The Great Claret Tasting at Southwold has become one of the highlights of my year. 250 odd wines from one vintage, in this year’s case 2012. 20 tasters, people who I would rate as the elite of the UK wine scene. Some names – Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin, Steven Spurrier – will be known to all. Others, maybe a little under the radar, include Stephen Browett, Lindsay Hamilton, the legend that is Barry Phillips, David Roberts, Sebastian Payne of the Wine Society, and on, and on.
The temptation was to do a Suckling and get my notes on the 2012s up as quickly as I can but, let’s face it, I won’t be swinging any markets and, whilst there are some pretty good 2012s, it’s not a vintage you need to rush out and buy now.
2012 is a vintage where I scored just 30 wines out of 249 with 17 points or more. I’m a tight scorer, and 15 is the bar – the pass rate if you like. My highest scorers – Châteaux Mouton-Rothschild and Pétrus – came in at 18.5, which is about 96 or 97 points if you prefer to do it out of 100 (which I do – more room). Reading through my notes I am struck by how dull they are (the notes, that is): this may be down to me, but the vintage does have an influence: there are very few exciting 2012s. Pétrus is deliciously slutty, though what keeps Mouton at 18.5 rather than 19 or 19.5 is a lack of energy, a lack of va-va-voom.
A bit more on the tasting:
The panel is comprised of some pretty serious and pretty experienced tasters. Neal Martin and I – 1971 vintage – are amongst the youngsters, along with Masters of Wine Matthew Hemming and Alex Hunt (vintages unknown), Big Phil (1971), and the irritatingly youthful-looking Tom Jenkins of Justerini & Brooks (I have a feeling that Tom is a bit like Vega Sicilia or Noval Nacional – much older than you think). My point is that even us puppies have some mileage, which is as much about conviction as it is anything else: one of the most important things about tasting is this: TRUST YOUR PALATE. Some of the more senior members of the group are clearly experts in this field, and a joy to behold, be they viciously denigrating some tarty shite or giving the positive verdict to something clearly perfect to those that know what they are doing.
But I think that the point of the Southwold tasting is that it is a panel. No one palate dictates the score, as it were. As we call out our scores to be recorded, I am well aware that certain scores, once in the public domain, will carry more weight than others, though – and this is the point – the group scores can pull a wine up, or pull it down. And – I think – quality is judged and judged properly. The word “jury” is knocking around at the back of my head: the reason for having a group of jurors rather than a judge is what I’m thinking about. The common, educated and experienced view prevails.
I’ll publish my scores and comments on the top five wines of each appellation over the next week or so. Appellation by appellation, finishing with the big boys (by which I mean the wines that I’d have to sell my car to buy). And, to finish on the vintage for the moment, I think that a few of these wines will show very well in a few years’ time. In terms of outright quality, I rate it behind 2006 and ahead of 2008. Indeed it’s a bit – to me – like 2008 with a bit more weight.
Finally: none of this would have happened were it not for Mr Angry. Former customer, firm friend, occasional mentor and now sponsor. We need more people like Mr Angry.
Jason: thank you.