Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

BIG LONDON TASTING OF 2012 CLARETS PART I : Haut Médoc, Margaux, Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, Pauillac

January 2017. Over eighty clarets from the 2012 vintage were recently shown in London by the Institute of Masters of Wine. It was a challenging year, with fluctuating weather, a tardy summer, and some rain at harvest time. Needless to say, the best-run properties came out best. As Charles Taylor M.W. commented: “in a difficult year, producers with commitment and resources achieved much better results than those with limited opportunities or modest ambition”.

a

imw2

a

PART ONE: HAUT MÉDOC, MARGAUX, SAINT ESTÈPHE, SAINT JULIEN, PAUILLAC

a

HAUT MÉDOC

a

2012 CHÂTEAU CANTEMERLE ***

This has a soft, expressive aroma, in the Margaux mode, of chocolate and plum jam. This carries through to the palate, which is nuanced and elegant. A sound, satisfying wine to enjoy in the medium term.

a

a

MARGAUX

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU BOYD CANTENAC ***

Also for the mid-term: aromatic, if a bit too marked by toasty oak, with autumn berries ascendant. Enough substance to fill out and grow rounder as the years roll by, with the capacity to shed that slightly excessive oakiness in the process.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU BRANE CANTENAC ****

Lustreless in the past, Brane Cantenac grows increasingly worthy of its 2nd Growth status. So dense as to be almost opaque, the ’12 emits a rich, composite scent of black cherry, damson, and liquorice – the smell of a solid, silky wine with depth. A touch of sloe creeps in, giving another layer of sapidity to an intense, compact flavour that promises ever-increasing complexity and power in the years to come.

a

a

I retaste with growing admiration: this really is lovely, with a note of black truffle slyly inserting itself into the sustained finish.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU DURFORT VIVENS ****

Still darker, Durfort Vivens – another Lurton-owned 2nd Growth Margaux – has a buoyant, harmonious aroma of real nobility. Classic in style, it exhales bilberry and blackcurrant jams and black cherry. Hints of raspberry and pomegranate lend extra layers to that scent, while the flavour unrolls into a savoury echo of those same elements. How exciting to find a formerly dullish wine transformed into something so enticing.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU GISCOURS **

It’s possible that this was bottled – or perhaps harvested – a bit too late, as the colour seems slightly more evolved than that of its peers and the aroma betrays a touch of overripeness. This is a fine property and I’d wager that another sample would show much better. Watch this space.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU D’ISSAN**

The colour is more evolved than most, and the rotund nose conjures up caramel and cocoa. Plenty of flesh on the palate, with the kind of forthrightness more typical of Saint Émilion than Margaux. However, the flavour shows good structure and depth and the wine should develop well in the years to come.

a

a

If this description is a bit vague, so was the sample!

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LASCOMBES **

Dense and chocolaty on the nose, with hints of sweet prune and cigar-box. Plenty of volume in the mouth – perhaps a bit over-extracted – with tannins a little on the gritty side. A full-bodied, vigorous wine though not overly subtle. Would be a good partner to game or stews. (I remember a ’64, enjoyed at dinner at the Château, that was delicious – and ’64 wasn’t a top vintage in the Médoc).

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU MARQUIS DE TERME**

The agreeably flowery aroma suggests black cherry, red rose, and blackcurrant. The hint of new wood is a bit intrusive but doesn’t dominate. In fact, that otherwise subtle, silky smell augurs well for the future. The lightish, appealing flavour of plum, tobacco, and fig is medium long. An agreeable wine to go with elegant food.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU POUGET **

This limpid wine has an expressive, flowery scent – peony in the ascendant – which also suggests cherry and plum. You can smell the Merlot as a distinct, but integral, component. Smooth and nuanced on the palate, it also incorporates a suggestion of tobacco and prune. A charming mouthful.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU PRIEURÉ LICHINE ***

The colour of black cherries, Prieuré Lichine has a balanced aroma – denser than the two preceding wines – of that very fruit, and of damson and graphite. I relish the taste, which is lusciously fruity, with the kind of acidity you find in a ripe cherry. A stylish, seductive wine, with a velvety texture.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA *****

Nearly black but limpid, this splendid wine exhales an aroma of great complexity, an interweave of cherry, graphite, and bilberry, not to mention other haunting scents too fugitive to analyse. It’s a nose of exceptional subtlety and finesse: close-meshed, intricate, with underlying power and classic restraint. The flavour veers towards sweetly ripe blackberry – a scent/flavour I always associate with Margaux wines – with the barest hint of truffle (sure to burgeon in time) on a protracted, highly refined aftertaste. A superbly crafted wine, the very essence of Margaux.

a

a

a

SAINT ESTÈPHE

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU CALON SEGUR ****

This blackish 2e Cru has a lovely juicy smell, smooth and expressive, of cherry and raspberry, as natural and affecting as a bowl of freshly-picked fruit. And very round, indeed globular. There’s a totally unforced quality to it, a wine that sings. Smooth and dense in the mouth, with a lovely texture, it delivers a gush of sensuous fruit made extra shapely by ripe tannins and fine acidity. A vigorous and expressive wine, deceptively mature, but able to age for several decades.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU COS D’ESTOURNEL *****

Black as night, Cos has a huge, energetic aroma so powerful it’s almost overwhelming. A very Cos smell, reeking of black cherry, damson jam, underbrush, and liquorice. The more I smell, the more comes forth. The masterful nose, is almost a caricature of Saint-Estèphe, source of the most emphatic of Médocs. Subsidiairy aromas queue up to be recognized: wet clay, bilberry, blackcurrant pop up, first in sequence, then in harmony. Damson jam and smoke dominate on the palate, which is close-knit and with much in reserve. Behind the power, that classical Cos structure always to be found in good vintages.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LAFON ROCHET **(*)

A typical Saint Estèphe, nose solid and briary. Smells and tastes like liquorice and damson. Masculine in style, with a longish, solid aftertaste. (I wasn’t arrested by this sample but it’s clearly a very good wine).

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU MONTROSE *****

Shining through a glass darkly, Montrose has a concentrated, velvety aroma of ripe autumn berries and chocolate. It’s a gorgeous scent, promising fine balance and voluptuous texture. More refined than Cos, if less ebullient, – but then they’re as different in style as Wagner and Mozart. The flavour has many strata yet is all of a piece. The aftertaste and finish are long and nuanced. A wine of great bearing, clearly with much more to reveal as the years roll by.

a

a

a

SAINT JULIEN

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU BEYCHEVELLE ***(*)

For me, Beychevelle is a Graves in the Médoc, with its earthy, grainy smell and furry texture. The nose of blackberry jam and sweet prune is voluminous and expressive. It slims down in the glass, showing a lithe build and a protracted aftertaste more in the Saint Julien mould – elegant and poised. Well balanced.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU ***

A shade lighter, the has a smooth balanced aroma – blackberry and chocolate – that’s carried through onto the palate, which shows a promising meld of substance and restraint. A well-crafted wine for the medium term.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU GRUAUD LAROSE ****

As always, G.L. has a voluptuous aroma full of fruit and very fresh – an aromatic meld of dark chocolate, damson, and sloe. Cabernet-Sauvignon strength and volume provide an almost Pauillac density and force. It’s a masculine wine, yet with cushiony fruit, well-structured and persistent. The Petit Verdot, though accounting for only 3% of the surface, gives added thrust and an extra layer of complexity. The generous Merlot (29%) gives warmth, with the dominant Cabernet-Sauvignon contributing tension and a masterful finish.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LANGOA BARTON ***

This limpid wine has an elegant, expressive nose, both fruity (cherry and raspberry) and flowery (peony). Light but balanced in the mouth, with hints of chocolate and clove on the aftertaste, it will give considerable pleasure over the coming 20 years or so. It will be lovely with spring lamb.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE BARTON ****

Darker than Langoa, this has a noble, expressive aroma, very Léoville Barton, of blackberry and black cherry. It’s a smooth, even creamy smell, about 90% concentrated but wholly in balance. The flavour is classic Saint Julien – a fusion of classic harmony and refinement – and the finish is protracted, with plenty of nuances. I can’t help wishing it were just a fraction more concentrated…

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE LAS CASES *****

Darker, in a wholly unforced way, Las Cases has an expansive, very refined nose suggestive of black cherry, damson, and graphite, soon augmented by tender hints of violet and bilberry. It’s a perfectly poised, smell, with nothing extraneous. The flavour really takes over the palate, showing a ripe core of perfectly mature fruit with characteristic La Cases complexity. It contrives to be dense yet aerial. The smooth aftertaste is distinctly briary. Very long on the palate, it’s built to last.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU TALBOT ***

A Daumier after a Degas: masses of matière on a nose that sends out gusts of black cherry and damson suffused with minerality. It bursts with energy. In the mouth, that typical Talbot gaminess, wrapped up in a mass of rich concentrated fruit suggestive of venison (to which it would be an excellent partner) and underbrush. A burly wine with a certain affinity with St Estèphe and Moulis, yet with underlying St Julien class.

a

a

a

PAUILLAC

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU D’ARMAILHAC ***

This has a really fine, perfumed aroma, of crème de framboise, black cherry, and red rose. The grapes were clearly very ripe, giving a striking purity. The flavour is excellent, too, showing an almost Mouton-like vitality on a bracing aftertaste reminiscent of black cherry and raspberry. An enticing wine – a glamorous duchess with a split skirt.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU BATAILLEY ***

The nose is fine and expressive: flowery, inviting, and round. It’s very Merlot at present, with hints of carnation and Victoria plum, but the Cabernet-Sauvignon is a lurking presence. It’s an aroma that announces a wine packed with fruit. An enticing, balanced wine with a hedonistic side yet also with a serious mission. I find hints of caramel and fig on the aftertaste. A harmonious, vinous Pauillac.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU CLERC MILON ***(*)

Solid in appearance, this wine has a lusciously fruity nose of peony and red rose, raspberry, and nectarine, all encased in a vinous aroma, showing both power and subtlety. Pauillac rigour is more noticeable on the palate, which is still relatively closed up. It has just that bit more substance and structure than Batailley; indeed, it shows a Latour-like grittiness on the finish. Needs time.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU DUHART MILON ****

Not especially dark, and with a softer, more restrained aroma, this wine from the Lafite team gives off a gently authoritative aroma suggestive of carnation, black and red cherries, and strawberry, with a subtle new-oak accent. It has plenty in reserve, turning towards lush black cherry in the mouth, where it steadily gains in volume in contact with the air. It quickly turns luscious, with true Pauillac power and volume, yet with lift too.

a

a

As usual, this splendid property needs your full attention if you don’t want to miss its underlying complexity.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE ****

This gives off a big, velvety aroma, globular and all of a piece, of black cherry, cinnamon, and vanillin (from new oak). It’s very closed on the palate, Cabernet-Sauvignon in the ascendant, but with all the signs of an impeccably-crafted wine which, if on the reserve, is clearly packed with shapely fruit. To me, it’s the most closed-up 2012 so far; but you know that no effort is ever spared to make the best possible wine here, and none wasted on trying to impress the credulous. GPL never disappoints.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU HAUT BATAILLEY ***

Typical H-B elegance shows on an interweave of soaring scents, both flowery and fruity. I think of blackberry and elderberry, but also of graphite (probably from the Cabernet-Franc). As always, it shows a deceptive lightness – Saint Julien style – which masks genuine Pauillac strength and assertiveness.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LYNCH BAGES *****

This owes its blackish cast to the dominant Cabernet-Sauvignon. The nose is absolutely splendid: black cherry, truffle, crème de framboise. It’s a lovely perfumed aroma, quintessentially Lynch Bages and typically Pauillac… Yet not quite the latter: it’s almost indecently voluptuous – yet somehow rigorous. It could almost be a Pomerol. The masterful flavour crams the mouth with a rush of ripe fruit: black cherry, truffle, sweet Victoria plum, graphite. The finish is long. An exceptional Lynch Bages.

a

a

How do they bring off this fusion of power and lusciousness in so many vintages?

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU LYNCH MOUSSAS **(*)

The scent of plum jam and cocoa is smooth and enticing, leading into an attractively fruity flavour – about 85% concentrated but in balance – that is both vigorous and agreeably vinous. A very decent mid-term wine.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU PICHON BARON *****

All the hallmarks of excellence: glowing colour, splendid aroma with depth, an overall impression of power and complexity. It smells LIKE a Pauillac; it smells OF all the black fruits and berries you can think of, with a touch of graphite for good measure. Above all, it smells like Pichon Baron – very like Latour but a fraction less assertive. The masterful flavour, too, prompts thoughts of Latour, with its rich fruit and taut sinews, impressive balance, and sustained finish. Every year this is one of the best-vinified wines anywhere on earth.

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU PICHON LALANDE*****

Why is the “Comtesse” always so feminine, and the ”Baron” so masculine, vintage after vintage? In fact, both have roughly the same grape-mix (around 60% each Cabernet-Sauvignon, “the” Médoc variety) while the former contains 4% Petit Verdot (the most forceful of Bordeaux grapes) with only 2% at the Baron. Anyway, the nose is again distinctly feminine and full of refinement, being round, silky, and all of a piece. Masses of black fruit, with a shot of raspberry sweetness at the core. I sniff again: a ravishing aroma, laden with finesse. There’s plenty of grip on the palate, without loss of subtlety. What remains is a haunting presence on the palate.

a

a

Both Pichons are great in their different ways. Vive la différence !

a

a

2012 CHÂTEAU PONTET CANET *****

A blackish cast. The splendid aroma, redolent of luscious black fruits and berries, shoots out of the glass, signalling concentration and buoyancy: a congregation of magical scents that fills your nostrils while remaining subtle and refined. Held together by a unifying force. Every grape must have been of singular purity and of perfect ripeness. Once again, I find myself thinking of Vosne Romanée, even though the wine is unmistakeably Pauillac. You can smell clay (that great friend of the Merlot). The aftertaste, both rich and restrained, carries notes of raspberry, black cherry, and truffle.

a

a

a

>> CONTINUED : PART TWO – PESSAC-LÉOGNAN, SAINT EMILION, POMEROL, FIRST GROWTHS

 

a

© Frank Ward 2017

a a

Advertisements