When I became a Master of Wine, a well-known Master of Wine offered me some wise advice: “Now that you are an MW, never taste blind. You have everything to lose and nothing to gain.” I have not always heeded that advice and I still end up tasting blind in public, often not by choice.
I am in Singapore at least twice a year and on my recent trip, I had the most delicious laksa from a hawker’s stall near the Changi Airport for less than 40 RMB. The street food of Singapore is a food lover’s delight. As a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, Singaporeans take something as simple as noodles and infuse it with wonderful spices such as turmeric, tamarind, chilli and galangal, resulting in a dish that is neither Malay, Indian nor Chinese, but uniquely Singaporean.
I spoke to more than six wine importers who are serious players in the en primeur market and their reactions were unanimous: 2012 is not a great en primeur campaign for most wines but there are a few exceptions.
This appellation was one of the more consistent in this difficult vintage and among the 30+ wines tasted, there were very few that were terrible. Most were elegant and forward-fruit with tannins that were well managed without too much extraction. I was most surprised with Mouton this year – often at this time in barrel Mouton can be concentrated, dense and oaky. However, in 2012, there is a delicacy in the flavours with lovely sweet spices and red fruits rather than black.
2012 was a challenging year for nearly everyone in Bordeaux. Some complained about the wet spring conditions that created irregular flowering and naturally low yields to start the season. This was followed by a cool month of May and a wet June with bouts of heavy rain that really harmed the critical flowering period. Grape bunches had uneven development and mildew began to spread if care was not taken in the vineyard. Then a dry early summer followed but without that much heat, just lack of rain, causing some vines to struggle.
When I visited Cheval Blanc, Pierre Lurton said he was happy with the vintage. The team compares the 2012 climate with the 2000, pointing out that temperature curves were similar and it was a wet start to the season and a very dry finish. There was enough ripeness in the Merlot for some producers to pick end of September, which is considered early since most of the left bank picked in October. The summer was among the driest in the past several decades and grapes that didn’t suffer hydric/water stress continued to ripen.
The tasting at Jean-Pierre Moueix was one of the most pleasurable tastings of the week with all ten wines from Pomerol showing the best side of the 2012 vintage. These are not powerhouses with dense, thick tannins that require decades of cellaring; they are very attractive, beautifully aromatic reds with moderate alcohol and silky, supple tannins. The wine from the glasses seems to come out to greet you – they are so friendly, open and enjoyable. There was not one wine in the lineup that was hard, disappointing or dull.
The 35 Pessac-Leognan whites I tasted were a pleasure to taste – light to medium weight with freshness, elegance and lifted aromatics. This is not a vintage for big, high alcohol wines – there was just not enough sunshine or warmth for that to happen. And because of the cool early part of the summer, the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes were able to keep their acidity, lean body and lovely minerality. Most were picked in mid to late September and the wines have just enough ripeness to be enjoyable young.
In Bordeaux, I tasted over 500 wines, many of them twice. I have detailed reviews of all the main appellations in articles posted over the past two weeks on the website and looking back, this is a modestly good vintage that is punctuated by superstars like the top reds from Pomerol. This is an average to good vintage that was more consistent for early ripening varieties like Merlot and white wines.
To make balanced wine in 2012, one needed to make a lot of sacrifices. In the vineyard, it meant green harvesting (multiple times for some) to encourage air circulation and prevent rot from spreading or to cut off undesirable grapes to make them more homogenous for ripening. Even with much hard work in the vineyard, the difficult flowering meant bunches were heterogeneous and thus selection during harvest was critical. This was the mind-set at most top Margaux properties that did very well in 2012.