A ‘TRIUMPHANT’ VINTAGE FOR GRANDES MARQUES AND GROWERS ALIKE
BY CHRIS WOOD
Although there are areas of the wine world which look back at 2012 as a growing season that they’d rather forget, Champagne is not one of them. Indeed, whilst many winemakers held their heads in their hands, the Champenoise celebrated with adjectives such as ‘triumphant’, ‘legendary’ and ‘miraculous’ all used liberally to describe the fruits of their labour. Jean-Baptiste Lécallion, Chef de Cave of Louis Roederer, was heard to say that ‘the quality is outstanding… a great vintage. Probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average. But in some special location it could well be better than that, closer to a 1947’
This was far from an easy victory, though. The growing season threw everything that it had at Champagne – February saw temperatures fall as low as -20°c after a relatively mild winter, with the cold snap bringing in its wake devastating frosts and a savage hailstorm that vignerons described as one of the worst in living memory. Just 15 minutes of intense hail saw areas of the Côte des Bar lose anywhere between 50% and 100% of its burgeoning crop, with vines sustaining damage to such a level that the effects would also be felt in 2013.
It didn’t end there; Arctic conditions gave way to a miserably rainy spring which caused poor flowering and intense disease pressure in the vineyards right through to June and July. Mildew thrived for much of the summer, with producers using organic and biodynamic methods finding themselves particularly under pressure to combat these various threats without the support of chemical intervention.
However, the weather came through at the eleventh hour, and the misery of the months thus far gave way to elation as August arrived and the sun came to stay. The six or so weeks from the beginning of August through to harvest were as perfect late-season conditions as the Champenoise could hope for (to the point where the warmth even caused a touch of over-ripeness in places) and was the miracle saviour of the vintage. Those hardy berries which had survived sub-zero temperatures, frost, hail, damp, rain and disease began to thrive in their newfound luxury and developed into a small but extremely high-quality crop.
Many Houses and growers saw yields down in the region of 4000 kg/ha to 8000 kg/ha (significantly below the permitted maximum of 11,000) but as is the case in winemaking the world over, triumph is often the result of adversity and cellarmasters universally praised ideal levels of sugar and acidity, perfect aromatic flavour profiles and enthusiastic, healthy fermentations which seemed to promise great things… and wholeheartedly delivered. In fact, some producers even chose to reduce their production of non-vintage cuvées in order to focus on emphasising the unique expression of the year.
Today, 2012 is viewed as one of the greatest vintages since 1990, with dizzyingly high scores awarded with glee by critics and a level of desirability in the market that many struggle to match. Most telling of all, great houses and grower producers alike now unfailingly celebrate 2012 (the hail and mildew but a bad memory). It is true that this vintage, which put even the most hardened winemakers to the test, represents some of the very best Champagnes available on the market today, drinking beautifully now even ten short years later whilst promising further greatness in the years to come.
It is an almost impossible task to narrow the Champagnes of 2012 down to just six of the best, but I’ve tried my hardest and selected three great Grandes Marques and three legendary growers whose 2012 vintages are some of the best to be had anywhere … I’ll let you decide the ultimate winner!
2012 was the first year that Louis Roederer used 100% biodynamic fruit in their flagship cuvée – and whilst this must have felt like a baptism of fire during the growing season, it has resulted in a sensational wine with the lowest dosage ever used in Cristal (7g/l), a clear testament to the incredible quality of the fruit.
‘Rich, vinous and beautifully textured, the 2012 has been nothing short of magnificent on the three occasions I have tasted it so far… radiant and luscious yet possessing remarkable transparency and striking aromatic depth… 2012 is just stunning. It’s as simple as that’. Antonio Galloni, Vinous
DOM PÉRIGNON 2012
Described by the house as a wine of ‘explosive harmony’, the 2012 vintage of Dom Pérignon is a masterclass in the power and precision that makes this house great. Low yields resulted in fruit of extraordinary intensity, with a muscular energy that promises to make this one of the longest-lived cuvées of the entire vintage, offering a wealth of riches and rewards to the patient collector.
‘A dense, powerful wine… I am almost shocked by its unbridled intensity and power. The 2012 reminds me of the 2003 but with more finesse and not quite as pushed. One of the most reticent young Doms I can remember tasting, I wouldn’t even think of opening a bottle for at least a few years’. Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Where to start with Salon? One of the rarest, most beguiling and most desired of all the Champagne Houses, Salon reassured itself at the end of the 2012 season that ‘Mother Nature loves to play tricks’, and fortunately this stoicism was about to pay off in spades. The result of this trickest of vintages is the ultimate Salon style; mysterious, secretive, seductive and, above all, absolutely stunning.
‘Absolutely gorgeous. It offers a beguiling mix of radiance and energy that seems to capture a little bit of the elements of some of its older siblings… the 2012 Salon is all harmony and class’. Antonio Galloni, Vinous
PIERRE PÉTERS CUVÉE SPÉCIALE ‘LES CHÉTILLONS’ 2012
Even in the worst of years Pierre Péters is famed for some of the best Blanc de Blancs to be found anywhere in the Côte des Blancs, particularly from the Grand Cru ‘Les Chétillons’ site at Le Mesnil sur Oger which has been under the care of the family since 1930. The wine itself is the kind of BdB to which all others aspire, a marriage of that famous chalky minerality with poise, precision and generosity that is epitomised in the 2012 vintage.
‘Fabulous. Rich and explosive in the glass, the 2012 has all the intensity of a ripe year but without the more tropical leanings of vintages like 2002… the interplay of 2012 richness and Le Mesnil tension makes for an utterly compelling, vivid Champagne of the highest level.’ Antonio Galloni, Vinous
LARMANDIER- BERNIER ‘VIEILLE VIGNE DU LEVANT’ 2012
Although Larmandier-Bernier have been one of the leading lights in the ever-growing popularity of grower Champagne in modern times, make no mistake – this producer has eight generations of winemaking wisdom under its belt alongside some of the best Grand Cru sites to be had in Cramant, Avize and Oger. This cuvée uses fruit from vines up to 80 years in age, cultivated organically and treated like a member of the family at every stage of the process, 2012 being no exception.
‘Another standout in this range from Pierre and Sophie Larmandier. It possesses tremendous intensity and tons of pure power… the 2012 is dense, rich and full of personality’. Antonio Galloni, Vinous
PERTOIS- LEBRUN ‘LE FOND DU BATEAU NO. 12’ 2012
I couldn’t end without one top tip for future greatness. Their scores and reviews may
be largely nonexistent and you wouldn’t be blamed for not recognising the name, but Pertois-Lebrun are a Champagne star on the rise. Clement and Antoine are the fifth generation of their family to oversee production from 9 hectares of prime Côte des Blancs vines, producing exclusively Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs styles that are intensely terroir-driven and expressive of the vintage.
Perhaps this explains why the 2012 ‘Le Fond de Bateau No.12’ is such a triumph, with just 1g/l dosage used to conduct a chorus of incredibly high-quality fruit into perfect harmony. Not only is the 2012 vintage one to watch, but so is Pertois-Lebrun. You can thank me later!
Embark on a journey through the sublime world of fine wine with the Chelsea Vintners team. Explore our favourite stories, discover our dream wines and gather inspiration for your own collection.