Initial look at 2012 Burgundies

Frederick Wildman's portfolio tasting was my first dip into the 2012 vintage in Burgundy. I had heard that it was a difficult, low-yielding year that resulted in inconsistent wines, where the best boasted beautiful concentration and exceeded the quality of the 2011 vintage. After tasting through several world-class producers, my impression is that the reds are ripe, plump, pliant, with soft ripe tannins, appearing to have lower acidity than the generally energetic 2010's and the lighter 2011's. I think the acidity and structure are there, but presently masked by generous fruit. It should be noted that most of the reds are still in barrel for another 2-3 months, and will then spend another 6-12 months in bottle before release to markets throughout the world. We should expect them to hit US retail in 2015.

Domaine Armand Rousseau

Not suprisingly, Domaine Armand Rousseau drew a lot of attention. The Gevrey-Chambertin (village), Lavaux St.-Jacques 1er, monopole Ruchottes-Chambertin "Clos Des Ruchottes" Grand Cru, and the widely admired as the pinnacle of Burgundy - 2012 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru - were sweet, plush and plump, and gently spicy. Right now, the Lavaux St. Jacques was a stand-out, more expressive and sleeker, with intriguing spice. Both the Ruchottes and the Chambertin were monolithic and mouth-coatingly thick. It is not hard to imagine that with age they will unwind into beautiful wines. It is hard, however, to comprehend that the Chambertin is likely going to go for $2000+/btl (that's 3 zeros!) when it hits the street at the end of 2015, to those "lucky" enough to find it, that is, but such is the game in the upper echelon of Burgundy these days. I had a ton of fun chatting with charmingly opinionated member of the next generation of the domaine - Eric Rousseau's daughter Cyrielle. She's been helping her dad since the 2009 vintage, and also has done harvests in Oregon and in Australia's Yarra Valley. She seems very young - but what an amazing responsibility it must be knowing that eventually she would be in charge of one of the top three Burgundy's most legendary domaines (with DRC and Leroy being the other two). As I was taking a picture with her, she joked "I know what you are doing! You want to send it to my dad, to have a "link" to him. Haha!" No, I was simply enjoying the conversation (!) while sippin' on that 2012 Rousseau Chambertin, feeling very privileged indeed. When asked to compare the 2012's with the 2010 and 2011 vintages of their wines, Cyrielle didn't think that for Rousseau the wines were lighter in 2011 - perhaps an exception from the norm. We will see in about a month at La Paulee SF, where her dad Eric will be pouring the not yet released 2011 Chambertin.

Cyrielle Rousseau and Iron Chevsky, with the bottle of the 2012 Armand Rousseau Chambertin

Domaine Faiveley

Next was Domaine Faiveley. At this point, the improvement in quality, refinement, and approachability of Faiveley's wines is well recognized, since Erwan Faiveley took over the running of the domaine from his dad in 2007. The 2012 reds were supple, with deep "baby-fat" fruit that blanketed the structure. While Chambertin Clos de Beze was at the top of the pyramid with its serious dark, almost Rhone-like masculinity, the monopole Corton Clos Des Cortons Faiveley was excellent too, both a notch above the very good Latriciers-Chambertin. Two Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru's on display - the monopole Clos Des Issarts and the Cazetiers - were warm, plush, and inviting. I was particularly impressed with the "value" end of the portfolio - Mercurey monopole 1er Cru Clos Des Myglands and Beaune monopole 1er Cru Clos de l'Ecu - delicious and ripe, and perhaps the best I'd ever tasted from these vineyards at this stage. The 2012's came across as more approachable than the 2010's, with lower acidity. That combined with generous fruit and soft tannins made the wines feel like a warm comfy blanket. I recall 2010's had more bite and are the best recent vintage for Faiveley, while 2009's were riper with more of the chocolaty/mocha aspect, and the 2011's lighter. That said, the 2012's are very very good, with a unique character, and I am certainly interested in buying them for myself.


From Jacques Prieur's portfolio, Corton-Bressandes was my favorite, similar vintage character as other top wines at the tasting.

As for whites, Maison Olivier Leflaive's two deeply flavored, fleshy Meursaults - a very good villages and an even better domaine-owned plot of 1er Cru Poruzots - stood out. And finally the well-endowed, well-rounded and serious Corton-Charlemagne.

In the respectable line-up of Chablis from Domaine Christian Moreau, I found the wines well-made and even aristocratic, particularly the Grand Cru's Valmur and Clos, but somewhat lacking that seawater/iodine/oyster-shell aspect I look for in that region.

All in all, I don't think I tasted enough to pronounce any sweeping judgments. From what little I did taste, my impression is that both reds and whites are fleshy, ripe (but not overripe), sweet and generous, none of the searing acidity of some of the previous vintages. The reds possess velvety-soft tannins. These traits will likely bring more California drinkers onto the Burgundy bandwagon. As the wines age and shed their baby fat, revealing more structure, I think they would please traditional Burgundy lovers as well, although they may never deliver quite the excitement of 2010 or the completeness of 2005. In terms of sexiness, they might compete favorably with 2009's. The density and depth of material suggest a longer-lived vintage than 2011, though certainly not as long as 2005 or 2010. Given the small crop, price hikes of 20-30% are expected from most producers. That's tough to swallow.


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