Wine Words & Video Tape

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Bordeaux 2012 Previews: Haut-Médoc

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

vineyards at Blaignan

A week ahead of Bordeaux’s 2012 primeurs week, just what have proprietors on the Left Bank been saying about the vintage? The consensus seems to be that, despite a very tricky spring and early summer, the vintage was saved by dry and hot conditions in late July and August and some useful rain at the end of September which helped the final ripening of the grapes. Things might actually have turned out very well indeed – a vintage similar to 2000 was being touted by some at the end of September – had it not been for more considerable and progressive rain that came in mid October onwards.

The principal effect of this in the Haut-Médoc seems to be that Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was harvested earlier than would have been ideal, at least in terms of an exceptional harvest. Equally the very damp and wet weather earlier in the growing cycle led to uneven fruit set and ripening. So, as in 2011, strict selection will have been the key, both in the vineyard and at the winery. With lower yields and, ironically a very dry and extremely hot August, even with the rain during harvest, chateaux proprietors would also have been dealing with some pretty dense must, high in tannin and extract, certainly. So, more nimble footwork would have been required in the cellar then too.

So is 2012 set to be another ‘winemakers’ vintage like 2011? You’d imagine so. Looking at what’s been said I think we can certainly expect some very good wines in the top Haut-Médoc appellations in 2012, possibly with more potential than 2011. It also appears to be a vintage that favours Merlot over Cabernet, if only because the weather didn’t play a role in the speed in which the former had to arrive in the vats. The proof will be in the pudding, of course. The primeurs tastings held a week’s time will give a much clearer indication of precisely what 2012 offers and I’ll be reporting in detail.

CA Grands Crus, the group behind Chateau Blaignan [Médoc], Chateau Meyney [St Estèphe], Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse [Pauillac] and Chateau La Tour du Mons [Margaux] have described 2012 as ‘a late harvest with low yields’. Uneven ripening necessitated strict selection and optical sorting was used at Grand-Puy Ducasse and Meyney. Picking at these properties didn’t start until the first week of October, completing in the third week. Likewise Dourthe who run Chateau Belgrave [Haut-Médoc] and Chateau Le Boscq [St Estèphe] began harvesting in early October. Contrast this with 2011 when many producers had almost completed the vintage by then.

Christian Seely. Managing Director of AXA Millésimes has discussed the ‘spectacular’ nature of the Merlot in 2012 at Chateau Pichon-Longueville [Pauillac], with several plots perhaps making their ‘best Merlot ever’ at the property. Cabernet Sauvignon seems to have been more ‘challenging’, not least because of the rain in October which forced their hand a little. Nevertheless Seely describes the resulting Cabernet as strong and fresh.

Down in Margaux, Chateau Brane-Cantenac are also extolling the virtues of their Merlot. Ripe and close to perfection, vineyard manager Charles de Ravinel said he’d never seen anything like it. Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested a week later [October 8] was brought in quickly to avoid the deteriorating weather. Overall the earlier ripening terroirs here produced the best wines. The juices were reported as deep coloured and aromatic at harvest and the wines post malo-lactic are described as promising – deep Merlot and fresh, tannic, linear Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau Palmer were looking at something similar to 2008 by the middle of July, but after the very hot and dry August, and the grapes took on a new sheen, developing good phenolic concentration by the beginning of September. The situation changed again with rain at the end of September and the harvest got underway on October 1st with a prevailing anxiety about the possible emergence of botrytis. In the end the grapes were harvested healthy and ripe, the Merlot, once again, looking very exciting, coming in at 14 degrees and evoking 2009. The Cabernet was fresh and precise.

With all this talk of excellent Merlot and ‘fresh’ Cabernet I wonder if we’re looking at wines that will resemble a modern-day 1988? That vintage turned out to be a pretty good for a number of chateaux on the Left Bank, but there was a lot of variability. A number of green, under ripe wines were made too. Things have moved on considerably in the last twenty years in terms of vineyard management and cellar tactics so you’d imagine the top Haut-Médoc estates will be in a much better position to make a pretty good fist of the materials 2012 has provided. The primeurs tastings look set to be extremely interesting indeed.

Chateau PalmerChateau Palmer report Merlot in 2012 as reminiscent of 2009

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