The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux had its annual tasting in New York a week or so ago, amid a raging snowstorm. Whatever you might think about Bordeaux, the 2012 vintage or France itself, there’s no question that it’s nice to be inside a vast hall surrounded by an endless supply of red wine when it’s cold and blizzardy outside.
But, about that 2012 vintage. I canvassed a number of wine producers, wine buyers, wine pundits and sommeliers while I was there, and the word that came up most often was “approachable.” That’s true. But it’s also true that in 2012, on the whole Merlot (which is harvested earlier) did better than Cabernet; of the 60-odd wines I managed to get through before heading back out into the snow, the best were preponderantly from the right bank (Pomerol and St-Émilion) and Pessac-Léognan. Cabernet-driven wines from the Médoc were more hit or miss: Many were astringent, hard and underwhelming; a smaller number managed to balance that toughness with enough generosity to have significant appeal.
Below are my seven favorite reds from the tasting, but keep in mind that this is just a snapshot. There are plenty of significant Bordeaux châteaux whose wines I either missed or that weren’t at the tasting. As a side note, the white wines from Pessac-Léognan that I tasted were uniformly terrific; it looks to be a great year for Bordeaux whites.
2012 Château de Fieuzal ($35)
Mysteriously affordable given how good it is, the 2012 Fieuzal has distinct pencil lead and smoky earth aromas, an enveloping texture and plenty of black currant fruit. Definitely the best value of the wines I tasted.
2012 Branaire Ducru ($47)
Not a powerhouse but an elegantly put-together St-Julien that somehow escaped the underripe-Cabernet harshness a lot of left bank wines show in this vintage. Instead, it's cedary and streamlined, with black currant notes and chewy tannins.
2012 Domaine de Chevalier ($50)
A stunning wine from Pessac-Léognan with deep cassis and plum notes and a little exotic floral character on the nose. (As a side note, the 2012 white from this château is absolutely gorgeous, but, unfortunately, about twice the price.)
2012 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion ($53)
Mostly made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this 2012 from an up-and-coming Pessac-Léognan château had dense, saturated flavors suggesting ripe blackberries and a savory edge on the finish.
2012 Château Gazin ($75)
A sexy, plush, exotic Pomerol and a testimony to the strength of Merlot in this vintage (it’s the first time the estate has produced a wine that's 100% Merlot). The overt richness resolves into intense tannins on the finish—there’s a long life ahead here.
2012 Troplong Mondot ($90)
Big and powerful, this is massively tannic right now but also has layers of dark fruit (blue and blackberries) and an umami savoriness that is somewhere between truffles and earth. It’s 90% Merlot with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
2012 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande ($90)
Evocative black currant and toast aromas, perfectly balanced, and very impressive in a tough year for Cabernet; it needs several years to come into its own, but it's surprisingly drinkable right now.