I must say it’s always a treat to have Lafite Rothschild, Carruades and Duhart-Milon lined up in front of you, regardless of the vintage. Last year there was some sharp disagreement over Lafite itself. I liked it and thought it very good in the vintage context. I feel the same way about 2012. It’s a good effort that reflects a huge amount of effort combating the vicissitudes of a difficult growing season and harvest. But, in the end, even Lafite can’t quite escape the vintage, and one that appears to have been a bit tricky in Pauillac.
There is refreshing honesty in the technical sheets prepared by Charles Chevallier, Lafite’s director, for the 2012 tastings. “A difficult year, one which we would not like to see too often!” he begins. Hail in late April was followed by late flowering in damp conditions; June and July brought alternative heat and humidity favourable to both downy and powdery mildew; despite warm weather in August there was still a degree of uneven ripening of fruit in the vineyard which necessitated much subsequent sorting in the vineyard. Then the rain at the end of September into October led to a significant increase in the threat of botrytis. Hmmm. That sounds a lot to contend with. It led to what Chevallier describes as ‘complex choices regarding the order in which plots were harvested.” Rough translation: a bloody difficult vintage in which we were forced to pick sooner than we would have liked!
There is no doubt that harvesting under gloomy skies with the threat of further rain and the possible onset of botrytis forced the hands of many Pauillac estates. At Lafite the Merlots were picked between 28 September and 9 October, the Cabernet Sauvignon between 9-16 October and the Cabernet Franc on October 12. The Petit Verdot was harvested on the 14 and 16 October. The vintage at Duhart started a day earlier and ended a day later overall. There is certainly freshness to the wines at Lafite in 2012 and vigour but it is maybe at the expense of that extra tannin ripeness one associates with great years. There’s also an earthy, leafy note in the grand vin and Duhart-Milon, which though not unattractive, I haven’t spotted in recent vintages. There is admirable concentration in Lafite itself and no small degree of beauty [from the pretty Merlot] in Carruades. That they manage this on a comparatively thrifty 12.7% alcohol almost feels unusual these days. I have to say that Mouton and Le Petit Mouton has the edge for me in Pauillac this vintage, with Lafite and Pontet-Canet fractionally behind. Latour hovers somewhere in the wings [more on the Latour stable next]. Still for the sheer ethereal experience, it’s difficult to top Lafite itself.
Lafite was released early and at a price down on 2011. The price drop was not as substantial as at Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Margaux but it was significant and Lafite has come down an awful lot in price since the heady days of 2010. The wine is currently available in various places for around £4000 ($6200) a case. In old money that’s cheap but these days with Lafite prices pretty volatile who can tell. Duhart-Milon is available for around £575 [$890].
Château Lafite Rothschild
Deep and saturated; tight to the rim; very deep and layered on the nose; quite packed with aroma; usual core of blackcurrant fruit; cassis; coffee beans and an earthy note too; concentrated palate and pretty tight; clearly lots of material and density and grip on the end. That earthy note again. Usual Lafite paradox – fleet of foot but full in flavour. Very good in vintage context, though they have the financial luxury to make the hard choices necessary to do so. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.5% Merlot and 0.5% Petit Verdot. 94-96
Carruades de Lafite
Mid depth; fresh looking; pretty and perfumed; ripe, quite layered; blackcurrant and black cherry notes; menthol too; feels quite tight on the palate with grip; bite; good-ish length; delicacy here and fairly early maturing. Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Merlot 42%, Cabernet Franc 3%, Petit Verdot 2% 12.7% Alc. 90-91
Deeper than Carruades; very blackcurrant nose; tobacco too and coffee bean hints; cassis and blackcurrant really come through on aeration; again earthy note like Lafite here; firm, quite dense palate; some leafy hints; mid-palate a fraction pinched and firmness to the tannins at the end. Good-ish length. 62% cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot. 90-91+