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Bordeaux 2012: Merlot Calling

What a day Thursday was; nine hours of tasting, each individual encounter separated by a high-speed drive usually last about 45 seconds, such is the very close, compact nature of the Pomerol appellation. But it was a good day, with one or two truly exceptional wines – not necessarily the most obvious names, either – and many deliciously ripe, textured, richly structured and balanced wines from the lower levels. If prices come down as much as many people hope (I have my doubts, but I can’t see buyers taking up this vintage without significant incentive) then it may well be among the lower rungs of the Pomerol ladder, with wines from smaller and less well known estates, that the best buys are to be found.

My visits today read like a Who’s Who of Pomerol. I began at the Moueix offices on the quay-side in Libourne, tasting through the range. I was struck by recent news reports of the so-called “early release” of Moueix wines, with prices 15% lower than in 2011, onto the Belgian market. Those reporting the news – I honestly can’t remember where I read it now – were clearly implying that this was a reflection of a weak vintage, one to be released and sold as quickly as possible, before Parker’s scores come out. But as Edouard Moueix pointed out today, they always release early in Belgium, so the act – with, frankly, an inadequate price cut to generate interest in most markets in my opinion – meant absolutely nothing. The Moueix portfolio includes some nice wines, although the focus is often on pretty fruit rather than the tannic structure that would imply great longevity.
Thereafter came a long string of châteaux visits. I have fallen into the habit of using my sat-nav a lot in Bordeaux these days; having programmed in all the notable châteaux, I use it to guarantee getting from one appointment to the next in the tightest amount of time possible. In Pomerol, however, the spoken instructions were frequently along the lines of “drive 300 metres in a straight line to your next destination“, at which point I realised it probably wasn’t adding anything to my timekeeping, and I stopped using it. First up was Vieux Château Certan, then Petrus, Château Lafleur (when the whole family – except for Jacques, who was overseeing bottling at Grand Village – came out to greet me…..how honoured did I feel?!), Château L’Église-Clinet (run by Denis Durantou – pictured below) and then to Château La Conseillante for the Union des Grands Crus tasting.

Denis Durantou of L'Église-Clinet, April 2013
The morning had already thrown up one really stunning wine and several that were just a notch below I think, and the UGC Pomerol tasting revealed more success within this appellation. What was really notable, however, was that lesser estates, such as Château Beauregard and Château La Cabanne were also pouring good wines, dark in hue, rich in fruit, with some good structure within. For La Cabanne this feels like a particular step up in terms of quality. Considering their location on the plateau, not at all far from Clinet and L’Église-Clinet, the wines here should be better though.
Then this afternoon I continued the Pomerol onslaught, with visits to Château Le Gay, Le Pin (my usual Thursday night tipple), Château L’Évangile, Château Cheval Blanc (I agree with Neal Martin in according this château honorary Pomerol status in view of its location and soil), Château Le Bon Pasteur and finally Clos du Clocher, where I had a quick-fire tour and tasting of the wines with the delightful technical director Cécile Dupuis. Perhaps the most significant news from the afternoon’s tastings comes from Cheval Blanc, where the tasting has in recent years consisted of four wines, Château Quinault L’Enclos, Château La Tour du Pin, Petit Cheval and Château Cheval Blanc itself. This year, however, Château La Tour du Pin was missing from the line up. Disappointingly, it appears that the château has effectively been liquidated. In the recently renewed St Emilion classification, the Cheval Blanc team submitted Quinault L’Enclos for the ranking, confident that the gravelly soils would help it gain a listing (it did). But with La Tour du Pin they were not so sure; the decision was taken to divide the estate, and absorb 1.4 hectares with the best, gravelly soils into – with the assent of the classifying committee – Château Cheval Blanc. The rest of the land has less attractive soils, and has been used for the production of a generic St Emilion, and I am sure it will eventually be sold off. Which makes the bottles of the 2009 La Tour du Pin I bought something of a rarity.
It’s appropriate that we finish here with St Emilion, as that will be the focus of Friday’s tastings, starting with Château Pavie at 9am.

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