Despite the vagaries of the vintage it would be a mistake to overlook St Estèphe in 2012. At the top end excellent wines have been made at Chateau Calon-Ségur, Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Chateau Montrose especially. Further down the chain there are values to be had if you pick carefully. I’ve written about the excellent effort at Chateau Meyney, but very fine wine has been made at Chateau Phélan-Ségur and there is a surprisingly good Chateau de Pez. The vintage can’t be compared to 2009 and 2010 but it’s probably better than the 2011 vintage here at least. Where the price is right, and in a few cases it is, you could consider some of these wines en primeur.
Château Cos d’Estournel has produced a dense, serious wine in 2012. It comes across as more immediately polished than arch rival Montrose, perhaps firing on six-cylinders as opposed to Montrose’s eight, though Cos’s opulence makes its overall power a bit deceptive. The comparison between the two will be fascinating down the line even if Montrose has the edge in terms of sheer power. The real difference here is on price. Cos recently released at around £990 [$1500] a case. It makes Montrose [£660/$1000] look good value, and Calon-Ségur [at £440/$700] perhaps particularly so. Still I expect Cos see this as cheap given recent pricing here, though I wouldn’t like to be a merchant charged with having to shift it [as good as the wine undoubtedly is].
Anyone who has drunk 1961 or 1970 Château Meyney will be very well aware of the extraordinary potential of this property. Situated next to Château Montrose in St Estèphe, the vineyard lies in a single block of approximately fifty hectares and sits in a terrific position overlooking the Gironde. There has been steady and sure improvement here over the past decade since the purchase of the property by Credit Agricole’s CA Grand Crus group. There has been much investment in the vineyard and very good wines were made here in 2009 and 2010. I’m especially impressed by Meyney in 2012 too. It’s a cracking effort, a real success for the vintage, and provides genuine value to the consumer.
Hervé Berland, Château Montrose’s new managing director, is rightly proud of the wine here in 2012. Alongside Mouton and Léoville-Las-Cases this is one of the most powerful wines of the Médoc. It was also amongst the very last picked, a risky business enabled only by the terroir of Montrose. The soils here, gravel with a clay base, were sufficiently well draining for the rain that arrived at vintage time, but water retentive enough to resist the very dry period between August and late September. This dry period created fruit with especially thick skins, helping the grapes [Cabernet especially] resist the threat of botrytis that accompanied the late October wet weather. It was this that let Montrose snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Château Calon-Ségur has produced a very serious wine in 2012. It shows just how St Estèphe’s best terroirs have actually succeeded in this vintage. The Cabernet Sauvignon, that misfired in so many other districts, was harvested here at thirteen degrees. The Merlot was pushing nearly fifteen. No greenhouses or poly-tunnels to be seen, just an extremely nifty vineyard site doing the magic [along with assiduous vineyard management]. Yes there is considerable tannin and structure in Calon-Ségur, but the tannin is clearly ripe enough and there is plenty of balancing material. There is freshness too that lends appeal.
I have to say that overall I found Pauillac a bit tricky to assess in 2012. I’d really have liked to have recommended these wholeheartedly, but there was real variation in the two passes I made on these wines at the Union des Grands Crus events. Only a handful of wines were completely consistent on both occasions. I’ve already written on the first growths. For me Chateau Mouton-Rothschild leads the pack with Lafite and Latour behind, though in the overall qualitative list I’d put Chateau Pontet-Canet up in this group too. Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste also looked good as did Pichon-Comtesse de Lalande. Taken together these are my picks at the very top level.
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Château Haut-Batailley released last week and their en primeur prices look competitive, given the quality here. Whilst things are a little up and down in the Pauillac appellation in 2012, not so at Domaines François-Xavier Borie. There’s excellent blackcurrant purity on Grand-Puy-Lacoste, second wine Lacoste-Borie looks an early maturing delight and ‘GPL’ sibling Haut-Batailley, a by-word for elegance and finesse, has made very appealing wine. These are really Pauillacs to consider in 2012.
Château Latour has produced a focused set of wines in 2012. They have finesse and precision but felt perhaps a little leaner than 2011 at the same stage. Now that Latour have abandoned selling en primeur the snapshot of these wines in their youth is possibly a bit academic given that it will be a few years, at least, before even the most junior Pauillac will be released, let alone Les Forts and the grand vin itself. Handy, then, that the wine that stole the show on the morning I tasted at Latour was their Pauillac 2009, the current release of the ‘third’ wine. It’s stunning. Immediately it reminds you just how pedestrian much Pauillac is in 2012. Oh 2009, how we miss you!
Château Pontet-Canet continues its run of form with an extremely seductive and open Pauillac in 2012. There is something Burgundian about the wine and the set up here, with the emphasis on the vineyard and the impressive bio-dynamic regime established over a number of years. Little wonder this wine is the darling of the markets, delivering flavour and quality at a comparative fraction of Pauillac’s established [and in certain cases] neighbouring heavyweights. It’s also human thing too, for all the fashionable talk of terroir. Alfred Tesseron and his family come across as genuine, open, warm-hearted people and part of that spirit rubs off on what you find in the glass. It’s called soul, and their wines have it.
I must say it’s always a treat to have Lafite, Carruades and Duhart-Milon lined up in front of you, regardless of the vintage. Last year there was some sharp disagreement over Lafite itself. I liked it and thought it very good in the vintage context. I feel the same way about 2012. It’s a good effort that reflects a huge amount of effort combating the vicissitudes of a difficult growing season and harvest. But, in the end, even Lafite can’t quite escape the vintage, and one that appears to have been a bit tricky in Pauillac.