Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bordeaux 2012 vintage - Restaurant wine

Photo from Consulate General of France
March saw the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting again, this year covering the 2012 vintage. I remember this event from past years as always being crowded, with some visitors pushing and shoving so they could shuffle their glasses to the pourers, and no time for proper conversation with winery representatives unless you were a friend or gave the impression of being a big buyer. So this year I was pleasantly surprised by the comparative calm. Although I didn’t taste every single wine, I did have the chance to chat with nearly all the wineries and got in plenty of tasting to get an insight into what the 2012 vintage was like.

Most producers see 2012 Bordeaux as a restaurant wine: approachable, drinking well when still young and not expensive. Perhaps this is an indirect way of saying it was not a great year and that the wine probably won't age well. Yet I wouldn’t say it was a bad vintage not worth talking about. Yes, it doesn't warrant the sky-high prices of 2009 and 2010, and the wines certainly won't age as long, but, as I see it, 2012 simply represents a different, nearly opposite, style. Wineries with the resources to manage their vineyards really well and the financial capacity to make do with a smaller crop succeeded in making pleasant wines that are for drinkers rather than investors. I don't see that as a bad thing. That is the fascination of Bordeaux: vintage variation makes the wine more interesting and rewards the truly dedicated producer. The collapse of the en primeur prices and the relatively unsuccessful 2011 vintage (although I personally prefer 2011 over 2010 because, to me, it was more classical) had the silver lining benefit of bringing many Bordelaise back to the ground and back in touch with wine lovers and consumers, instead of focusing all their attention on the big spenders.

Unlike riper vintages, where wines from across different appellations tend to show many similarities, 2012 was a vintage that really highlighted the differences. The soft structure of the St Juliens contrasted markedly with the angular structure of the Pauillacs. The floral bouquet that is characteristic of Margaux was accentuated, while the Cabernet Sauvignon from St Estèphe was particularly expressive.

Photo from Bordeaux Confidential
This tasting was followed by an event called ‘Bordeaux Confidential’, where James Suckling hand-picked 19 wineries, each presenting three vintages of their choice that James had rated 90 points or above. This was another educational tasting that highlighted how wine evolves over time as much as illustrating the different terroirs of Bordeaux. It was dominated by big name chateaux—Mouton Rothschild, Brane-Cantenac and Chateau Giscours, to name a few—but I was delighted to discover some smaller wineries like Chateau de Lamarque. These are wines that are approachable yet also have the framework to allow for decent ageing.

I really enjoyed this year’s Bordeaux tasting because I could see more passion in the producers. Yes, there are great vintages but I don’t believe there are really bad vintages. It all depends on picking the producers who take extra care and on choosing the right time to drink the wine. 2012 may not last for 20 years but it is certainly enjoyable in the next three to five years.

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