Tuesday, 17 December 2013

2012 Rhône En Primeur Vintage Report

Our 2012 Rhône En Primeur offer is in full swing, and more and more critics and buyers are falling for the charms of the vintage. It has fruit, it has freshness, it has structure, it has charm… Not a blockbuster vintage like 2010, it’s more restrained, with lovely balance and approachability. Check out our offer here!

Here some excerpts from Madeline's first impressions of the 2012 vintage following her visit to the region in late summer:

The first stop was Chapoutier. We had a walk around the Hermitage vines, where there was quite a strange phenomenon happening – within the same parcels of vines, bunches of grapes were drastically different in size. Not millenderage, as the berries were reasonably uniform within the bunches, but one whole vine would have tiny tightly packed bunches and another would have large, quite developed looking grapes. No one could really explain it, but as the days pass the smaller ones seemed to be gradually catching up.  2013 already has very good quality potential, but there will not
be much wine to go around. As for the 2012s, we had already gotten a sneak peek at the Selections Parcellaires tasting in London, where the minerality of the whites especially stood out. Apart from a cold winter, it was overall quite a warm vintage with lots of rain, so the harvest started with good water reserves.  Harvest began at quite a normal time, approximately mid-September, but unusually the tannins ripened before the sugars, so ripe tannins are a near certainty for this vintage. The whites
were again fantastic – mineral, elegant and poised with a characteristic pithy bitterness on the finish. After a lean vintage in ’10 and fruity in ’11, the whites are back to something more serious, with great structure. A VdP Viognier was especially exciting, with all the heady aromas, lovely texture and elegant restraint of a fine Condrieu but at a fraction of the price. The Hermitage Sizeranne is looking good this year as well, incredibly dense and tightly knit, with excellent cellaring potential…

…Taking a break from visiting individual Domaines the following day, I spent time with a couple of brilliant agents who represent vignerons all over the Rhône. It’s not the most ‘romantic’ way of discovering wines, but when someone is able to put 50 options in front of you it does allow us to taste more than we otherwise would, and make a few discoveries along the way. I continued to fall for the vintage in the Northern appellations and got my first peek at the south – what incredible richness and fruit, but with such life. The quality of the Cotes Rotie and Condrieu in the North and Gigondas in the South really stood out throughout the day…

Lirac was the next stop, something which I would like to include in the offer for its Chateauneuf richness and complexity at a much lower price. 

Walking around the vineyards, one could be forgiven for thinking they were in Chateauneuf, with the gobelet-trained Grenache vines and the ‘pudding stones’. Domaine de la Mordoree and Domaine Coudoulis both had excellent offerings – those at Mordoree quite polished and refined, those at Coudoulis (tasted in their swish new winery – 2012 was the first vintage produced there) fresh and vibrant and juicy…

…And finally, a whole day devoted to Chateauneuf! First stop was Vincent Avril at 9AM; he was running around sorting out various things in the winery, his assistant was in a panic because some Canadians were coming for a visit straight after mine and we hadn’t even started my visit yet… all a bit hectic, I assured Vincent we could do the tasting quickly but he wouldn’t hear of it. These things can’t be rushed, he said. As ever, he complained about the low yields. There is less Grenache than usual due to some problems with coulure (though not as bad as in 2013, which will see Grenache levels diminished in many blends across the south) but nearly double the Mourvedre in the blend – an exciting change as the wine has the spice and the wild animalistic qualities that Mourvedre brings. 

This is a vintage for the cellar, with the finesse of 2005 and the structure of 2010. Complex, deeply coloured, plenty of sweet ripe tannin, and fresh. The white is richer than last year (but similar or higher levels of acidity), with an emphasis on floral notes rather than fruit. 

Beaucastel was the next stop on the trip. This was especially exciting as it was my first visit to the estate - and I got a really in depth tour and tasting! 

The picturesque offices at Beaucastel
The whites had only just been bottled the day before and were showing a little on the dumb side, but there seems to be more freshness and energy than the 2011, with impressive power and length. Overall the vintage is richer, more concentrated, with higher acidity and moderate alcohol. A late vintage and a small one, also a balanced one, which was likened to 2006, poised and elegant. I knew that there is always a small percentage of white grapes in the main wine, but I hadn’t realised that these are actually complanted in with the red vines – often when a vine needs to be pulled up, it is simply replaced with a white grape vine and is vinified all together. All the component parts were stunning – the Grenache was mineral without even a hint of jamminess; the Mourvedre incredibly refined with none of the variety’s usual sauvage qualities; the Counoise pretty and succulent  and bursting with red berry fruit; the Syrah rich and brooding with tapenade and pain d’epice notes. 

The final blend should be sturdier than the separate components, with the qualities of each variety shining through more and more as it ages. To get an idea of how it would age, we tasted a stunning bottle of 2006 which was truffled and silky but with an incredibly youthful core of fruit. 
Francois Perrin at Beaucaste

To finish, for fun, a bottle of ’92 Beaucastel blanc – oxidative, for sure, but so fresh and lively, with salted caramel, marmalade, floral hints and a whiff of petrol – all I can say is make sure you keep back some of your whites for 15-20 years to experience it!...

… Then, Ogier. I had been wanting to come to this Domaine for some time, as I was fascinated to see someone doing something different with the appellation. It didn’t disappoint, apart from the fact that no matter how much I begged, they insisted that the ‘12s weren’t ready to taste. We tasted the ‘11s in bottle and I was promised some tank samples in the office in a month’s time. The main point of difference here is the 4 terroir-based cuvées. The wines are made with exactly the same blend (95% Grenache, 3% Mourvedre and 2% Cinsault), with exactly the same vinification methods and exactly the same elevage. The only differing variable is the soils. Eclats Calcaire is the ‘oldest’ terroir, producing mineral, spicy and fresh wines. Safres (sandy soils) is the next oldest, producing wines with elegance and finesse. Grès Rouge, with a blend of fluvial and marine soils, gives power and depth. And finally, the most typical and also the youngest terroir, the Galets Ronds, which makes for the ripest and most hedonistic wines. These terroirs are only one of the points of difference – there is a 70m deep well from the Middle Ages in the middle of the winery, cooling and giving humidity to the air – meaning there is no need for air conditioning/temperature control. In addition to the foudres and barriques used to mature various wines here (partner wineries mature their wine here as it has one of the largest capacities in the region), of all different types of wood and manufacturer (each of which is carefully paired with different varieties), there are some huge vertical wooden vats used for the terroir wines. After experimentation, the winemaker worked out that the wine in these vats would have contact with lees in a different way, bringing more freshness, less reduction and an open, supple quality. I can’t wait to taste the ‘12s, as from what I’ve seen so far, all this innovation really pays off!

A quick visit to Senechaux before the airport, and the key point of the vintage here was ‘healthy grapes’ thanks to perfect conditions in the vineyard, meaning purity, ripeness of fruit, colour, depth and balance were all achieved.

So here’s to 2012, which I personally can’t wait for. They can sit happily while we pop the corks on first 2009 and 2011, then 2010. But just to appease keep the impatient, we’ll of course offer some early drinkers too.

- Madeline Mehalko, Rhône Buyer

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