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Geoffrey Dean gets the lowdown on the 2012 Bordeaux vintage

Published:  01 March, 2013

A recce of the Left and Right Banks in late February led this correspondent to conclude that critics and judges alike should be pleasantly surprised when they descend on Bordeaux next month for the annual en primeur tastings.

For despite what was acknowledged as a "difficult" weather year in 2012, with many Médoc growers starting the harvest later than at any other time in the past 20 years, a combination of some gorgeous fruit, overt tannins and crisp acidity has helped to produce some very good wine. While the 2012 vintage will not rival the great ones of 2009 and 2010, it is looking better than 2011, itself superior to both 2007 and 2008.

Jean-Baptiste Cordonnier, winemaker and owner of two cru bourgeois estates, Château Anthonic and Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, both in Moulis-en-Médoc, provided a succinct summary of the conditions last year. "It was very dry from mid-July to mid-September, by which time we were worried about the lack of rain," he told Harpers.

"Then, we were saved by 60mm and got good weather again until October 14, when I remember the rain started falling at 11am exactly. It hardly stopped till mid-February. So it was possible to make big wines with a lot of concentration. Those who picked before October 14 were OK - we got our last grapes in just in time. But I know a few producers who started picking on October 12 and they missed the vintage."

Ludovic David, winemaker at Château Marquis de Terme, the Margaux fourth growth, concurred. "Our 2012 has lots of fruit and tannin, and it's more powerful than the 2011," he said. Just down the road at fellow fourth growth, Château Prieuré-Lichine, the technical director there, Etienne Charrier, agreed that his 2012 will be better than his 2011. That view was shared further north in the Médoc by Anne Le Naour, technical director for CA Grands Crus stable of chateaux that include Grand-Puy-Ducasse, the Pauillac fifth growth, and two crus bourgeois, Meyney and Blaignan.

On the Right Bank, Château Valandraud's winemaker, Rémi Dalmasso, expressed delight with his 2012. "At the end of the alcoholic fermentation, we were a bit disappointed," he said. "But now we look at the fruit and say 'Phew'."

The intense concentration of Valandraud's wines is one reason for the estate's "double" promotion in the Saint-Emilion reclassification of last September when it rose from grand cru (equivalent to journeyman status in Saint-Emilion) to premier grand cru classé B, leapfrogging grand cru classé in the process. That is akin to an English football club being promoted from League One straight to the Premiership, bypassing the Championship.

Another player promoted from grand cru to grand cru classé, was Château Jean Faure, an estate with a long history but whose fall in standards owing to matrimonial strife led to "relegation" in 1986. Acquired by Olivier Decelle in 2004, it has seen a complete renaissance under the organic banner, and is producing exceptional wine again. It has every reason to, being right next door to Cheval Blanc with an identical soil profile. A Chinese importer was tasting there when I visited and, indeed, Decelle revealed he has had several Chinese offers to buy the estate since September. "No chance of that," he promised.

Chinese fascination with all things Bordeaux, well encapsulated in the soon-to-be-released documentary film Red Obsession, has led to a huge influx of Chinese visitors to the region. That ties in nicely with the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux's (CIVB) determination to bring more wine tourists not just to the various appellations but also to Bordeaux itself, where a whole series of new wine bars in the cleaned-up city centre have helped give it and vibrant and lively atmosphere.

The CIVB's quest is being strongly supported by the chateaux themselves, most of whom have abandoned their haughty indifference to wine tourism and are now actively encouraging it. The Magrez family, for example, have made three chateaux in different appellations available for paying guests: Pape Clément in Pessac-Leognan, Fombrauge in Saint-Emilion and Clos Haut-Peyraguey in Sauternes.

"We hope every visitor will leave the estate with the feeling of having discovered a special place."

Marion Merker

Château Gruaud-Larose in St-Julien has opened up a 7km walk through its vineyards to the paying public, and Château de la Dauphine in Fronsac has gone further, providing free winery tours and tastings seven days a week. Two new initiatives are just about to be launched by the château. On Wednesdays between April and September, visitors can finish off with a "friendly meal" in the reception room by the main office. "If they'd like something fancier, they can book a gourmet meal in the château itself with someone from the estate," said Marion Merker, La Dauphine's wine tourism manager. "We hope every visitor will leave the estate with the feeling of having discovered a special place."

Visitors to Château Canon, just outside the picturesque town of Saint-Emilion, can explore the extensive network of tunnels underneath the vineyard that stretch all the way to Libourne, 10km away. Much of Saint-Emilion's best wine was hidden in these tunnels at the start of the Second World War to prevent the Germans from plundering it. Now, of course, it is the Chinese who are would-be plunderers.