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Bordeaux 2012: attendance good, but doubts about quality persist

As the en primeur tasting week gets underway in Bordeaux, there are differing reports as to the quality of the vintage.

Decanter’s consultant editor Steven Spurrier is largely positive at this stage, having begun tasting both the Left and Right banks, ‘People have made a huge effort to combat the challenges of the vintage, and I find it much better than the 2011.

‘It’s so unfair that the top 60 chateaux get all the numbers because so many the others make terribly good wine. I didn’t find a bad bottle on the table at Cercle Rive Droite, and there are very few regions you can say that about.’

Decanter’s Right Bank correspondent James Lawther MW commented, ‘It’s an uneven vintage, which is logical given the difficulties of the year. On the Right Bank the successful appellation seems to be Pomerol, an earlier ripening zone. Elsewhere in St Emilion and the other satellite appellations it very much depends on the terroir and the human input.’

American-based Jeff Leve of the Wine Cellar Insider told Decanter.com, ‘the further north you go in the Médoc, the greener the tannins become. The best wines I’ve tried so far have been in Pessac Léognan and Pomerol. Producers that used a light hand did best. Those who overdid things just got tough tannins.’

Overall, numbers seem quite buoyant. Chateau Mouton Rothschild is reporting 1500 tasters, a rise on last year, as is Chateau Margaux. Lafite expects 1,350, the same as last year.

Initial numbers show 76% French attendance, with 53 countries overall. The UGC has issued 5,903 badges, up from 5,267 last year.

Nicolas Mestre at the UGC said, ‘there has not been the dip in numbers that we often see in Vinexpo years [referring to the bi-annual Bordeaux wine fair, which takes place in June this year]. Of course we won’t know final numbers until next week, but these are highly encouraging first indications.’

On the buying side, merchants are ambivalent. ‘The main concern,’ said Bud Cuchet, buying director at London merchant Fine+Rare, ‘is that if the Bordelais don’t get the price right now, it will have an effect on the whole year’s Bordeaux sales. If the momentum doesn’t build up with en primeur, it can be tough to generate interest later on’.

Lay & Wheeler sales manager Nick Connell, speaking at Domaine de Chevalier this afternoon, said while the wines did not have the concentration of the past few vintages, he was confident there would be a market for them. But, he added, ‘it all depends on price.’

As for the French press, Bordeaux’s paper of record, Sudouest, today suggests that critics and merchants, ‘glass in hand’ are finding a huge variation in quality: ‘the good, the less good, and the failures’.

It goes on to quote what it calls ‘a chorus of negotiants and courtiers’ saying there is ‘little enthusiasm’ amongst the hordes of wine professionals who have come to taste ‘a baby 2012 born in grief’.

‘At this moment, no one is here to taste this vintage with the genuine intention of buying en primeur – it’s the opposite of 2009 and 2010.’

Written by Jane Anson and Adam Lechmere in Bordeaux

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