What Is En Primeur?

Every year in the late days of March, the world’s foremost wine experts, buyers, and critics descend upon the vineyards and cellars of the posh Bordeaux region for a week of En Primeur events and tastings.

The purpose of this circus is to taste, assess, and buy wine based on samples served straight from the barrel.

At this stage, the wine is not actually finished. It is merely an infant in its first six or seven months of existence – and will not be released until it is two or three years old, depending on the producer. However, the idea is to get the jump on the supply and demand crunch that lifts the prices of Bordeaux into stratospheric realms. Securing an allocation of wines before bottling and fetching a reasonable price is the goal. A week of En Primeur tasting give a buyer the opportunity to find where the best values lay.

 

En Primeur Bordeaux 2012 Wine & Harvest

2012 was an incredibly challenging year for most of the Chateaus. Extensive and meticulous work had to be done in the vineyards due to several untimely bouts of rain and a downright drenching in mid-October. This led to several intense adjustments in the vineyards.

Most wineries dropped excessive amounts of fruit and only harvested a fraction of their potential. compared to previous vintages (especially 2009 and 2010, which have a swagger and resonance) the 2012s demonstrate much more restraint.

 

Mike Roberts, Sommelier Manager for Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, is always excited by the arrival of Bordeaux. He says the hallmarks of Bordeaux (higher acidity, slightly lower alcohol content, and firm tannins supporting ripe fruit) shine through in the 2012 vintage, despite the cooler growing conditions. These characteristics will be revealed in their full glory once these bottles reach maturation in the cellar.

“I suspect as in the past, we will find this vintage to be a bit of a sleeper that will hold itself tightly for a few years in bottle … releasing and unwinding in a slow evolution.”

According to Roberts, Bordeaux is a maritime climate and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean Gironde Estuary will always make for challenging vintages. Without fail, French vintners find a way to adapt and maintain their impeccably high standards.

 

Chateau Margaux 2012

95 Points Robert Parker

95 Points Wine Spectator

Bay leaf and menthol life a core of crushed plum and warm cherry confiture notes while the background fills steadily with black tea, singed alder, and iron elements. Turns a little darker on the finish, with a coating of bittersweet cocoa powder and roasted vanilla bean accents. The minerality stays buried for now. Remarkably dense and packed, yet refined. Needs some time to unwind. Best from 2018 through 2030.

 

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2012

94 Points Robert Parker

95 Points Wine Spectator

As for the 2012 Mouton Rothschild, one can’t help but love the artist’s label, in this case done by Miquel Barceló, of two rams fighting for superiority. Representing only 49% of the crop, this blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc has an inky bluish/purple colour, which is far darker than its nearby neighbour, Lafite Rothschild, or even Pontet-Canet. Multi-layered, with rich, concentrated, crème de cassis fruit, a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, and stunning purity, this is a major success in 2012. Definitely a biger, richer wine than rival Lafite Rothschild, Mouton’s 2012 seems to have more density as well. The tannins, however, remain soft and well-integrated. This wine should drink well for 25-30 years and is somewhat of a sleeper for a 2012 first-growth Médoc.

 

Chateau Clerc Milon 2012

92 Points Robert Parker

90 Points Wine Spectator

This is another strong effort from the Mouton Rothschild stable and its excellent administrator, Philippe Dhalluin. The 2012 Clerc Milon has an almost blackish-blue opaque colour, soft tannins, ripe notes of black currants, licorice, and subtle background oak. There is an attractive floral, licorice quality to the fruit. The wine is medium to full-bodied and beautifully pure with ripe tannins. It is soft enough to be approachable in several years and should drink well for 20.

 

Chateau Catenac Brown 2012

93 Points Wine Spectator

90-93 Points Robert Parker

This red offers beguiling aromas of bergamot, roasted sandalwood, and black tea before giving way to a well-endowed core of plum, blackberry, and raspberry reduction notes. The structure is remarkably fine-grained, showing seamless integration through the long finish. A really great showing. Best from 2017 through 2025.

 

Chateau Cheval Blanc Rouge

94-96 Points Robert Parker

95 Points Wine Spectator

The final blend for the 2012 Cheval Blanc was 54% Merlot and 46% Cabernet Franc. Despite the use of 100% new oak, there is not a hint of vanillin, toast, or espresso notes in the aromatic bouquet, which is filled with scents of black currants, sweet cherries, lavender, forest floor, and a hint of underbrush. Concentrated with a surprisingly lofty alcohol level of 13.9% as well as a tannin level that equals their 2010 (a wine bestowed a three-digit score), this full-bodied, opulent 2012 has a pH of 3.8, which accounts for its suppleness, velvety texture, and heady richness. It is a great success in this vintage. It will be approachable early given its silky structural aspects, and should last for two decades.

 

Chateau Haut Brisson 2012

91 Points Robert Parker

88 Points Wine Spectator

The basic cuvée of Haut-Brisson (95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc) in 2012 is no shy sibling. It is beautifully made, dense ruby/purple wine with a brilliant display of creamy black currant and black cherry furit interwoven with spicy oak. This opulently textured, full-bodied wine is another great success from the Kwok family. Of course, the Réserve cuvée is slightly richer and fuller, but this is top-flight as well as a big-time sleeper of this vintage. Drink it over the next decade or more.

Chateau Leoville Barton 2012

92 Points Robert Parker

89 Points Wine Spectator

Dense ruby/purple with cassis, licorice, and forest floor notes in the aromatics. Leoville-Barton’s 2012 is a relatively big, rich, masculine style of wine. This full-bodied wine needs 5-8 years of cellaring and should evolve easily for 25-30 years.

 

Chateau Pontet Cantet 2012

93 Points Robert Parker

Wine Spectator

The impeccably run, biodynamically farmed estate of Alfred Tesseron goes from strength to strength. The 2012 triumphs once again with its notes of dark plum, black currant, licorice, and almost a hint of truffle, its full-bodied, supple tannins and beautiful, expensive mouthfeel. Complex and deep. Anticipated maturity 2017-2035.

 

Chateau Giscours 2012

90 Points Robert Parker

90 Points Wine Spectator

The plump, rich, and densely purple-coloured 2012 Giscours has turned out very well in this vintage, offering loads of fruit. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It has a moderate finish, and is medium to full-bodied with excellent licorice and crème de cassis notes, as well as a broad, round, juicy mouthfeel. This is a wine that can be drunk young.