During the first week of April, I had the great honor and privilege of returning to Bordeaux as a jury member for the 2019 edition of the Millesima Blog Awards. Once there, we had the opportunity to greet the award winners and share a truly special evening together at Chateau Cos d’Estournel – more on that in my next post.
My visit coincided with en primeur, the much-anticipated annual event where Bordeaux producers offer a preview of the most recent, and largely unfinished vintage – in this case 2018. Journalists, merchants, and critics descent upon Bordeaux each year to assess the quality of the vintage. You can learn more about en primeur here.
After attending and experiencing en primeur during last year’s 2017 preview I was looking forward to see how the latest vintage would measure up. After three days of extensive tastings from Saint-Julien to Saint-Emilion, I’m excited to share my impressions. In my next post, I look forward to taking you behind the scenes at two prominent Bordeaux producers.
The 2018 Vintage – Powerful Yet Playful
2018 didn’t begin as a terribly promising growing year, with six months of very damp weather creating mildew problems while isolated hail storms resulted in losses for some producers. But mother nature warmed up beginning in July, and Bordeaux enjoyed three months of unusually warm, dry weather that resulted very ripe, concentrated fruit. Due to the heat, soils eventually struggled for water, resulting in small berries with thick skins and lower yields of roughly 25% for many producers.
The result: 2018 Bordeaux is proving to be quite promising with generous, ripe fruit, intense concentration and fine tannin quality. It’s both powerful and playful, age-worthy and approachable in its youth, with very consistent quality.
While great classic vintages can often be unyielding and harshly tannic in their youth, 2018 is affable and already delicious. It’s a considerable improvement over 2017, where there were stark contrasts in quality from appellation to appellation, and even producer to producer within those appellations.
Lorenzo Pasquini, Technical Director and Winemaker of Chateau du Terte in Margaux describes the 2018 vintage as “Hell and paradise at the same time”. To paraphrase, he describes it as a uniquely challenging vintage that is difficult to compare, but a year that was salvaged by an Indian summer, which allowed them to pick their fruit at peak ripeness. Lorenzo believes that the vines were able to thrive in the unusually hot conditions due to extensive rains earlier in the season.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to taste extensively from Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Margaux and Saint-Julien.
Saint-Emilion, Margaux and Saint-Julien were the strongest appellations overall, yielding consistently high quality, with generous depth, fine freshness and supple tannins.
Unfortunately, my impression from Pomerol was less encouraging, as the common theme seemed to be the use of entirely too much oak, resulting in heavy-handed, unbalanced wines without much fruit.
Only Chateau La Cabanne’s Pomerol proved particularly promising, and also demonstrated that you mustn’t spend a fortune to find great Bordeaux. One need only know where to look…
The following wines were standouts and are well-worth seeking out for your own enjoyment. I know I’ll be looking for these wines myself… (I decided to include some of my very rapid, tasting gibberish should you find any of it useful.)
Saint Emilion Recommendations
- Clos de Jacobins – Jammy dense and tightly wound with ripe black raspberry, coffee and an iron fist – ferrous undertones.
- Commanderie elegant, floral and feminine – still nice length and solid tannin structure.
- Couvent de Jacobins – Dense and tight-fisted, more restrained black fruit. Mineral-driven with crushed rock and ferrous undertones.
- Clos de Sarpe. – slightly sulphuric on the nose a bit but gives way to a perfumed and fragrant wine pretty red fruit – wild berries and underbrush.
- Fonplegade – Incredible refined – wine of the tasting for me. Exotic spices, spring flowers and hunts of sandalwood. Woodsy? Creamy, almost weigh less texture with fine tannin structure and plenty of juicy black raspberry, black olive and hints of eucalyptus.
- Fleur Cardinale – dense dark and sultry – lovely
- Franc Mayne – very bright and fresh
- Fonroque – Candied, sexy and exotic.
- Gaffeliere – has a bit of a scorched earth, ashy profile – underbrush. Rich red fruit. Minty also with really great structure – polished, sweet tannin.
- Larcis Ducasse – rich and silky – creamy with brambly red fruit and generous spice. Very pure.
- Pavie Maquin – lovely with a sweetness to the fruit
- Villemaurine – very nice – floral and feminine with muscular structure. Finely grained tanning and more medium bodied.
- La Cabanne – Well-integrated, more medium-bodied with dark lush fruit, plenty of spice and persistent length.
- Dauzac – Quite promising – and was one of a handful of truly compelling efforts from the Margaux appellation. Fragrant floral aromatics give way to a generous, powerful wine with a tightly wound, powdery tannin structure providing the framework for a long evolution ahead.
- Giscours has dense black fruit and really polished tannin, gravelly minerality. Intensely structured yet generous and round. Impressive and one of my favorites. There’s a night and day different between the elegance of Tertre and the power of Giscours.
- Kirwan – Concentrated and fruity with great length.
- Marquis de Terme – nicely delineated and harmonious.
- Chateau Siran – Lovely – huge length depth and concentration. Lots of oak but carried it very well.
- Léoville Barton
- Cos d’Estournel – One of the wines of the vintage for me. Imagine a wave of dense, silky black fruit cloaking an iron fist, its intensity continuing to build on the palate. Crushed rocks and gravel undertones linger on the lengthy finish. A truly monumental effort that impeccably marries power and refinement, with tannins so polished you could almost drink it now yet to do so would be a tragic case of infanticide, for a wonderfully long life lies ahead for this wine.
- Domaine de Chevalier – Just builds in the mouth – great structure terrific red and black fruit – hot stones and subtle spice linger on the palate.
- Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – beeswax, lychee – lanolin great tension and energy. A testament that whites can thrive in a hot vintage.