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2012 – What is it? and Value?

From people who, theoretically, are paid to write about wine, there seem all shades of opinion about 2012 from highly ‘pro’ – like me – to comments like “2012 is a simple, straight-forward, relatively-early-drinking year for both red and white wines.”

Some of the major ‘influencers’ have largely sat on the fence, dishing-out only highly qualified praise. So let’s get that out-of-the-way first; I’m talking about wine from producers who care about their triage as much as their viticulture, who don’t machine harvest early, who do sort out every last hailed or botrytis-ed berry, and agonise over when to pick and how hard to extract.

The following ‘quality report’ ignores completely the question of price – because it has nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the wines in question – only our purchasing decisions. I really have a problem with ‘critics’ who position the quality of vintage with reference to the cost of those bottles – that has nothing to do with intrinsic quality, rather, relative value. Relative value is a different concept, and I will cover that separately.

Summarising what I think about 2012 reds from the Côte d’Or:

You already know enough about the 2012 harvest, I think. Yields were low in the Côte de Nuits, and not because of a lack of bunches, but rather the average weight of those bunches; 50-70% of their usual weight. Those tiny grapes had a very high solids to juice ratio – but the distribution of those tiny bunches did vary, and, I would say (generalising!) that Morey and northwards had the best (most consistency) of it.

The overall result, is largely excellent wines, where the ‘average’ quality is similar to the very fine 2010s but the peaks and troughs are both higher and lower. Some of the best wines I’ve ever seen in terms of both quality and consistency – I can only think of 2005 with a similarly high level – come from Morey, Gevrey, Brochon (so Côtes de Nuits Villages), Fixin and Marsannay in 2012. From Chambolle down to Nuits I also find brilliant wines, but not with the level of consistency further north, or from 2005 for that matter, where Chambolle may have been king…

Yields are low in the Côte de Beaune also, ridiculously low in Volnay to Beaune where there was hail. Yet, I have never seen wines of such brilliant quality from Volnay and Beaune – ever. They are almost as concentrated as 2005s, but the best have a more electric energy – just fabulous. In this vintage many are worthy of a grand cru ticket. Even the villages that weren’t hailed performed very well for the same reason as the Côte de Nuits; low yields of concentrated grapes.

It’s a rare thing when the quality of the Côte de Beaune wines – versus their average level – exceeds the same from the Côte de Nuits, so we should celebrate it. And here I am doing exactly that.

The character of the 2012s

Don’t be afraid of tannin in pinot noir. The worst tannins I can remember came in 1998, not only was there a lot, but most of it had questionable phenolic ripeness – or put another way, the astringency was worse than sand-paper. Those wines today still have a little tannin, but it is now a vintage anecdote, rather than something to avoid.

It really depends on how an individual producer chose to ferment and extract, but many 2012s have more obvious tannin than I’ve ever seen, including 2005. But the tannin is ripe and will fade much more quickly than was the case for those 1998s. I see some commentators saying that tannins will outlive the fruit – that old chestnut! Disregard it, 100%

Because of the high solids to liquid, it’s not just the tannin in the wines that is concentrated; a long tasting will leave your tongue and teeth as discoloured as if you were tasting Bordeaux – okay, 2013 Bordeaux 😉 “Straight-forward, relatively-early-drinking” is so far away from the truth, I’m frankly lost for words…

So, the wines are concentrated. Many wines have modest acidity, but you’d struggle to notice because so many have a great sense of energy, and from both Côtes. There’s quite a difference in ‘fruit colour’ in the Côtes: A lot of Côte de Beaune wines have a very dark-red, almost black fruit complexion, only around Aloxe and Corton is it clearly in the red spectrum. Nuits and Vosne are a little redder than usual, but Vougeot onwards and the colour again darkens.

The relative value* of 2012 reds:

For grand crus, prices of wines from 2008-2010 that remain ‘in the system’ are trading at something of a discount to the 2012s; this could change, but today they look more attractive purchases than many 2012s. Their quality is high, and in theory, at least, they are a couple of years nearer to ‘drinking.’ Only those with investment, or long-running vertical, reasons would be mandated to purchase 2012 grand crus.

For Villages and Bourgognes, the value differential between 2008-2010 and 2012 is less severe, and here I think that relative value shifts in the favour of 12s. From the north, Villages wines from Morey to Marsannay can be brilliant – I’ve being buying in magnums! And don’t forget Côte de Nuits Villages – super wines! I’ve actually tasted Bourgognes on a par with wines from 2005, so they should also be on your shopping list. From further south, you will find value in Maranges, Santenay, Chassagne and always in Savigny and Pernand, plenty of well-priced wines, ones worth searching out. There is brilliance in Volnay but prices, even of Villages, are steep due to yields. There is brilliance in Beaune too, and always with more value.

For premier crus I really can’t generalise as it has a foot in both camps – oops I just did!

*In my writings, ‘relative value’ is about buying and drinking or cellaring and drinking great wines. It has nothing to do with investment potential. That latter concept is the elephant in the room with respect to a significant proportion of Burgundy wine price increases in the last 10 years.

Summarising what I think about 2012 whites from the Côte d’Or:

This section must be much shorter – unfortunately. And that’s because village-by-village generalisations hold very little value: It’s the producer that has made the difference in 2012.

Like for the reds, there were low yields, and of concentrated grapes. But just like most of the preceding vintages, picking-date has largely determined whether the wines are big, round and too rich, or simply brilliant, concentrated, wines of intensity and freshness. As you will see in many of the notes in this ‘January Issue’ there is often no consistency in one cellar – a round, rich wine with poor energy can be followed by a concentrated, intense, brilliantly mineral wine.

What I have noted, generally, is that Chassagne has performed at least as well as Meursault/Puligny – possibly better. I have also found some simply brilliant Corton-Charlemagne – maybe no accident that in those cellars with Montrachet, they have still poured their Charlemagne after!

The relative value* of 2012 whites:

Because of this lack of consistency, relative value is a very hard concept to discuss. First you have to find the brilliant in 2012, and only then compare it to what is currently available from back–vintages. You also have the additional complication of ‘How far back dare I go?’ and that’s due to the ever-present risk of p.ox.

For myself, I’d still buy 2010 and 2011, but I wouldn’t ‘go large’ on anything older.

Further afield in 2012:
Reds from the Côte Chalonnaise look outstanding – both quality and value – I’ll be visiting a lot in May and June, so look out for reports.

Whites from Chablis and Mâconnais, the latter with similar caveats as the Côte d’Or, are also looking good. The value proposition is changing fast here too – some contract prices increased by nearly 50% last year. But currently they are more affordable. Chablis I’ll be visiting in March and April, and the Mâconnais in May. Look out for those reports too.

One response to “2012 – What is it? and Value?”

  1. stefano

    Excellent summary, thanks!

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