry and sunny with several days of high temperatures and drought. The excellent weather continued into September which may have resulted in heat strain and cessation of the ripening process; much needed rain arrived in late September, but a deluge between the 7th and 9th which saw 90 to 100mm of rainfall created rot issues.

2012 by Village

The right bank villages of Pomerol and Saint Emilion – which are Merlot dominate – could be picked before the rot and deluge issues occurred and to this extent the right bank has produced an excellent vintage, with sweet tannins, ripe fruit and good mouth feel. Chateaux Clinet, La Conseillante and of course Cheval Blanc, Angelus, Beausejour-Duffau Lagarrosse and Pavie, all performed extremely well, producing wines that are ripe, plump and long in finish. In fact Parker commented that some right bank 2012s, while not legendary, are not far behind the great 2009s and 2010s.

The Medoc was hurt by the deluge in October and the top estates countered this with severe selections, only 30-35% of the crop going into their first wines, with the remainder going into their second and third wines. The wines of the Medoc seem to be very well structured and well-made although they lack the abundance of fruit we saw in the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Starting north and heading south we visited the great estates of Montrose and Cos d’Estournel in Saint Estephe. Montrose is a structured concentrated wine, full of black fruit with high notes of mint and ripe tannins. Cos d’Estournel on the other hand was more elegant with a velvety mouth feel and enveloping layers of flavour.

In Pauillac, Mouton Rothschild demonstrated great concentration with notes of chocolate, coffee and a touch of cedar. The wine showed finesse and was certainly more dense than the 2011. The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings gave us a chance to try many of the wines side-by-side. Lynch Bages was another magnificent effort from Jean-Charles Cazes, no doubt achieved by their lowest yields since 1991. It is full-bodied and densely packed with black fruit and a touch of smoke, a classic Lynch Bages. The adjacent Pichon estates were equally as good; in particular Pichon Baron combined black fruits, mocha and strawberry jam; both were muscular and structured.

Before enjoying the great lunch and famous cheese selection of Pontet Canet we were welcomed by Alfred and Melanie Tesseron to taste their first wine. This was another wonderful effort to compliment the 100 point 2009 and 2010 vintages. The wine was fragrant boasting soft blueberries, violets, white flowers and elegant smoke, though with some noticeable warmth from the alcohol at 13.5%. An interview with Alfred Tesseron will follow this report. It is noteworthy that we drank a 1995 Pontet Canet at La Tupina on Monday evening, which remained incredibly youthful, more like a 2006 than a wine made a decade before.

Broadly speaking Saint-Julien did not match the high standards of Pauillac. However, Leoville Poyferre was a high point with flavours of pepper, cloves and good minerality.

Entering the village of Margaux we were very well received by the charismatic Thibault Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, son of Director Paul, who will feature in an interview to follow. Margaux was once again an excellent wine with plenty of red and black fruit and a classic scent of violets. One of our white wines of the vintage was Pavillon Blanc where 30% of the crop was used meaning 800 cases of the 2012 vintage will be produced. It vaunts a pronounced bouquet of lemon, peaches and apricot, with a fat mouth feel, balanced acidity with honeysuckle on the finish. Palmer was the wine of the vintage for us in 2011 and in the opinion of Charles Sichel, whose family own one third of the Chateau, 2012 is even better.

Pessac Leognan and Graves fared well, with their higher proportion of Merlot. The top wines have excellent mid-palates and density, with Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion achieving alcohol levels close to 15%. Both wines include their highest ever proportion of Merlot with over 60% in their blends. These are our wines of the left bank, breaking the trend of the 2012, they are rich and exuberant combining their tell-tale cigar box with, brioche, pepper, sweet spices and dried raisins, creating a truly pronounced nose. On the palate they were full bodied and voluptuous, La Mission displaying a subtle white chocolate and a long finish of Cinnamon.

We will provide further information as releases continue.