BORDEAUX 2018: LAS CASES THREATENS TO GO NUCLEAR
After a quiet end to last week due to French public holidays, St Julien’s leading estate Léoville Las Cases has kicked off the week’s proceedings in dramatic style with its “atomic bomb” of a wine but punchy price leaving buyers with a bit of a Cold War era choice – make the call or not?
There’s no doubt this morning’s release is pretty punchy at €180 per bottle ex-négoce (up 25% on the 2017 opening price), meaning it’s being offered at £2,172 per case.
There was a little bit of variance on the scores from the key critics. Antonio Galloni for example gave it a 95-98 range though, despite a slightly conservative lower end to his bracket, said it was “one of the unquestioned stars of the vintage”.
Others were more gung-ho in their scores, both James Suckling and The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW giving it a potential 100-points and Purple Pages’ Julia Harding MW a ringing 18.5. US critics Jeff Leve and James Molesworth also had 100-point potential in their brackets.
All spoke of its “energy” and profusion of black fruit and freshness.
“OMG”, wrote Suckling, while Perrotti-Bown warned it was an “atomic bomb waiting to go off in your mouth”.
Price-wise one’s sense of ‘fair value’ will depend on the critical voice one trusts. As Liv-ex pointed out, at this price Suckling and Perrotti-Brown’s scores make it look ‘fair’, Galloni’s not so much – but scores can also change.
Sitting at a discount to the current market price of the 2016 – one of the highest rated Las Cases – it’s more than the 2005, 2009 or 2010 are available for.
Yet volumes are also very limited for what is potentially a world class wine. Make the call? Push the button? What to do?
Farr Vintners’ Stephen Browett offered: “On one hand, [it] looks expensive at above the current market prices of the 2009 and 2010 but, on the other hand, the scores are outstanding and this is certainly a potential 100 pointer.”
Over at BI, Giles Cooper added that Las Cases doesn’t have a “great track record of making massive gains on the secondary market” – most of its back vintages from the last decade are below £1,500 a case – but you can’t argue with the fact that the 2018 is, “a stunning wine from a nigh-on unique vintage and customers are just looking at the price vis-à-vis the other wines they drink and thinking ‘I want that in my cellar’ – and understandably so.”
Ultimately, thought Wine Lister, “with four potential 100-point scores from other critics, it is perhaps one of the few 2018s that can get away with such an ambitious release price.”
Reports from several UK merchants this morning seem to indicate that sales are going well.
It appears to have been a feature of the campaign so far that some wines have gone gangbusters for varying reasons while others have turned up if not much else.
Will Hargrove at Corney & Barrow reported it had been a bit “hit and miss” though overall “better than last year” so far – though that isn’t hard.
Cooper said that despite some “ambitious” pricing things had been ticking along well though Browett said that big sellers had been “the exception rather than the rule” and too many estates were releasing close to current prices for their 2016 and 2015 wines.
Still, thought Hargrove, with many big Right Bank names such as Cheval Blanc and Ausone and Left Bank heavyweights such as Montrose, Pichon Baron and all the first growths still to come, there was “still much to play for”.
THE 2013 BORDEAUX BARRELS DIARY
Domaines Delon (Château Léoville Las Cases) Michael Georges, 40, is the technical director for both Châteaus Léoville Las Cases and Nenin and has worked with the Jean-Hubert Delon properties since 1998. "On the Right Bank we are lucky to have some Cabernet Franc, because the Merlot was so hurt by the flowering," said Georges in regard to the Delon-owned Château Nenin in Pomerol. "The Cab Franc brought some finesse to the tannins and helped the blend. And back on the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon on gravel were the favored spots, but Cab Franc on the clay did well too." "But things were difficult in 2013 because of the amount of work and the timing. We did de-leafing as flowering was ending, which is earlier than usual," said Georges. "There was also more leaf removal than usual, as well as more lateral shoot removal. This was preventative against gray rot, which I had never seen that early before. The key to the vintage was to anticipate, rather than wait. We did green harvesting during veraison, for example, rather than waiting until the end. The goal was to increase the phenolic ripeness as much as possible, seeing that it was going to be a short season."
The Château Nenin Pomerol Fugue de Nenin 2013 blends Merlot with 5 percent Cabernet Franc. It's charming as it shows light cherry and floral notes, gentle finish with a lightly dusty feel. The Château Nenin Pomerol 2013 is two-thirds Merlot, with the rest Cabernet Franc, a noticeable percentage of the latter. It has a good core of cherry and red currant, with a lightly sappy edge, which is unusual for the vintage. The fresh, racy finish picks up a nice floral edge and overall it's focused and pure. "We normally work for low extraction across all the estates, so we didn't change much for 2013 in that regard. Slightly lower temperature and less remontage, but not much. We were most careful at the last part of the alcoholic fermentation, to avoid extracting the dry or green tannins," said Georges. At Delon's Médoc property, the yield came in at a surprising 2.9 tons per acre, though the Château Potensac Médoc Chapelle de Potensac 2013 was slightly chaptalized to boost it's alcohol. It comes off in a nice, bright, tangy style, with good plum pit, Campari and floral notes and lively acidity.
The Château Potensac Médoc 2013 has a nice taut feel, with the flesh to match, as lightly sinewy tannins carry red currant and brisk plum fruit through a bright finish. At the flagship estate, yields were 2.3 tons per acre. The Château Léoville Las Cases St.-Julien Le Petit Lion 2013 is open and juicy, with nice flesh to the plum and blackberry notes. It has light vanilla and graphite hints through the finish, and no green notes at all. It's a nice surprise. From vineyards across the road and on slightly different black sand and gravel soils, the Clos du Marquis St.-Julien 2013 is sourced from 30-year-old vines. It's being aged in 50 percent new oak, actually an increase from 30 percent since the 2010 vintage. It has solid red licorice, damson plum and cherry pit notes, with good focus and a pleasantly taut feel through the finish. Overall it has good length and energy.
The Château Léoville Las Cases St.-Julien 2013 is being aged in 85 percent new oak, up from 75 since the 2010 vintage. The 74/14/12 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend is sourced from the famed l'Enclos vineyard that borders Château Latour, featuring various soil types ranging from clay to gravel, plus older vines that average 50 years old and range up to 80. It's surprisingly sappy, with delicious kirsch, crushed plum and raspberry coulis flavors lined with charcoal, sweet spice and singed apple wood notes. There's lots of stuffing here, on a level with Haut-Brion in terms of depth, but with a sleek, longer feel to boot. It's showing some wood today, but the fruit density is there, and this wine always tends to build slowly in the cellar anyway. This wine keeps quietly checking in at the elite level of the region and 2013 looks to be no exception. "Cabernet Franc is really the marker of Las Cases," said Georges. "It's relatively rare in the Médoc and 14 percent in the blend is a high percentage. It's the bridge between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It gives some finesse to the Cabernet Sauvignon and adds depth to the Merlot. But it's tricky to grow, and the yield has to be lower than either Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Luckily in '13, that was the case."