Wine from last week: 2012 Châteaux de Sales, Pomerol


"YUM" is the first thing written in my tasting notes for the 2012 Châteaux de Sales, Pomerol, tasted at the Back to Bordeaux Master Class: Bordeaux Recent Vintages Revisited. I'll admit, the Bordeaux region is a bit of mystery to me. It's large and complex with a centuries-old fascinating history.

I understand Bordeaux has a Right Bank and Left Bank separated by the Gironde Estuary that divides into the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers with the Entre-Deux-Mers region situated between the two rivers. I understand that the Premiers Crus, the historically prestigious vineyards, are in the Left Bank, but that does not mean the Left Bank wines are necessarily better than the Right Bank wines.

I also understand that Bordeaux wines, whether they are red or white, are blends of specific grape varieties with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot being the main grapes in red Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle being the main grapes in white Bordeaux.

I have tasted enough of both red and white Bordeaux to have a basic understanding of what the wines are all about. I've studied and have enough head knowledge about the region to pass my Level 3 Somm test. But, what I haven't done is visited Bordeaux with its 65 appellations, 275,000 acres of vines and 6,300 wine growers. Without that experiential knowledge, the region will remain a bit of a mystery.

That doesn't mean I won't continue to learn in other ways like maps, experts and tastings. So last Wednesday, I rode NJ Transit to Penn Station and then hopped on the Subway to Brooklyn to taste three flights from three vintages from three Chateaus with some experts: Mary Gorman McAdams, MW, Sabra Lewis, Sommelier Terroir Tribeca and Nicola Allison, Owner of Château du Seuil in Graves.

The three wine professionals took us through a tasting of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages from Château De Sales in the Pomerol region, Château Brown in the Pessac-Léognan region, and Château Lafan-Rochet, in the Saint-Estèphe region, Grand Cru Classé. You can find those regions on the map at the right - copied from the tasting notebook we were given that day.

While tasting each vintage, McAdams talked us through the growing conditions of each year. 2010 had excellent growing conditions and is considered a "very good to excellent vintage." Overall the vintage is ripe, powerful, and good for cellering, or allowing to age.

The 2011 wines are result of confused seasons - spring was summer and summer was spring. Rains in August caused some dilution, but time in oak has "smoothed sharp edges," according to McAdams. These red wines are not as big and powerful as the 2010s, but they are elegant and have turned out better after élevage - loosely translated as the maturing of wine in the barrel.

2012 had its challenges, too. A cold, wet spring delayed bud break. July was cold. August was hot and sunny, but a warm, dry September allowed some catch up. The wines have "lovely aromatics and purity of fruit."

Keep in mind, these are generalizations. Not all regions experienced the same exact weather conditions in each vintage. Also, keep in mind that all that are just facts. The climate conditions are not the wine. To understand the wine, you need to taste the wine.

In my notes, I wrote this as a summary:

Not crazy about '10

Favorite all around '11

But fave single wine #7 from'12

#7 was the 2012 Châteaux de Sales: 72% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had juicy berry flavors, vanilla and balanced tannins. I liked this wine the most because it is enjoyable now. I could have continued to drink it without thinking "this needs food" (although it would be fine with food) or "this needs to age."

The thing is, not too many recent vintage Bordeaux wines are super drinkable as-is, and that's not a problem. Bordeaux wines are made to age, made to pair with food, so just because I liked the 2012 Châteaux de Sales the best, does not mean I would choose it again in a year or two when tasting the same wines, or if pairing it with food. It means it was the wine that suited my tastes in that moment.

I learned quite a bit in that Master Class, and then I walked a couple blocks to the Grand Tasting where well over100 red and white Bordeaux wines waited to teach me even a little more.

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