Bordeaux 2018. WOW. In wine or in many other disciplines in life, “wow” often comes from greatness or, from surprises, and for Bordeaux this year is of both.
During the first week of last month in Bordeaux tasting over 400 wines from the barrels, visited over 30 chateaux, chatting with winemakers and sharing views with world buyers, it turns out to me 2018 to be a very good surprise, and I supposed, to many wine professionals as well.
Surprise due to the fact that 2018 has one of the most challenging start to the growing season, rain, mildew and hail storms till July. A never-ending nightmare to many, especially to those biodynamic vintners. However, there came a long dry sunny summer from July to October, precious little rain and a long safe harvest window letting winemakers pick when they desire, resulting in red wines, when is good, of extraordinary power, richness, depth, class and great freshness.
Quality varies between wineries; I’d like to say it’s not really a left or right bank vintage this year, of course everyone can have their own preference in style between the 2 banks (and to me this year, I love the right a lot), but more about who can get the balance just right, in terms of ripeness, acidity, high alcohol and tannins; and who wasn’t careful with the picking and extraction in their wine. It is a year enabling great quality wine making. Gathering and discussing with fellow professionals there, we kind of agreed that its quality is similar to 2015 and 2016 on the right bank and more like the 2009 and 2016 on the left, Or perhaps even better. That, we will see in a year time.
In my view, for those with great focus, technology investment, and control, they are making some top notch wines making 2018 an exceptional vintage for Bordeaux.
There are certainly gems which will blow your mind but you can find not great consistence quality across board, it’s a vintage where you have to know which wine you are buying, AND, at the right price.
100 points and what to get: several carefully made ones especially those whom are with great control over ripeness and extraction. I especially love Lafite which is a 100 to me, with such purity and class and I wonder how they can get their alcohol at 13% while everyone are at 14 and above this year, (and Carruade de Lafite, finally proper, and may be the best baby Lafite ever made!!), the exuberant Mouton, not to miss the La Petite Mouton, like what Philippe Dhalluin, director of Château Mouton-Rothschild said “it’s an immediate spectacular wine, probably the best petite Mouton we have made”, Margaux, Las Cases, with Pichon Comtesse having so much class in its wine; the juicy La Mission Haut-Brion and the serious Haut Brion and its Blanc got so much concentration and power, with plenty of finesse; while Pomeral and St Emilion can be so fabulous, such as the mind blowing easily 100 pointer Ausone, Cheval Blanc, the weightless Almost spiritual L’evangile and VCC (missed Lafleur this time, will try next week back in Bordeaux, supposed to be at top of the game); while the exceptionally polished Figeac, Calon Segur, Montrose and Canon improved tremendously over past decade, performing so well in a vintage like 2018 which needs great attention in the making. The always bit under the radar (which is great for consumers whom know what’s best and great value) the impressively elegant, reserve and polished Brane Cantenec and not to miss the another very elegant, smooth, very purple full of violet Lagrange. (I added these 2 on list after my another re-tasting on 16/5 week).
Besides the obviously great which may cost hundreds of euro, there are top quality value ones around 30-40 euro such as Clos du Clocher from Pomerol, full of violet and flavours. And some at 60 such as Les asteries from chateau Teyssier. Try to avoid those with too high in extraction and overripeness.
How about the white? Dry whites are of great quality, Haut Brion Blanc was top of my list with its concentration, freshness and depth. Smith Haut Lafite was fabulous too with great acidity which is challenging for the warmer 2018. Great makers pick their grapes early to give fresh energetic wine. While it was a more difficult year on the sweet side due to lack of development of botrytis.
Alcohol level : pretty high with 14% to 14.5% on the Left Bank, and sometimes even higher on the Right with merlot base. Pay attention some may go up to 15.5%.
High concentration and tannins : Small berries, thick skins. Very concentrated wines with high tannins, despite the high alcohol, wine can achieve great balance, and feel more approachable even now. Smart wineries doing less pumping over and a shorter maceration than usual. They are more careful with the extraction.
Endless dry summer: warm days cool nights, I guess it’s one of the keys to great wine here. June, July was dry and August becoming quite hot up to 35degree yet not burning. Young vines and those with sandy soil not so great for water retentions suffered water stress. But again, long harvest window spreading out over several weeks for vigneron to pick at their best maturity.
Ripeness or overripeness?: The key is to when to pick. A long hot summer gives opportunity to pick at the right time, but when? Mildew hit hard early in the year, while a sunny summer give a wide harvest window. In general there is a tendency to aim for a more refined elegant style instead of big heavy weight wine. Avoid overriped, rustic tannic and sometimes too alcoholic wine.
Winemaking methods or let’s say stylistic preferences : This year I see quite a big differences in style. Some chateaux stick with traditional wine making method while some taking a step forward being less extracted with lower controlled temperature in its fermentation and maceration, fewer pump overs, going for a more elegant style. Some pick later to make a more dense and tannic wine while earlier pickers aimed for a fresher lighter weight style and perhaps some more perfumed ones.
Organic / Biodynamic : wineries with organic or biodynamic practice, like Chateau Palmer, Chateau Pontet Canet, and part of Pichon Comtesse (with 20% vineyard being biodynamic) lost close to 80% of their crop due to mildew! Palmer is only making less than 12 hectolitres per hectare which is almost a punishment financially for being Biodynamic, yet, they endure. RESPECT.
Drinkabiltiy: Most reds are ripe with great structure wrapped by silky tannins, quite drinkable especially those from Pomeral and Saint Emillion like Ausone and L’evangile, they are so perfumed and ethereal (if I’d ever described a Bordeaux wine being ethereal!) that I almost want to snatch them into my pocket at Chateaux. Some amazing seconds wine such as Carruade de Lafite and Petite Mouton are so delicious and drinkable even at primeur as well. I suspect we can starts drinking them once they’re bottled. While some of the bigger wines would needs more time.
A difficult vintage? Oh yes, a challenging one but it turns out to be one of the most amazing somehow. 2018 is a vintage that will be remembered with disappointment by some wines but as one of the greatest by many others.
I had post most of my review on wines I tasted on IG @drunken.dragon and will post on the next on wine recommendation and highlights.