2012 Bordeaux – The First Sip

by Alexandra Fondren

The real heart of en primeur week starts tomorrow (Monday) and continues on through Friday. So to avoid rushing in, trying to find our bearings at winery appointments and large tastings, it’s better to arrive a few days early and meet up with our friends in the business to gain some first impressions. And there’s no one better to meet than Jeffrey Davies, owner of Signature Selections - a negociant and wine marketing outfit based just outside the city center of Bordeaux.

Tasting with Davies is quite a treat. He always has a broad range of wines to sample, whether they’re well-priced Bordeaux appellation releases or new micro-cuvees from St. Emilion. But Jeffrey’s true value comes from his close ties to the local winemaking scene. He is quick to offer his observations on the vintage along with the latest news and gossip, making our conversations with him lively and engaging.

After tasting through the wines in Jeffrey’s garage yesterday, on what proved to be a cold April evening, it would be hard to find any fault with what he said. Having read that merlot was the star of the vintage and that many cabernet grapes were picked before they ripened fully, we expected to see wines showing green or herbal characters. Surprisingly, across the board, many of the wines we tried were medium to medium-full bodied with just the right amount of acidity to add lift to the fruit expression. Unripe qualities were hard to discern with Jeffrey’s wines.
The early word is that the 2012 vintage is a challenging year and Davies did not dispel that notion. The difficulties that occurred during the growing season have been well documented (click here for our recent blog post about Bordeaux’s weather in 2012), but he contends that a number of wineries handled these issues quite well. Whether it was via the fortune of owning good sites or hard work in the cellar, he believes that many 2012 releases will provide plenty of pleasurable drinking over the next ten years – wines to drink while the classic vintages of the past decade (’05, ’09, ’10) take their deserved slumber in the cellar.

But quality was not just limited to Pomerol or St. Emilion. A revival taking place at Pauillac’s Chateau Pedesclaux found favor among JJ Buckley staff, while the complex and harmonious sample from Chateau Labegorce of Margaux was one of our favorites. It’s clear that writing-off the wines from the Left Bank might be a bit premature.
As expected, there were some top wines to be found on the right bank. The 2012 Gracia was a revelation, displaying a renewed sense of elegance and freshness while the estate’s second wine, Les Angelots de Gracia, was no slouch either. Haut Brisson and Clos Saint Julien from St. Emilion were already showing an extra level of complexity that separated their wines from the pack. We’ll also be keen to retry Pomerol’s rising star, Feytit-Clinet later in the week.

Of course, there are two big questions that everyone is asking. For one, is anyone coming to Bordeaux this year? Negociants we have talked with are very pleased with the number and quality of the buyers that have chosen to attend 
en primeur, not only from the traditional markets in America and Europe but also from emerging regions in Asia and South America. We’ll get a sense of attendance this week.If there are broader concerns to be made from this admittedly limited sampling of wines, it’s that a number did have some rather grippy tannins that left a drying sensation on the palate. The best wines of the night had more finely-grained tannins that were in harmony with their wine’s fruit presence. Most wines had well appointed acids that created a sense of freshness, especially in St. Emilion. But one could see how acid levels could add a jarring note in the wrong hands.

More importantly, everyone agrees that for this year’s futures campaign to be successful, the prices for the 2012s will have to come down relative to the past three vintages. A number of negociants have predicted that the wines could find a market if pricing approaches the levels of the 2008 vintage. Only time will tell if the wineries will heed that message. Here’s hoping they do, as there could truly be some very nice wines this year.