Sleep­ing Beauty

It might have been a poor grow­ing sea­son for Bordeaux, writes but the 2012 vin­tage holds great prom­ise

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life | Wine -

James Suck­ling,

emand and prices for Bordeaux’s best wines, as you’d ex­pect, are based on the per­ceived qual­ity of par­tic­u­lar vin­tages. Great years sell for the high­est prices and poor years for the low­est. But ev­ery once in a while a “sleeper vin­tage” ap­pears where the qual­ity of the wines is un­der­es­ti­mated and out­stand­ing bot­tles sell for bar­gain prices. This is the case with the most re­cent Bordeaux vin­tage to hit the mar­ket—2012. Wines of ex­cel­lent value, es­pe­cially from top names in the Right Bank re­gions of Pomerol and Saint-émil­ion, are now avail­able.

Ear­lier sleeper vin­tages in­clude 2001 and 1994. Th­ese are par­tic­u­larly good years for mer­lot-based reds. For ex­am­ple, the leg­endary Château Le Pin is fan­tas­tic in 2001, clearly bet­ter than the highly lauded 2000. It was the same in 1994, which is ar­guably bet­ter than the touted 1996.

I re­mem­ber first tast­ing the 2012 vin­tage in the spring of 2013. I taste new vin­tages each year in March af­ter the har­vest, just be­fore the global wine trade de­scends on Bordeaux to as­sess the year. Most of the 500 wines or so— sam­ples taken from bar­rel—seemed slightly di­luted and lack­ing in struc­ture. The grow­ing sea­son in 2012 was gen­er­ally cool and wet, con­di­tions that make it dif­fi­cult to har­vest ripe grapes and make struc­tured wines. This was re­flected in the bar­rel sam­ples.

How­ever, the wines im­proved af­ter 12 to 14 months in bar­rel in the cel­lars of the châteaux. They gained den­sity and struc­ture. They be­came bet­ter wines. “I think we un­der­es­ti­mated what we had in the bar­rel,” says Philippe Dhal­luin, the tech­ni­cal direc­tor of Mou­ton Roth­schild, the first growth that made the best wine of the 2012 vin­tage.

I don’t think the im­prove­ment in the 2012 was due to age­ing in the bar­rel. It was all about what hap­pened in the vine­yard dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son months be­fore. Th­ese days top es­tates—about 300 to 500 names—work their vine­yards in an in­cred­i­bly metic­u­lous way, par­tic­u­larly in a dif­fi­cult year like 2012. They tend the vines with the de­vo­tion of award-win­ning gar­den­ers nur­tur­ing prized roses. So in less-than-per­fect grow­ing sea­sons, they do what­ever is nec­es­sary to pro­duce the best grapes pos­si­ble. This could be any­thing from re­mov­ing bunches of grapes to in­duce vines to bet­ter ripen the re­main­ing fruit, to open­ing the leaf canopies to al­low more sun­shine to reach the grapes.

“It’s vin­tages like 2012 that show who are the best grape grow­ers in Bordeaux,” says Alexan­dre Thien­pont, who made one of the best wines of the year, Château Le Pin. “Ev­ery­thing has to be done at the right time and in the right way to pro­duce the best grapes for har­vest.”

It’s this at­ten­tion to the de­tail of viti­cul­ture in Bordeaux that amazes me. In a vin­tage that should be mostly a washout in qual­ity, most of the top pro­duc­ers of the re­gion man­aged to har­vest grapes of ex­cel­lent qual­ity and make out­stand­ing wines. This is what makes a year a “sleeper vin­tage.” That’s why I’m en­thu­si­as­tic about 2012 Bordeaux.

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