Brooding skies, torrential rain, leaky roofs gave Vinexpo 2013, Bordeaux’s biannual wine fair, a distinctly wet vibe the week before last. The dreadful weather further pointed up the difficulties that vignerons are already facing this year in Bordeaux. Vineyards are three weeks to a month behind usual growth cycles, with the gossip from some that these early season conditions have been the worst since 1984. Despite the brave faces worn by chateaux owners at the various dinners coinciding with Vinexpo, there is no doubt that the forthcoming vintage will be a late one, whatever the outcome. Fine weather in July, August and September may turn things around, so it’s far too early to pronounce on the vintage yet. Still the Bordelais must have been hoping for a much better start to the year than they’ve had. They could do without another mediocre vintage to try and flog.
If anything 2012 Sauternes and Barsac is a little better than expected in what was an extremely difficult harvest in the region, spoiled by vintage rain. The very best wines are light yet with enough depth to make appetizing sweet wine that will be comparatively early maturing. A few are in a strange sort of purgatory, a half-way house position, between sweet styles and the off-dry, emphasizing the kind of all-or-nothing risk taking that Bordeaux’s bravest winemakers undertake here each vintage. There’s always the danger that you might get left high and dry in Sauternes [no pun intended] and some brave souls clearly have.
The 2012 growing season was as tricky up in the northern Médoc as it was elsewhere on the left bank, with the advantage here that the blends often have a higher proportion of Merlot, the variety that succeeded in the vintage. Not that Merlot escaped entirely. One of the consequences of the very cool weather around flowering was considerable flower shatter [coulure] on the Merlot, reducing yields, although this was reported as having a positive effect on quality, increasing concentration. Nevertheless the cool and wet start to the growing season certainly led to uneven development in the grapes. Ripening did catch up with the warmer and very dry period spanning mid-July to late September, but the harvest was always going to be a late one, one that would ultimately be influenced by October’s wet weather. Nevertheless the best wines have good fruit and weight from the Merlot.
Despite the vagaries of the vintage it would be a mistake to overlook St Estèphe in 2012. At the top end excellent wines have been made at Chateau Calon-Ségur, Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Chateau Montrose especially. Further down the chain there are values to be had if you pick carefully. I’ve written about the excellent effort at Chateau Meyney, but very fine wine has been made at Chateau Phélan-Ségur and there is a surprisingly good Chateau de Pez. The vintage can’t be compared to 2009 and 2010 but it’s probably better than the 2011 vintage here at least. Where the price is right, and in a few cases it is, you could consider some of these wines en primeur.