Recent annual tasting by AWA (Angeles Wine Agency) afforded me the first broad look at the 2012 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These were all barrel samples that will start rolling out as finished wines in 3-6 months. I have to admit, I don't drink much Chateauneuf, as the wines tend to be heavy and jammy in their youth, and require IMO at least 7-10 years of age before they soften, attenuate and may (or may not) reveal marvelous complexity of flavor. A typical young Chateauneuf has neither the elegance nor freshness nor nuance. It's a big corpulent hairy blob. So when a vintage with some refinement, some delineation, some backbone comes along, I get excited.
Two years ago when I first tasted the 2010's, my initially low expectations led to a huge positive surprise - that vintage turned out absolutely stellar. Last year, the 2011's disappointed. This year, I am pleased to say that the 2012's are a big step up from the '11's, and are not far behind the '10's. In fact, 2010 and 2012 are quite close in profiles - ripe and concentrated (but not jammy), with discernible flavors of black olives, meats, pepper and Provencal herbs. They are still thick and fruity (they are CdP's after all!), but you can already see past all that richness and into the kaleidoscopically magic future. The 2012's are not quite as built as the 2010's, and thus they are a bit more approachable. But that's not to say that they lack structure. Many wines possess textbook tannic backbones surrounded by dense fruit with balancing acidity. I would say these are poster-boy Chateauneuf-du-Pape's - and for anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the appellation for what it is, I think this is the vintage to dive in.
Overall, I couldn't help but draw vintage comparisons to Burgundy, in the sense how 2012, 2011, and 2010 vintages related to each other. In both regions, 2010 was the most intense, structured and overall best vintage in a decade IMO. 2011's were softer, and quite appealing to the lovers of those regions. However, while 2011 burgundies are generally wonderfully fresh, elegant, and balanced, a year ago I found many 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape's out of balance and on the super-sweet side. Finally, the 2012's are sort of an in-between version of 2010 and 2011, closer to 2010. As a result, I am happy to recommend the wines for medium-to-long term cellaring. While majority of the wines were good, I was most impressed with Le Vieux Donjon (on the peppery side) and Olivier Hillaire (power-house showing). I would not touch any them for a minimum of 5 years, and twice that for Olivier Hillaire cuvee "Les Petits Pieds d'Armand".