Bordeaux 2012: Superstar Chateaux of the Left Bank

Bordeaux 2012 Review

We only have one CD in the car as we drive around the superstar chateaux on the left bank of Bordeaux: The Best of Rod Stewart. “It was only £2.50,” said Ben Collins, unwrapping it from its plastic, “No wonder HMV went bust.” We wondered how he could have paid so much – much as we wondered about the possible prices of the 2012 vintage before we had even left Bordeaux airport.

This is the crux of the problem with the vintage this year: will the chateaux set the price to be enticing enough to buy? So, with the gravelled tones of Rod Stewart to accompany us, we visited some of the biggest names in wine.

Do ya think I’m sexy?

Well, yes, if you must know. The first growths still have it.  Purists may blanch – they do not like describing wine in such lustful tones – but it would be a hard heart that did not race when faced with some of the wines we tasted today: Margaux, Latour, Lafite.

You really want Margaux (the commune) to be sexy, but only a handful of chateaux ever achieve the silky, ethereal state of the ideal Margaux. Usually it is one of the patchiest of appellations. Not in 2012.

Chateau Margaux looked sharp. A younger generation is taking over the reigns – Alexandra, daughter of owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos, greeted us, then Thilbault, son of Paul Pontellier, walked us through the wines in the cellar. Chateau Margaux was the first wine we tasted and so it became the benchmark wine to judge all the others. A tough gig for any wine to follow.

After Chateau Margaux, we nipped across the commune to Chateau d’Issan, where we were able to answer Rod’s question with a definite ‘yes’. This chateau has really improved in recent years. It has excellent intense and concentrated fruit that promises to become a luxurious experience when ready to drink in five or so years’ time.

Some guys have all the luck

After a few back to back listens of the Rod Steward album, we begin to notice the same character showing up: The Young Heartbreaker. Rod may as well have been crooning about St Estephe.

The wines were heartbreaking stuff, but not in a bittersweet wistful teenage summer holiday way. More like seeing a scratch down the side of a beautiful car. The firm tannins of St Estephe this year are hard work. Even Lafite, bordering on St-Estephe, showed a bit of the same reticent character. Some of the big names were playing very hard to get – the fruit was hidden by enormous tannins.

The exception to the rule is Tronquoy Lalande, which was a great surprise after tasting some others in the appellation. Buyers will need to be selective this year.

Before lunch at Chateau Phelan Segur, we tasted through the 2008 to 2012 vintages. The 2009 and 2010 clearly jumped out as excellent. As someone who prefers the austere tones of 2010, it was difficult not to be charmed by the caress of 2009. How did 2012 compare? “2008 plus plus plus,” according to MD Veronique Dausse.

This is not a bad thing, the 2008 Phelan Segur is a relatively affordable, satisfying drinking wine, and clearly 2012 will be too – but this brings us back to the central issue of what we will be asked to pay.

Maggie May

When 2012 is on form, the wines will be a joy to drink. The best of the Left Bank show luscious concentrated fruit due to the intensive selection of the grapes in this variable vintage. This selection is very visible in the second wines – they tend to be hollow, light and lacking. It is clear every last good grape has gone into the Grand Vin.

Over at Lynch Bages, Ben had a twinkle in his eye. “I think you should put the prices up!” he said to Jean-Charles Cazes, “The wine is so good!” He was joking about the prices of course, but truthful about the wine, both Lynch Bages and Ormes de Pez did show very well indeed. During the day there was a constant repartee about the prices. We say they are too high, the chateaux owners comeback with their dry Bordelaise wit. All very light and fun, but underlying it all we all know price is the main issue with this vintage.

Our conversations with the chateaux will continue tomorrow. As Rod says, “Wake up Maggie, I think I have something to say to you…”

Juel Mahoney
9th April 2013

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