The quality of the 2012 vintage in Sauternes and Barsac risks being unfairly overshadowed by Yquem’s decision not to make a grand vin this vintage, closely followed by the same news from Château Rieussec, writes David Rowe in the first of a series of 2012 Bordeaux previews.
Early spring was relatively warm and dry, followed by quite heavy rains. Summer was almost free from rain and the hot, dry conditions in September, which were so beneficial for the dry white harvest, meant that noble rot was slow to develop. By the end of September not a single grape had been picked at Yquem, the first time the harvest had been this late since 1993.
Hot and humid conditions, ideal for development of botrytis, returned in October however, and towards the end of the month there was some fantastic rot – but not enough sugar concentration in many vineyards. Dry and windy conditions in the last few days of October then allowed the bunches to dry out and sugar levels to shoot up. Those who had the courage to wait, and who practised severe selection, should have some good wines in barrel, though volumes will certainly be small. For those who chickened out and picked early, the wines are likely to be mediocre.
The other leading growths are understandably sensitive to the negative impression of 2012 created by Yquem and Rieussec. They would point out that every vineyard plot is subject to different weather conditions (Barsac producers seem generally more upbeat than their neighbours in Sauternes); and, of course, not every property has the financial strength to afford to skip a vintage. Among those who have stuck their heads above the parapet, and given a cautiously optimistic welcome to the vintage, are the following (the list is by no means exhaustive).
Climens picked on eight separate days between 15 and 31 October, with yields of around 10hl/ha, and declare that they are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine. Expect a fresh and elegant style in 2012. Guiraud did a first pass through the vineyard on 9 October but harvesting for the grand vin took place in the three days leading up to All Saint’s Day, 1 November, when heavy rains prevented further picking. Rabaud-Promis finished a little earlier, 25 October, and performed a very strict selection both in the vineyard and at the sorting table. Expect a very small quantity of the grand vin.
Suduiraut was another property which decided to play the waiting game. By 25 October there was a good level of botrytis in the vineyard, but they decided to bet on the weather and wait a few more days to get sufficient concentration, and it looks like their gamble paid off. Doisy-Daene and Coutet are also predicting good quality and small quantity.
So why did Yquem make its decision, the first “missed” vintage since 1992? Purely on taste, as they have said, or is there an element of market manipulation? Taken on its own, one has to take Pierre Lurton’s word that the wine is not up to scratch and, when you are charging Yquem prices, you have to protect the brand image. At the same time, sceptics might ask if it is completely unrelated to Yquem’s decision to delay release of the 2011 primeur?
The intriguing question remains as to what will become of the wine currently lying in the (very expensive) barriques at Yquem. For Rieussec, one can assume that the parcels normally destined for the grand vin will end up in the second wine, Carmes de Rieussec. Yquem doesn’t appear to have that option, as their other wine, Ygrec, is dry. There will be no shortage of merchants queuing up to buy the wine in bulk, however. One can imagine the whispered comment from the négociants, when they come to present their generic 2012 Sauternes: “Well don’t tell anyone, but it actually contains a significant proportion of declassified wine from a very prestigious château . . .”
David Rowe is a wine consultant and former editor of Decanter, who has been living in Bordeaux for 20 years.
Tags: 2012, Barsac, Bordeaux, botrytis, Carmes de Rieussec, Chateau Climens, Chateau Coutet, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Doisy-Daene, Chateau Guiraud, Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Chateau Rieussec, Chateau Suduiraut, David Rowe, Pierre Lurton, Sauternes, Ygrec