Bordeaux En Primeur 2018: Part One
Tuesday, April 9, 2019 in News
A vintage report for Bordeaux En Primeur 2018 by Andrew Caillard MW.
2018 is an exceptional year. The Bordeaux whites and Sauternes are very good, but from an Australian perspective the excitement is all in the red wines. All sub regions produced examples of really good wines, but some performed better than others. Generally the very top estates made exemplary wines illustrating that the human factor and wealth can have a major impact on terroir!
Over the last few weeks I have tasted around 350 to 400 wines, sometimes in large format forums like the UCG tastings or at various Châteaux. Nowadays it is difficult to taste the wines blind but density of colour, aromatic freshness, tannin density and overall balance are obvious indicators. In some instances I have tasted wines a few times enabling me to cross reference.
The weather, until a few days ago, has been clear with bright sunshine, warm days and a cool breeze. Temperatures have fallen now with more cloud cover and intermittent rains. While driving from Sauternes to Saint-Émilion Florian Thoelke (Langton’s Senior International Buyer) and I drove through light hail but not enough to cause too many problems. In our two weeks in Bordeaux we have seen dormant vineyards and trees spring to life. The growing season is starting a touch early and of course people are worried about the chances of frost. After the devastating frost events of 2017 and the challenges created by hail and mildew during 2018, there is a feeling that climate change may well have an unpredictable impact on future Bordeaux vintages.
Andrew Caillard MW, Florian Thoelke (Senior Buyer - Langton's)
Florian and I tasted a good amount of primeurs wines. As usual the vintage will be exaggerated. The growing season was near calamitous but long warm sunshine hours over summer cleaned everything up and allowed the grapes to ripen very really well. The colours, flavours, densities and acidities are really impressive and as a consequence the vintage is generally quite exceptional. It is difficult to truly understand the overall crop losses as producers are understandably quite cagey. But they vary from almost nothing to less than a third. At Ch Climens in Sauternes-Barsac I would estimate the crop being around 20% of the average. When one considers that this estate lost its whole crop in 2017 from frost, the shock must be keenly felt.
Mother Nature has been particularly cruel of late. The narrative of the growing season will inevitably create a negative impression, but few people will remember the details in years to come. They will only remember the wine. For some people with long memories they believe the vintage is like 1947 or 1961. If this is the case, this is not just an exceptional vintage, this is something beyond the norm. An immortal year. The concentration, weight, and vitality of the wines are impressive. Despite the amazing tannin density, saturated colours and flavours, the wines are actually quite easy to taste, indicating remarkable balance and life.
Vines at Clos Saint Martin
As you will see from my tasting notes there are many great wines. This year it is going to be very hard to make a bad decision. Although the big names have made impressive wines there are stacks of lesser known or lower profile estates that have made promising young wines. Over the next year they will continue to evolve and mature in barrel, building more complexity and allowing the tannins to settle down
As regards whether it is a great vintage, I think it is safe to say that it is a remarkable year with many very great wines made. In some ways it is a miracle year considering the challenges and disappointments of the growing season. Most observers will agree that the 2018 vintage, specifically the red wines, is in the same league as the greatest vintages including 2015, 2010 and 2009 etc. Some winemakers are also suggesting it's very similar to 1947 or 1961.
But 2018 is also an atypical year – whatever that means these days. The weather patterns are more difficult to predict and no one can really second guess what God plans for this forthcoming season. Thankfully the predicted cold snap while we were there did not damage the emerging new growth. But the unseasonably warm start to the growing season and clear skies has everyone on edge.