We’re just back from Bordeaux, where we tasted some 500+ wines from the 2018 vintage during En Primeurs. Always an extraordinary experience, this year was especially invaluable, as the wines varied dramatically. Past years have been fairly homogeneous, but one of the hallmarks of 2018 is the many stylistic differences among the estates, from First Growth properties to the Petits Châteaux.
The 2018 growing season in Bordeaux was about two extreme weather challenges. The first and more difficult period was spring rain — record breaking amounts. Between March and May, the region received an entire year’s worth of rain. The inordinate amount of water and humidity caused mildew, especially catastrophic for properties in organic/biodynamic farming. Those estates tried to battle the fungus with copper — the one treatment allowed under organic regulations — but that was rarely sufficient and a great proportion of their yield ended up being lost all together.
When the rain finally stopped, the weather warmed up and the second challenge emerged — intense heat. Winemakers scrambled to manage vineyards suffering from hydric stress. Young vines reached huge amounts of alcohol levels in many cases and berries at harvest time were quite small. The salvation in 2018, unlike the other “ hot” vintage of 2003, was that nights were cool.
Good weather at the end of the season allowed growers the luxury of choosing when to pick. Some chose more optimally than others and those decisions in particular seemed to produce the great variety of stylistic offerings in 2018.
HARVEST & YIELDS
Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon were harvested towards the end of August. Preserving freshness was key for the whites. We noticed, in tastings, that quite a few of the white wines were exceedingly tropical and a bit fat.
Reds were harvested from early September to late October, depending on location and grape varietals. Because of the heat, alcohol levels were at an all time high. Many were 14.5. At Château Calon Ségur, the Merlot reached 15% — unheard of previously at that estate.
Again, because of the heat, berry skins were thick initially. We were told some holding tanks had over half their capacity in skins at pressing time. In general, yields were incredibly varied, from 8 to 15 hectoliters per acre in organic wineries to an average of 22-25 in Pessac-Léognan, and an average output of 30-35 on the Right Bank. The optimal quantity is usually 45 hectoliters, so quite a notable change here.
Obviously, during our visits, we tasted very young wines, which will be totally different in a couple of years when they arrive stateside. We suspect that wines from estates such as Pavie and Angelus, well known for their concentrated style, will be the ones to improve the most.
On the Left Bank, where many wineries traditionally use a 64 to 32 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend with a bit of Cabernet Franc, the wines are quite nice. Bright fruit from the Merlot and big, healthy structure from Cabernet, produced wines that are complex and dense while freshness was preserved even with alcohol levels of about 14.5% average. Cabernet Franc also performed extremely well and, as a result, many winemakers chose to include somewhat larger proportions of that varietal in their blends.
On the Right Bank, we were originally apprehensive, worried that Merlot, so prevalent there, would completely overwhelm the wine. But in one of the wonderful revelations of the vintage, that was not the case at all. Tannins were well integrated and the wines showed grace and beauty — sometimes extreme elegance. Remarkable!
Tannic structure, phenolic ripeness and freshness of fruit combined for round and supple wines, soft and ripe tasting. That is the quality of this vintage, which in truth is like no other.
The challenges made growers realize they had to work a lot harder in the vineyard in 2018, At Château Clinet, proprietress Monique Bailly told us they worked every day, Sunday or not. And it shows — the wine is nothing short of sensational.
In general, Bordeaux in 2018 demonstrated how far growers have come. Years ago, these types of weather conditions would have been a disaster. Now, however, with all the technological advances and winemaking know-how, the 2018 vintage shows great balance — beautiful fruit, acidity and freshness.In France, they call it an American Vintage because it is powerful. We call it gorgeous, because it is.
WHAT TO BUY
Because this is such a superb vintage, top properties are selling out fast. We send out offers and they are sold out in minutes. All to say, order the wines listed below quickly!
And if you’d like additional information on these or any other 2018 Bordeaux, write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-687-1370.
Château Beausejour Becot WS 96-99. $61.99
Château Beychevelle JD 95-97. $81.99
Château Clinet JD 96-99. $88.99
Château Gazin JD 94-96. $85.99
Château Larcis Ducasse JS 97-98. $68.99
Château Magrez Fombrauge Rouge JS 97-98. $106.99
Château Pape Clément JS 97-98. $88.99
Château Pavie Macquin JD 97-99. $69.99
Tertre Rôteboeuf JD 97-99. $167.99
Château Valandraud WS 96-99. $167.99
Château Barde-Haut JS 95-96. $36.99
Château Branaire-Ducru WS 94-97. $52.99
Château Clos de L’Oratoire WS 94-97. $39.99
Château Fleur Cardinale DC 94-95. $39.99
Château Fonroque WS 93-96. $35.99
Château Gloria WS 93-96. $39.99
Château Langoa-Barton JS 93-94. $48.99
Château Malartic-Lagravière Rouge WE 94-96. $48.99
Château Malescot Saint Exupéry JS 97-98. $54.99
Château Poesia JS 95-96. $33.99
Château Saint-Pierre WA 94-96. $57.99
GREAT INEXPENSIVE BUYS
Château Cantemerle JS 94-95. $29.99
Château Capbern JD 92-94. $24.99
Château Haut-Bergey WE 92-94. $22.99
Château Labegorce JD 93-96. $29.99
Château Les Gravieres WA 94-96. $21.99
Château Mangot WA 93-95. $18.99
Château Marjosse WA 90-92. $9.99
Château Tour Saint Christophe JS 96-97. $27.99
Here’s to the 2018s!