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Bordeaux 2012: mixed verdict on first look at Right Bank

'Brittle' and 'lots of make-up' were two of the comments from critics as London had its first look at the 2012 vintage from Bordeaux’s Right Bank properties.

Chateau Le Prieuré: ‘Limestone is very useful’

Tuesday night’s annual London en primeur tasting of the Cercle Rive Droite – a group of some 35 chateaux from St Emilion, Pomerol and their satellite communes – is regarded by critics as unrepresentative and highly selective, but nevertheless an interesting early look at the en primeur vintage.

Many of the wines have scarcely finished malolactic fermentation, and almost all have heavy doses of new oak.

Critics found the wines highly aromatic, many with fine ripe tannins and good depth of fruit, but it is by no means a homogenous vintage on the right bank, with some wines having thin, insipid fruit and patchy underripe tannins. ‘Brittle’ was one critic’s brief comment.

Richard Bampfield MW said, ‘First impressions were that these wines had impressive, very pure aromatics with pronounced black fruit character. They do not seem to have the middle palate of vintages such as 2009 and 2010, but the majority looked flavoursome and well balanced.’

He added, ‘There should be some very good wines amongst the Grands Crus Classés. I am not sure there is a strong argument to buy these wines en primeur, but they should make excellent drinking in four to six years.’

‘A mixed bunch,’ was the cautious verdict of Corney and Barrow associate director Alison Buchanan. ‘This is very early so I am keeping a completely open mind. I could see freshness, which is positive, but that sometimes leant to greenness.’

She agreed the wines showed very fine ‘Merlot-esque’ aromatics with perfume and black cherry fruit, but ‘there was often a disparity between the nose and the palate, which was disconcerting. There was also a lot of make-up – lashings of oak to complement the fruit.’

Writer and critic Oz Clarke was positive. While he felt that many wines had been ‘forced into a shape they didn’t want to be in’, he thought that the vintage has potential to be ‘lovely, gentle and balanced. They are not great big wines but the best of them could turn out to be really nice pretty wines.’

The 2012 growing season is notorious, especially in France and England, for the appalling weather at the beginning of the summer, with hailstorms in April, rain for most of June, followed by a heatwave in the third week of August in which temperatures in Bordeaux reached 42C, causing vines to shut down and fruit to burn, and then more rain at harvest.

Winemakers present at the tasting said that it was a vintage that required great attention to detail, in the vineyard and the winery. Grapes tended to have thin skins requiring much more extraction for tannins and colour. Alix Coombes at Chateau Fleur Cardinale, a St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, said that at the beginning of fermentation they were doing pigeage or punching down three to four times a day.

Those properties that sit on well-drained limestone soils coped best with the rains and the heatwave, Paul Goldschmidt – who owns Chateau Vray Croix de Gay and Siaurac in Pomerol and St Emilion Grand Cru Classé Chateau Le Prieuré – said, ‘Limestone is very useful. It absorbs the water and holds it, then gives it back during hot weather.’

Alain Raynaud, the president of the Cercle Rive Droite, said that the grapes had good polyphenols and anthocyanins, which would imply the wines would age well. He also conceded many vignerons were tempted ‘to extract too much’, thereby unbalancing the wines.

‘It’s not an exceptional vintage but it’s a good vintage. It’s not effortless, as in 2009 and 2010, but then you can’t ask vines to produce the top level possible every year.’

Critics will taste the entire vintage in Bordeaux during en primeur at the beginning of April.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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