With thousands of bottles to choose from, how does one find the hidden gems of Bordeaux’s 2012 vintage?
Before we begin digging into the region’s gravel, sand and clay to discover some of her hidden gems, let’s first all agree on what qualifies as a gem and what makes it hidden.
Bordeaux is the largest high-quality A.O.P. in France and the benchmark region for quality wine production in the world. With that comes classifications of all her parts, as far back as the famous Classification of 1855 but actually even earlier. So the hierarchy is in place, and rarely are any hidden gems found at the top. Sure, these are great wines, but not hidden, and often not priced smartly enough to be considered attainable gems. These wines are widely written about, and often carry a steep “futures” price, especially in high-priced vintages like 2012, where the dollar was not particularly strong as it was for the 2014 vintage. Luckily there are maybe 80-90 classified estates between the Medoc, Graves, Sauternes and St. Emilion……and thousands left unclassified. That’s where we should be looking!
I don’t believe that for a wine to qualify as a hidden gem it needs to have a 90+ rating or that it needs to retail under a certain price……it just needs to over-deliver. A nice $21 wine that drinks like a $40 bottle, or a $18 bottle with a 90 point score……now that merits your attention! I’m not much of a rating guy, but most of the people to whom I sell Bordeaux are very in tune to the ratings.
Since Bordeaux is such a large area, cut in half by the mighty Gironde, then divided again by the Garonne and Dordogne, vintage charts are of little use, too broad a brush stroke to rely on. Then consider the grapes themselves. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot on the Medoc, Merlot and Cabernet Franc on the right bank and Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc in the Graves and Sauternes. Vintage chart? Not likely!
That being said, a search for hidden gems would begin in one of two places, the unclassified wines from more famous communes (St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Haut-Medoc, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes on the left bank…….St. Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank) and the wines from satellite appellations. These include Medoc, Graves, Barsac, Fronsac, Bourg & Blaye, and the Bordeaux Cotes (Castillon, Francs and Premier Cotes) as well as Bordeaux Superieur. It is in these areas where you often find quality above the expected, sleepers in the vintage…. the hidden gems!
So, how about a few recommendations…and why. All pricing is listed as the best available 750 ml bottle U.S. price as of September 3rd, 2015.
Chateau Pedesclaux 2012, Pauillac
Wine Advocate 89-92, $30
The wine exhibits Pauillac’s classic note of crème de cassis intermixed with vanillin, espresso, and white chocolate. Medium to full-bodied and rich, with 13% natural alcohol, this 10,000-case cuvée should drink well for 15-20 years. Perhaps the key here was that the Cabernet Sauvignon was picked relatively late, between October 10 and 14. That appears to have given the wine an extra level of intensity and richness. Given the fact that this property, purchased in 2009 by real estate entrepreneur Jacky Lorenzetti, for decades has been a candidate for the most disappointing classified growth of Pauillac, the 2012 Pédesclaux is a revelation. Certainly the finest Pédesclaux I have ever tasted, it was made from stunningly low yields of 22 hectoliters per hectare, and the final blend was 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Finally, the 2012 reveals the potential of this vineyard which sits on the high Pauillac plateau adjacent to Pontet-Canet and Mouton Rothschild.
Chateau Hortevie 2012, St. Julien
Wine Advocate 85-87, $28
This soft, fruity St.-Julien reveals a touch of herbaceousness along with good red and black currant fruit, a round, consumer-friendly attack and medium body. It tails off slightly in the finish. It should drink well for 6-8 years.
Chateau Belle-Vue 2012, Haut-Medoc
Wine Advocate 86-88, $19
This blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot displays the ripeness it was possible to achieve in this vintage as it boasts 13.5% natural alcohol. It is medium-bodied with cedary, herbaceously-tinged red and black currant fruit intermixed with a hint of loamy soil. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.
Chateau Haut-Bergey rouge 2012, Pessac-Leognan
Wine Advocate 90-93, $20 to $25
Another brilliant effort from proprietress Helene Garcin, the opaque ruby/purple-colored, medium-bodied 2012 Haut-Bergey reveals lots of smoky barbecue, forest floor, black currant and damp earth notes in a surprisingly dense, concentrated, positive, complete style. An outstanding mid-palate and length make for an impressive showing. This 2012 should drink well for 12-15 years.
Clos Marsalette rouge 2012, Pessac-Leognan
Wine Advocate 90-92, $25 to $29
The 2012 reveals plenty of Christmas fruitcake notes intermixed with a hint of roasted herbs, sweet, jammy black currant and black cherry fruit, and a touch of background oak in an exuberant, quasi-opulent style with outstanding intensity, richness and blossoming complexity. It is an impressive example of a Pessac-Leognan, one of the stronger appellation in the 2012 vintage. Drink it over the next 8-10 years.
A brilliant effort from proprietor Stephan von Neipperg, Clos Marsalette is not far from Latour Martillac and Smith Haut Lafitte, two famous estates in Pessac-Leognan.
Dry Bordeaux blanc
Clos de Lunes d’Argent blanc 2012, Bordeaux blanc
Wine Advocate 88-90, $19
The stunningly fleshy, floral, honeysuckle-scented 2012 Lune d’Argent exhibits medium to full body and good depth. A blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc (13.5% natural alcohol), this is a new project from proprietor Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier. Both wines can be drunk now and over the next five years.
Clos de Lunes Blanche blanc 2012, Bordeaux blanc
Wine Spectator 88-91, $20
Chateau Fonbel 2012, St. Emilion
Wine Advocate 87-89, $20 to $25
A sleeper of the vintage, the dark ruby/purple-colored 2012 Fonbel offers up sweet aromas of mulberries, raspberries, forest floor and loamy soil. Medium-bodied with abundant fruit, glycerin and length, it should drink well for a decade.
Chateau Bolaire 2012, Bordeaux Superieur
Wine Advocate 88-90, Europe only currently
Blue and black fruits are also present in this medium-bodied, surprisingly dense, attractive, opulent wine. How Bolaire managed to get the Petit Verdot this ripe without any vegetal character or rusticity is astonishing. Enjoy it over the next 3-5 years. Made from an unusual blend of 50% Merlot, a whopping 37% Petit Verdot and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, this 2012 tips the scales at 13.5% natural alcohol. It comes from the southern end of Medoc, not far from the famous classified growth châteaux of La Lagune and Cantemerle. Beautiful floral and gravel/mineral-like notes ascend from the glass without a trace of greenness or herbaceousness. This is another Jeffrey M. Davies Signature Selections exclusive.
Chateau la Consellier 2012, Bordeaux Superieur
Wine Advocate 88-90, $16
This is a major sleeper of the vintage. Dense ruby/purple-colored with an attractive aromatic and flavor profile of blueberries, cassis, chocolate, toast and mocha, this medium-bodied, 100% Merlot performs well above its pedigree. Drink it over the next 4-6 years.
Chateau Croix-Mouton 2012, Bordeaux Superieur
Wine Advocate 87-89, $16 to $18
The 2012 exhibits a deep ruby/blue/purple color along with attractive notes of toast, minerals and dark berry fruit. Medium-bodied, soft, round and velvety-textured, it is another example of a wine that performs well above its humble pedigree. Drink it over the next 4-5 years. A consistent winner from the committed, energetic proprietor, Jean-Philippe Janoueix, the 2012 Croix Mouton is his lowest level wine. A blend of 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc that achieved 13.7% natural alcohol, it is a very good effort from a vineyard situated near Fronsac.
Mauvais Garcon 2012, Bordeaux
Wine Spectator 88-91, Europe only currently
Chateau La Prade 2012, Cotes de Francs
Wine Spectator 87-90, $15 to $19
Features juicy plum and raspberry notes, with a lightly dusty frame. A modest coating of singed vanilla carries through the finish. Has flesh, but time will tell if the grip can be absorbed.
Chateau Puygueraud 2012, Cotes de Francs
Wine Spectator 86-89, Europe only currently
Offers bright plum, violet, and white pepper notes, with a brisk hint of pomegranate. Delivers a pure, fresh and light-bodied finish.
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