In 2012, The Right Bank Gets it Right

by Chuck Hayward

Visiting en primeur is not only a test of mind and palate – it’s also a trial in organizational skills (or occasionally, lack thereof). With so many tastings and wineries to visit, all spread across the wide swath of land that makes up Bordeaux, it’s imperative that appointments are scheduled in such a way that one spends more time tasting than travelling. It can take an hour to go from Bordeaux to Chateau Calon Segur in St. Estephe. If your next appointment is at Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, you’ll need 40 minutes – more if you get stuck behind a tractor. A lesson learned the hard way…

So JJ Buckley makes sure to focus our appointments on each bank to lessen travel times. Once we finished with our cabernet-themed Left Bank travels, we zoomed off to our base in Libourne to sample the merlot-dominant wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol. And thanks to the fact that we could leave our hotel and arrive at Petrus’s door in about ten minutes, we were confident we could taste more during the second half of en primeur. Good thing too, because early reports had indicated that the best wines would be found on the Right Bank.

What is most interesting is how the merlot on the Right Bank showed differently over the past five vintages. In 2009 and 2010, the wines of St. Emilion were ripe and jammy, almost over the top. More balance came through in 2011. In 2012, the integrated acids that are proving a hallmark of this vintage, helped the best St. Emilions avoid the heavy textures and high alcohol found in ’09 and ‘10. This year, the top St. Emilions are balanced and fresh, with medium weight and an approachable palate structure. Still, there were a few wines that retained the opulent styles of vintages past, but even these were reined in and more balanced thanks to the year’s conditions.
And the early scuttlebutt turned out to be true. Since 2008, each year has seen Bordeaux suffer through bouts of intense heat with little rainfall. For periods of 10-30 days, those factors combined to place added stress on vines. As a result, vine growth shut down, grapes shriveled and yields declined. The grapes that fared best had soils that allowed vines access to water throughout these drought conditions. The water retentive clay and limestone soils found on the Right Bank are where merlot fares best. As such, the region was perfectly suited to provide its vines with just enough water during the hot weather.

JJ Buckley’s
 upcoming vintage report will reveal our top wines for these regions – stay tuned.In Pomerol, it’s always about the tannins. 2009 found tannins with spiky textures and a roasted quality that often left a disjointed impression. The finely-grained tannins in 2010, however, proved in-balance with the fruit, making Pomerol one of the top appellations that year. 2012 (and also 2011) found tannins that were so fine and precise that they seemed to add an exciting nuance to the palate. As with other appellations this year, there wasn’t exactly uniformity among the wines of Pomerol, but the peaks to be found were the highest in Bordeaux. The tension and length of flavors were also intense and delineated, often providing the thrilling tasting experiences found in the best vintages.