January Blues and Dry January are somewhat of a mystery to us lucky ones in the fine wine world. In fact on a wine-tasting front, January can be one of my most exciting months of the year. It is the month that sees the release of the latest vintage from Burgundy; this year has been particularly outstanding with the stunning 2014 whites and very appealing red wines from the Côte d’Or. But equally exciting for me is this amazing three day event we have at Southwold reviewing the most recent vintage from Bordeaux having spent just two years in bottle. This year: 2012.
This incredible event was started by the famous wine writer Clive Coates MW and former chairman of Adnams Simon Loftus back in the 1979. They held the first tasting at St Pancras Chambers where Clive was based in his role as British Rail wine buyer. According to Simon it consisted of a vertical tasting of Ch Latour between 1975 and 1945 all of which had commercial value. Oh how the restaurant car on the train has changed! As, I suspect, has the role of their wine buyers. The second tasting was Cheval Blanc and the third Petrus!
Over the past thirty years it has evolved into something very different. Today it consists of three days of blind tasting reviewing appellation by appellation the Bordeaux vintage bottled two years before and is now arguably one of the most influential and respected tastings of its kind. In the evening corks are pulled from a few older gems from Bordeaux and Burgundy (sadly not going as far back to 1945).
The tasters are 18 wine professionals including respected journalists Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Spurrier and Neal Martin and 15 of the UK’s leading wine merchants and wine buyers, including six Masters of Wine. We all converge in the wonderful surrounds of Southwold on the Suffolk coast and are welcome recipients of the kind hospitality of Adnams at the Crown Hotel. The event is beautifully hosted by their wine buyer Rob Chase, one of life’s great enthusiasts.
So what was in store for us this year? The 2012 vintage: not a naturally recognised vintage and having only just been bottled in 2014, the wines are still babies. In total almost 350 wines are tasted, all blind and alongside their appellation peers.
Yes it is somewhat of a marathon, but extraordinarily good fun. Each taster has to give his score before the wines are revealed and there is absolutely no conferring. Everybody’s opinion is totally respected and the fascination is in seeing that whilst all of us assess the individual characteristics in very similar ways, each taster has their own preferences. Some like wines of subtlety and refinement, others are at the other end of the spectrum enjoying power and strength, but the scores themselves reflect the overall balance and quality of any given wine.
At the end of our three days we left in very high spirits. Unanimously it was agreed that 2012 is a wine drinkers’ vintage. Whilst it isn’t the most complex of years, it has produced deliciously appealing wines. The best have generosity and succulence, although without the layered nuances of a great year. The style of this vintage gives real pleasure and a youthful drinkability.
Inevitably there were peaks and troughs; one of the great joys was to see the return to form of St Emilion. The days of over-extraction and excess are hopefully of a bygone era. For the second year in a row we enjoyed the more poised and subtle flavours that make St Emilion so appealing. Troplong Mondot, Beauséjour Bécot and Figeac showed real class and Trottevieille showed huge promise. The Pomerols – as one would expect – were a delight, with a flow of delicious balance and class. Petrus exuded the quality of its unique origins and I loved Vieux Château Certan, which was one of my wines of the event; La Conseillante, Gazin and La Fleur Petrus were equally fine.
In the Médoc the quality was slightly less uniform, depending on individual estates’ harvest dates and the ripeness levels of their Cabernets. But the best vineyards still came to the fore. Amongst the 2nd wines and lower classified growths, Gloria, Haut Batailley, Batailley, Phélan Ségur and Moulin Riche will provide delicious drinking. Other highlights (outside the 1st growths) were Issan in Margaux; Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande and Lynch Bages in Pauillac; and in St Julien Léoville Poyferré, St Pierre and Gruaud Larose represent very good price quality and showed extremely well. In Pessac Léognan Ch Smith Haut Lafitte was very good. And although it was not everybody’s favourite, I really enjoyed the Ch Haut Bailly.
Sadly the weather was not kind to the sweet wine makers and so 2012 is not a vintage to look out for the wines of Sauternes and Barsac. However the dry white wines are sensational and produced some of the most exciting wines of the three days. The surprise package for the second year in a row was that the top wine (based on aggregate scores) was Ch Bouscaut, although for my palate, it didn’t naturally capture my interest, as it hadn’t last year when I also marked it down. My preferences were more Domaine de Chevalier, Smith Haut Lafitte, Malartic Lagravière, La Mission Haut Brion Blanc and Pavillon Blanc, which were superb.
A fabulous three days as always and we owe an enormous gratitude to all the Bordeaux Châteaux for their help and support to allow such a unique and special tasting to take place.
My Top wines of the Tasting:
Ch Mouton Rothschild
Ch Pichon Lalande
Ch Pichon Baron
Ch Lynch Bages
Ch Grand Puy Lacoste
Ch Haut Batailley
Ch La Mission Haut Brion
Ch Haut Brion
Ch Haut Bailly
Ch Smith Haut Lafitte
Pessac Léognan Blanc
Ch La Mission Haut Brion
Ch Smith Haut Lafitte
Ch Malartic Lagravière
Dne de Chevalier
Ch Cheval Blanc
Ch Beauséjour Bécot
Vieux Château Certan
Ch La Conseillante