In Pessac-Léognan, estates seem pretty bullish about the quality of the 2012 harvest and resultant wines, red and white. The weather pattern here was similar to the Haut-Médoc – a wet and cool spring and a difficult early summer followed by a hot and dry August. Rain arrived here too in late September and again in mid October, but Pessac-Léognan’s best terroirs seem very happy indeed with quality. We will soon see for sure in the up-coming primeurs week tastings [7-11 April] exactly how good the nascent wines are but the talk is certainly very encouraging.
At Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion there are suggestions of a ‘truly great vintage’. They are very happy indeed with their 2012 whites. These share the same analytical indicators as 2009 and which they describe as being ‘in the same league’ as the wines of that vintage. For the reds, the best Merlot plots were harvested between 24-28th September and they began picking what they describe as ‘magnificent and concentrated’ Cabernet Sauvignon from October 1st, relatively early dates that reflect their warm, urban terroirs in Pessac itself.
Chateau Haut-Bailly harvested a little later, reflecting their individuality of their own terroirs, 4th October for Merlot and Malbec and the October 12th onwards for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. They reported a complex harvest, with fruit that showed a discrepancy between technical and phenolic ripeness. Sugar and acid levels were good and there was considerable density to the phenolic components but patience was required [under increasingly gloomy skies as the vintage continued] to attain better tannin ripeness and make the material more extractable and finer. The late September rain helped push this ripening forward, but the later mid-October rain threatened things negatively and necessarily accelerated the harvest. Nevertheless Haut-Bailly described the fruit picked as homogeneous with small berries with thick skins.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte’s technical director Fabien Teitgen describes the estate’s whites as bright, fresh and aromatic with generous volume on the palate and the reds as fresh and dynamic, taking richness from the plump, ripe Merlot and structure and aromatic complexity from, evidently, fresher Cabernet Sauvignon. Climatically Smith Haut Lafitte report that 2012, despite the cool start and vintage rain, the period between May and September was actually one of the driest of the decade and temperatures reflected 2005 and 2009. The final quality depended, as elsewhere, on conditions at the very end of harvest, a period they describe as time spent ‘on the edge’.
Overall, reading between the lines, it’s clear that some estates would have liked to have waited a little longer for their Cabernet Sauvignon to mature further, something that Christian Seely mentioned up in Pauillac. This fresher, perhaps leaner, if more aromatic Cabernet will exert its own influence over the vintage. The primeurs tastings will reveal this more fully of course. Nevertheless as Cabernet Sauvignon is used much more proportionally here in Pessac-Léognan alongside Merlot [sometimes the prime ingredient] and Malbec, we could very well be looking at the best of both worlds: aromatically complex wines with depth, ripe plump characters on the palate but with refreshing acidity and tannic bite on the finish. Pessac-Léognan could be the appellation to watch in 2012.