So, I went to my first tasting of the year. It was also my first taste of the 2012 vintage in Burgundy. The tasting was one of the big ones, Berry Bros & Rudd’s En Primeur offering, held at One Great George Street, a grand venue with appalling lighting for photography.
I tasted around 80 wines, so my impressions are merely preliminary. I don’t think generalizing about this vintage will be all that useful. The wines showed quite a spread: clearly, many have been able to make really good wines in 2012; others, even reliable producers, have struggled a bit. The whites and reds were both a little patchy (and this is a selected group of wines). It seems a fresh, rather than a rich vintage. Prices are high because demand is strong and production is small.
I had a good chat with Neal Martin, who is now responsible for Burgundy for The Wine Advocate – a publication that has struggled with this region in the past. Neal has made the decision not to give ratings from bottled cask samples, which is a brave one. Instead he’s just working from bottled wines or cask samples at the domain.
Let me explain a little more about this. Most of the samples tasting in these 20+ Burgundy en primeur tastings that are taking place in London are of wines taken from cask and bottled. These are not finished wines and the quality of sample preparation varies. Neal reckons that the reds in particular lose their vibrancy when treated this way. Journalists have to be careful not to make statements that are too definitive on the basis of such samples.
I find red Burgundy particularly difficult to evaluate from bottled cask samples; the whites a good deal easier. Overall, there’s quite a lot of stylistic difference from producer to producer, so I think the key to purchasing Burgundy well is to find a producer whose style you like, and then there’s a good chance you are going to get on well with the wines.
Some highlights. Olivier Merlin’s Macon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes is a steal at £120 for a case of 12 in bond, and I really liked the Bret Brothers’ Pouilly-Vinzelles Les Quarts (£198 for 12). Hubert Lamy’s St Aubin Clos de la Chateniere 1er Cru is fabulous (£150 for 6), and the wines from Jean-Claude Bachelet were superb. J-P Fichet’s Meursault Les Gruyaches is great, and the best whites of the tasting were the pair of Meursaults from Domaine Arnauld Ente (will be impossible to get hold of, alas).
I really liked the reds from Domaine des Croix and Camille Giroud. No surprises that the Pommard Clos des Epeneaux from Comte Armand is already sold out: it’s fresh, concentrated and structured, with great density. More affordably, the Maison Roche de Bellene wines are great in 2012, with Gevrey Chambertin Aux Combottes 1er Cru the star of a strong bunch. The only real duds were the Liger-Belair wines.
The pair of Cathiard wines were predictably big and structured. They impress, but they’re not really what I come to Burgundy for, although in 30 years’ time they might well be. Finally, I liked the Dujac negoce wines, which show freshness and elegance without being crazy expensive.