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Anthony Rose: 'Is Bordeaux's 2012 vintage a silk purse crafted from a sow's ear?'


After a topsy-turvy year in the vineyard, the question exercising the mind of Bordeaux and its customers is whether the 2012 vintage is a silk purse crafted from a sow's ear. On two counts. Firstly, was the weather good enough to make 2012 saleable en primeur, ie right now, before the wines are bottled in two years time? And if so, are prices attractive enough to have us reaching for our silk purses?

But first, the sow's ear. One critic described 2012 as "a game of three halves", meaning a miserable spring, a hot dry summer and a wet September harvest. Along with the press and wine trade, I tasted barrel samples of the new wines before Easter, when they are not the finished article but approximations of the final blend.

In trying to divine the divine, the best any taster can hope for is a guesstimate of how each wine will turn out. Early indications are of a number of delicious and expressive wines, a shedload of average ones and few, if any, true greats.

The key to the silk purse was to have deep enough pockets to pay for the bells and whistles service required to preserve your grapes from treacherous weather. Skilled vineyard work, well-trained pickers, meticulous sorting of grapes were a sine qua non, not to mention top-level winemaking and blending. As a rule of thumb, the higher the château in the pecking order, the greater its resources, the better the wine it made, and, sadly, the more expensive it's going to be. So is it worth forking out now?

Normally at this stage, Bordeaux does the Dance of the Seven Veils, hoping for good ratings from the American super-critic Robert Parker before revealing an arm, a leg, then an arm and a leg. But widespread anger at exorbitant prices for the admittedly exceptional 2010 vintage and a lesser but still overpriced 2011 vintage has brought a reality check.

Prices have fallen and collectors who bought early are not happy. Bordeaux is so desperate to kick-start the sale of 2012 that there's been an abnormally early flow of prices at up to 30 per cent down on last year. Does anyone really care?

There is no stampede, no queue, orderly or otherwise, for 2012. Why buy a curate's egg when there are Fabergés from earlier, better vintages still knocking around? For aficionados who feel the need to have a case or two of Bordeaux in the cellar in every vintage, there are plenty of good wines to choose from – some at reasonable prices. But it's not enough to set the pulse of most of us racing just yet.