Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

2012 CLARETS PART II : Pessac-Léognan, Saint Émilion, Pomerol, First Growths

January 2017. imw2

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PART TWO : PESSAC-LÉOGNAN, SAINT ÉMILION, POMEROL, FIRST GROWTHS


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PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

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Both châteaux BOUSCAUT and DE FIEUZAL were light, elegant, and approachable, with good balance and will drink well in the coming years. HAUT–BAILLY was in a reticent mood, with an elegant aroma reminiscent of freshly sharpened pencil and autumn berries. It too will evolve smoothly if unlikely to generate great excitement. However, such top estates can be very closed up when young and all three may well surprise us.

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Made of sterner stuff was:

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2012 CHÂTEAU LA MISSION HAUT BRION ****

If not as dense as usual, La Mission ’12 shows dynamism, solid colour, and firm structure (I always think of it as the Montrose of Pessac-Léognan). Less weighty than normal, yes; but still with plenty of structure and good depth. Long on the palate, harmonious and with ample terroir character, it’s sure to improve for a good 30 years. A superbly made, distinguished wine that’s true to form.

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2012 CHÂTEAU MALARTIC LAGRAVIÈRE ***(*)

Dark for this welter-weight vintage, Malartic smells like a meld of damson jam, elderberry, and chocolate. Dense on nose and palate, it fills the mouth with lovely black fruit flavours, showing fine balance and real vigour. The aftertaste is long and facetted. They clearly went for optimum (not maximum) ripeness – and obtained it – without a scrap of bitterness or astringency. A well-crafted wine for the long haul (25-30 years).

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2012 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE ****

The dark colour and pure aroma show that they, like the preceding two, had striven to extract the very best of all fruit shorn of less desirable elements. The smooth, round nose suggests black cherry, blackcurrant, and chocolate, with a spicy aspect too (wild cherry with stone). The excellent flavour exhibits depth and substance and rolls on for quite some time. With such excellent structure it will last well.

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2012 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER ****

A lovely aubergine blue-purple, Chevalier has a firm, focused aroma, both grainy and inviting, of blackberry, cocoa, and truffle, with the kind of dryness that’s somehow luscious, with ripe-grape sweetness at its core. A pencil-like sub-scent points to the presence of Cabernet-Franc. Beautifully structured on the palate, it has a fine- grained texture and a long, complex finish that ends on a note of plum jam, blackberry, and liquorice wood. A lovely wine that will steadily improve over 30 years.

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SAINT ÉMILION

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2012 CHÂTEAU CANON ****

If this were a statue, its flowing forms would arrest you even if individual features haven’t been chiselled in. It’s dark as to colour, the nose is rich, glossy, faintly tarry. It’s rich in the mouth, too, with suggestions of sweet prunes, coffee and chicory, brown sugar. Clearly in transition but showing an underlying balance. And so well-proportioned it’s sure to improve for several decades.

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2012 CLOS FOURTET ****

This is darker still, looking like crème de cassis. Full and concentrated on the nose, it gives off wafts of damson jam, liquorice, and espresso. Smooth and voluptuous on the palate, and all of a piece. The flavour – with the type of depth and mellowness I associate with old vines – turns to fig and chocolate and is solid without clumsiness. Juicy enough to enjoy in, say six years, it will then go on improving for a good 20 years.

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2012 CHÂTEAU TROPLONG MONDOT ***

Another opaque wine, this has a full, jammy aroma of blackberry and dark chocolate. It’s rich and weighty in the mouth, with that emphatic presence so often found in Saint Émilions from the Côtes. A big, energetic wine for longish keeping.

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2012 CHÂTEAU TROTTEVIEILLE ***(*)

Another dusky wine, with winking highlights. The nose is rounder, glossier, and purer than that of TM, and with more lift, with that special mellowness conferred by very old vines and aromatic hints of autumn berries, liquorice, and chocolate. It’s a disciplined smell – a sign of meticulous wine-making. Clearly in evolution, you can nonetheless register the wine’s fine balance and distinction. buoyant and harmonious mouthful.

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POMEROL

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2012 CHÂTEAU BEAUREGARD **(*)

This dark wine has a round, juicy smell of blackcurrant, violet, and black cherry. A round and succulent aroma. Such an aroma heralds a lush and globular flavour and that’s exactly how its tastes. But it’s not just charm; there’s a degree of real depth there too. Will develop well.

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2012 CHÂTEAU CLINET ***

This, too, has lots of charm and is also made of sterner stuff. The inviting nose carries hints of sweet autumn berries, gooseberry, and carnation (that spicy smell so typical of the Merlot). The excellent flavour is full of mature fruit, with just the right degree of weight to math its underlying elegance. The tannins are smooth enough to guarantee longevity without endowing the wine with astringency or roughness. Very good.

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2012 CHÂTEAU GAZIN **

The rich colour promises and delivers density without over-extraction, and fills the mouth with pleasant briary flavours that intermingle with chocolate and damson. A decent wine that’s slightly lacking in buoyancy.

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2012 CHÂTEAU LA FLEUR PÉTRUS ****

In colour terms, top are like jewels compared with pastes. This is a jewel. The nose, too, has an extra layer of subtlety and refinement, bilberry, and black cherry enfolded in an all-encompassing aroma that breathes finesse and complexity. Sleek and harmonious in the mouth, it’s as poised as a ballerina in mid-dance. The aftertaste is velvety and full of refinement, so long I’m in danger of missing my train! This is what Pomerol – indeed all good claret – is all about!

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2012 CHÂTEAU PETIT VILLAGE ***

Rich in colour and scent, but not to excess, this possesses an elegant, flowery aroma and a flavour that’s smooth as silk, and not far behind Fleur Pétrus in terms of harmony and depth. It has just the right degree of concentration to permit maximum expression of this particular property’s potential in this vintage. At last P.V. is starting to show its true potential.

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2012 CHÂTEAU TROTANOY ****

Dark but luminescent, Trotanoy has a noble aroma that’s round, refined, and harmonious. And extremely seductive! Within that big but restrained scent, one can pick out a convergence of black fruits and berries, truffle, and damson. It simply breathes noblesse – and that noblesse obliges one to retaste immediately! In doing so, you’re even more struck by its aerial, subtle quality. There’s not a jot of heaviness in the mouth, just a perfect amalgamation of the finest qualities delivered up by vineyard and winemaker. Perfect acidity, refined tannins, long finish.

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FIRST GROWTHS

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2012 CHÂTEAU ANGELUS ****(*)

Of solid appearance (dark and glowing), Angelus has a big aroma that’s both masterful and subtle (not an easy trick to pull off!), an interweave of cherry, red rose, and blackcurrant. The flavour is full and authoritative: cherry, cinnamon, sweet damson, a hint of liquorice wood on the aftertaste. The finish is long but closed up – it rolls on but you can’t yet pick out the innumerable details that will emerge in time. A harmonious wine that will mature in stages: 10 years to reach a first peak, then a middle phase of 15 or so years; finally, a plateau of excellence over the next 15.

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Angelus is a superb wine, wonderfully vinified. But without possessing that unique personality found in the likes of Latour, Mouton, Haut-Brion, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, et al.

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2012 CHÂTEAU CHEVAL BLANC *****

The lustrous crimson-black colour with vermilion glints signals Cheval Blanc, likewise the lovely black cherry scent, heightened by a whiff of violet, truffle, liquorice, and crème de myrtille (bilberry). It’s a seamless aroma of great finesse. And a joy to receive on one’s palate, showing as it does a tingling freshness and a velvety texture. 2012 is not the fullest of recent vintages, perhaps, but this is very much in harmony, reaching out in all directions, from nose to palate to throat and beyond. It’s somehow both dense and aerial – and very, very long. Will age well into the 2050s.

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2012 CHÂTEAU HAUT BRION *****

The entrancing scent of rose petals, blackberry, and cigar box is as distinctive as, say, the music of Bach. The mineral flavour matches up to this, with all manner of notes – fig, chocolate, plum jam, subtle spices – which lead one, a willing slave, to a myriad sub flavours that will merge, converge, and burgeon in the coming decades. It’s a wine of immense refinement. You feel you could drink it now, with great enjoyment, but it really has a great future. The irresistible charm of today will evolve into the overwhelming splendour of the future. There’s a special serenity to Haut-Brion at its best. It shows here.

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2012 CHÂTEAU LAFITE *****

A fine colour, rich and glowing as stained glass. What rises from the glass is that unique Lafite perfume of untold subtlety. To say that it smells like violet, black cherry, sloe, and bilberry, only tells part of the story, for those myriad scents fuse into something inexpressible: it smells like a great Lafite! The aerial quality of the nose carries through to the palate, which shows a perfect harmony of all manner of subtle sub-flavours which fuse seamlessly into a whole. You know that not a single underripe grape was admitted into the winery, that every stage of vinification was monitored with vigilance. But there’s firm structure, too, on a rippling aftertaste that incorporates a myriad berries and spices and minerals. This is Lafite in its Saint Julien mood.

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2012 CHÂTEAU MARGAUX *****

Well-coloured, this Margaux has a soft, refined scent that is the summation of Margaux (commune) character and Margaux (Château) personality. In short, a wine of great finesse. The flowery aroma signals delicacy, firmness of structure, and great tensile strength. It’s both broad and deep. The main thrust, aromatically, is blackberry, but with hints of fig (Merlot) and plum. It’s a very controlled aroma, as held-in and tense as a racehorse about to gallop. Tertiary aromas are forming, even at this early stage. Not surprisingly for so complex a wine, it’s still reticent on the palate, and as yet only medium-full. As it matures it will fill out, round out, and grow ever longer. A beautifully poised wine for long keeping.

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2012 CHÂTEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD *****

The solid black-purple colour means they obtained optimum extraction, while avoiding over-extraction. It’s a typically masterful Mouton scent, but also one that exhales restraint and complexity, suggestive of chocolate, black cherry and blackberry jams, with the promise of velvety texture. Mouton is Mouton: within seconds your palate skids into recognizing truffle and caramel as well! On the palate, a Mouton warmth and richness and a hearty reprise of truffle, black cherry, and fig. Fine acidity keeps it all crisp and precise. The finish is really long. It has to be said: on the day Mouton is darkest, fullest, and most expressive of the first Growths.

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<< 2012 CLARETS PART I

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© Frank Ward 2017

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