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Affordable Bordeaux: The Underrated 2012 Vintage


2011 was a nasty year for Bordeaux. The 2012s have now arrived on the shelves in the U.S., and what shall we do?

When wine critics use the word “nasty” when referring to a vintage, they’re usually talking about the weather. I am, however, talking about the taste of the wines. Over and over again, I’ve found the red wines of the 2011 Bordeaux vintage to be astringent and/or hollow, including several of the big, familiar names. Prices did come down after the banner 2009 and 2010 vintages (worth every pricey dollar for the great ones), but still not down enough—a large portion of the wine consuming public ignored the 2011 vintage entirely (sweet wines, however, though losing in popularity, were incredibly great—one of the greatest modern vintages for Sauternes).

But enough about 2011.

The establishment wine journalist crowd, who tend to cautiously observe each other, were united in declaring the currently available 2012 Bordeaux vintage another “difficult” or “disappointing” one. They are correct . . . if you’re mainly looking at the pricier names. But—and this is a big but—if your primary focus is in the $55-or-under range of Bordeaux, this is a dream year. For the shopping savvy, 2012 is one of those vintages you want to take advantage of. Sifting through the vintage, there is a multitude of underrated gems to be uncovered that possess the classic hallmarks of what makes this wine region so distinctive. If you know where to look, from a price-to-quality ratio, 2012 equates to one of the best value propositions in Bordeaux in a decade.

Below, I review just a sampling of what can be discovered in the underrated 2012 vintage, as well as some famous names whose prices have come down enough to make it a very enticing opportunity to buy. Happy hunting!—and stock up: 2013 has already been declared another “nasty” year. 2014 is supposed to be better, but we won’t know for sure until sometime in late 2017, when those bottles are released.

2012 will never be called a “vintage of the century” like 2009 and 2010 were, but it very well may turn out to be a “bargain vintage of the century.”


(in ascending order of price)


Saint-Emilion | $25–30 | 91 pts

A traditional family-run Chateau owned by the Chinese. Now, that’s a formula for success in the new age of Bordeaux artisanal winemaking! Sleek, caressing notes of blackberry, currant and cranberry delivered in an unctuous modern style. A new wine, and probably already a classic.   search   direct


SIRAN 2012

Margaux | $27–30 | 90 pts

How can anyone possibly complain about this? For a Margaux, it’s all there. All the wine geek phrases apply: distinctive terroir, mild tannins, solid structure, excellent balance, fine complexity. A no-brainer and crowd pleaser.   search   direct



Listrac-Medoc | $28–32 | 91 pts

Irish roots, French nobility. From a very small village, this is a quiet wine, almost quaint. Young & fresh cherry notes along a nice silky line. Old world restraint that will pair exquisitely well with modern fusion cuisine as well as traditional favorites.   search   direct



Pauillac | $30–40 | 91 pts

The brother estate of famed Lynch-Bages, this Cabernet stands out for its coffee bean, wood, forest floor and herbal notes. Soft tannins, silkiness, and lots of personality for the price.   search   direct



Pessac-Leognan | $35–39 | 92 pts

Not too far off from a Domaine de Chevalier white. No kidding. Which makes this a steal. Very nice stoniness and minerality. So fresh and so clean, just like the Outkast rap song goes. Vibrant fruit, elegant swag.   search   direct



Pomerol | $40–43 | 93 pts

A star of the vintage, with an element of delicious surprise that hits the palate immediately, surpassing expectations for what can be accomplished within this price point from this very prestigious region of the Right Bank. Very charming, fresh and robust while possessing a soft touch and attractive mineral traits, this is your food pairing dream.   search   direct



Saint-Emilion | $40–45 | 92 pts

The rebranded, contemporary typeface on the wine label as of 2007 speaks volumes of the estate’s renaissance and forward-looking values. Very rich and concentrated at 14% alcohol, the limestone in the vineyard soil brings a superb mineral balance and complexity. A winery to watch, and very well may be a future Bordeaux star.   search   direct



Saint-Emilion | $42–45 | 92 pts

Picking the grapes late, this supple, ripe, dark, velvety rich 14-percenter from consultant-at-large Michel Rolland is a big boy to suit modern tastes. An estate that’s clearly looking ahead towards Bordeaux’s future.   search   direct



Saint-Julien | $50–60 | 93 pts

Classic juicy styled wine of the delectable St.-Julien region at a reasonable price for the prestige. Very smooth and pleasing, with captivating complexity in the mid-palate. Full of red, black and purple fruit flavor, this is just super-solid fundamentally. A definitive Bordeaux for its price range.   search   direct


Affordable Splurges

[dropcap size=dropcap]T[/dropcap]he following recommended wines are expensive, for sure, but prices have dropped significantly as compared to the incomparable 2009 and 2010 vintages while the drop in quality, to most drinkers of Bordeaux, can be negated. In other words, the inverse ratio of drop in price vs. increase in intrinsic value of these 2012 Bordeaux is very favorable to the consumer—the consumer is not nearly making the same amount of sacrifice in quality of the wine in relation to its dramatically lower price. In stock investment terms, the following wines are a “Strong Buy.” This is an excellent opportunity to acquire prestigious wines that normally might be out of reach for the everyday wine enthusiast.



Margaux | 94 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $110–140 | in 2012: $50–60

This is a complete wine for those who love balance, texture, earthiness and—most importantly—subtlety. A truly refined, contemporary-styled Bordeaux that’s neither show-offy nor ostentatious. Essential, and necessary.  search   direct



Pauillac | 94 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $90–125 | in 2012: $55–65

While it doesn’t have quite the buzz of other prestigious Pauillacs, this is consistently a wonderful Cab and Merlot based wine from the Medoc. Prior to plunging into the wine’s characteristic deep, dark fruit, you are greeted with a plaintive note of raspberry on the nose. The silkiness of the Merlot really sticks out in this vintage.   search   direct



Saint-Emilion | 95 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $119–150 | in 2012: $65–70

Much quieter than the epic 2010 but no less elegant and romantic. Like fellow greats Angelus and Figeac from the commune of St.-Emilion, there’s a higher emphasis on Cabernet Franc in the blend, and this estate’s vines are 70 years old, creating a richness and power and distinct floral quality that finds fascinating variations within each new vintage.   search   direct



Margaux | 94 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $100–150 | in 2012: $65–75

Now we’re talkin’. The second wine (meaning, wine made from grapes that didn’t make the cut to go into the main wine of the legendary Chateau Palmer) is simply great and supremely refined, not to mention an economical means to get a tease of what one of the greatest wines on the planet might taste like. The Alter Ego’s balance is exquisite, and the fruit’s expression is deep, like Dostoyevsky deep. Indeed, as complete a wine as a lengthy, classic Russian novel.   search   direct



Pessac-Leognan | 94 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $150–280 | in 2012: $69–80

40% Merlot in the blend is higher than usual and it pays off—terrific balance and texture; rich and immersive, with a finish that stays long and sustained like the final chord on the piano struck at the end of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Sure, a wine as complex yet melodic and easy to enjoy as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  search   direct



Pomerol | 96 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $180–400 | in 2012: $75–100

One of the best wines—and greatest values—of the vintage. Deft balance, hallmark lushness and pristine structure that’s the signature of this renowned Right Bank estate. The Merlot grapes were picked 10 days earlier than usual and obviously loved the wet weather of the vintage. A stunning price relative to quality and prestige that presents an awesome opportunity for mere mortals to experience this great name.   search   direct



Saint-Emilion | 95 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $180–215 | in 2012: $80–110

A huge wine for modern times and modern palates, the wet 2012 vintage tempers down the wine’s typicity that veers towards the bombastic in ripe vintages like 2009. Make no mistake, the bigness of the 90% Merlot that makes up this Bordeaux is absolutely pure—the velvety, sappy, chocolaty grandeur is a result of the estate’s distinct terroir. A wine for those possessed by insatiable lust.   search   direct



Pauillac | 94 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $195–300 | in 2012: $100–115

One of the great Chateaux, it’s experiencing a modern revitalization in the hands of current proprietor May Eliane de Lencquesaing. The wine’s hallmark of gorgeously languid and sensuous, velvety texture and elegant, rich fruit is all there, but given time will be even more stately and feminine. A lady in waiting.   search   direct



Margaux | 97 pts

Price range in 2009/2010: $900–1,200 | in 2012: $380–400

WOW, holy merdre. A marvelous beauty of the vintage. Drinking the wine from one of the world’s most renowned estates is a poetic experience—a Shakespearean sonnet with every sip. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Meaning, this may not be the ravishing beauty of ‘09 or ‘10, but yet the affection for her still runs deep. At only 13% ABV, this is Cabernet Sauvignon whose lofty texture reaches ethereal heights. Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 130 ends, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare.” Really, there are no better words for a wine so incomparable.   search   direct


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December 19, 2015


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