Bordeaux 2012: With the Negociants
Sunday was pretty busy here in Bordeaux; despite having a reputation for generally shutting up shop on a Sunday, that rule doesn’t seem to hold true for those involved in the primeurs. There were no shortage of tastings to choose from today; I went to two of them, and just these two tastings gave me more wines than I could possibly get through in one day. I was able to revisit a handful of Sauternes (pictured below – not really the focus of the post but I just like the foil-wrapped bottles), fine-tuning and double-checking notes, especially where the wines weren’t really up to par. But, aside from that, it has been a day for dry whites and dry reds rather than sweet wines.
I kicked off at the Vintex tasting; although Bill Blatch doesn’t have ownership here any more he was in attendance, as well as a number of dedicated tasters, including Neal Martin and Steven Spurrier. Here I took in a range of wines, everything from basic Bordeaux Blanc up to classed growth Pauillac and St Estèphe. Despite some suggestions that this might be a good vintage for white wines, the quality here went right from green and grassy to polished and harmonious, although this reflected the varied appellations as much as anything else. At the top end – by which I mean the handful of white Pessac-Léognans included in the line-up – quality was good. Not at the level of 2011, on this very small assessment, but certainly good.
But I should wait until tomorrow before making such statements, as I have tasted only a few wines. But by sundown tomorrow the gravel of Pessac will be flowing through my veins; I commence at La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am, followed by the Pessac-Leognan syndicat tasting at Château Olivier, then on to Château Haut-Bailly in the afternoon (before a run down to Sauternes).
After the whites came the reds, and these were mostly from the left bank, everything from the cru bourgeois level upwards. Quality here was better than I expected. To put that statement in context, what I was expecting – for reasons which I will explain in my full vintage report to be published on Winedoctor next week – were wines that were lean, possibly green, and on occasion overtly rotten. Instead the wines were largely blessed with clean fruit characters, occasionally (but not often) laced with notes of mint or similar. They are clearly not from a great vintage though; so far thay lack many markers of that, including (a) exciting aromatics – largely we have solid, often poorly defined fruit, (b) midpalate substance – they often flatten out here, and (c) energy/vigour/vitality/lift – call it what you will, the wines lack that sense of life through the middle, the definition and frame that makes then interesting once in the mouth. I think the Bordelais have probably done very well to make wines as good as they have in this difficult vintage. That does not mean, however, they have made very good wines.
As above, though, note these are preliminary thoughts, based on a hop, skip and a jump through the appellations within a negociant’s portfolio.
Thereafter I moved onto the right bank, where the wines did seem to have more confidence. And this thought was reinforced by my second tasting of the day, with the négociant Ulysse Cabazonne, which belongs to John Kolasa and is based at Château Rauzan-Ségla (which is undergoing a significant expansion of its facilities – the new half-buildings above sit on the plot of land directly in front of the pre-existing chai). Here I tasted more minor right bank wines, from Castillon, Fronsac and St Emilion too, taking in wines which don’t show up at the Union des Grands Crus tastings. Certainly these wines have more texture through the middle, and more confidently expressed fruit characters than those from the left bank.
I finished the day by revisiting a few of the whites from earlier on, from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, before driving back to my accommodation – only stopping to take a few pictures of the vines and one or two Margaux châteaux in the hazy, evening twilight.