Musings on the Haut-Medoc

by Chuck Hayward

En primeur week is approaching the halfway point today and it is around this time when initial impressions turn into comfortable assumptions. Us wine professionals are always searching for threads and themes that we can weave together into a story that might interest our readers.

JJ Buckley is getting ready to leave the reaches of the Medoc to get acquainted with the new releases the Right Bank. But before we venture into unchartered territories, this looks like a good opportunity to take a retrospective look at the 2012s from the Medoc.

St. Estephe
The difficulties of the vintage can clearly be seen in St. Estephe. Cabernet in 2012 was especially problematic with problems ranging from herbal characteristics to excessive tannins. If there is anything that defines the wines from St. Estephe, it is cabernet sauvignon. There was a wide range of quality to be found here, with many wines showing unripe characteristics or blocky tannins. The best captured the medium weighted balance and purity of fruit and avoided trying to make a powerful statement.

St. Julien
This commune is often considered to be the bellwether appellation of the Medoc given that it has three of the first growths as well as a number of other properties that command attention. One of the hallmarks of 2012 has been the wide range of quality that exists within each appellation and Pauillac has shown this trait quite clearly. There are wines of exceptional power and complexity being made next to neighbors whose releases are in danger of highlighting unripe flavors and bouquets. This could be due to the large amounts of cabernet sauvignon in most Pauillacs, a grape that suffered greatly in 2012.

This appellation has been on a roll for the past few years with wines that show incredible complexity along with power and grace. It seemed as if St. Julien could do no wrong until the 2012s came along. It is here that the vintage’s main problem, that of significant and pronounced tannins, comes to the fore. Many of the wines we tried had firm tannins that were out of balance with the medium bodied palate profile. Wines lacked the complexity of flavor and texture that has helped this region excel over the last few years. Here’s hoping that some attention in the cellar will bring these wines around.

After a series of relatively unexciting performances over the last few years, the Margaux appellation has come back with a vengeance, producing wines of character while avoiding the pitfalls of the vintage. Perhaps due to the higher percentage of merlot that can be found here, there was a creaminess and purity of fruit to be seen in the top Margaux. Here were wines of elegance – drinkable and well made. The best lacked the green, bitter tannins of their neighbors while avoiding herbal nuances on the nose and palate. Even more surprising is that many underperforming domaines turned out some excellent wines in 2012. Margaux clearly wowed everyone from JJ Buckley and turned out to be one Bordeaux’s significant success stories in 2012.