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Report and recommendations for the 2018 Bordeaux vintage
by Andrew Caillard MW
2018 is an exceptional year. 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 very good wines, but some performed better than others. Generally, the largest estates have made exemplary wines illustrating that the human factor and wealth can have a major impact on the terroir! Over the past few weeks I have tasted around 350-400 wines, sometimes in large format forums like UCG tastings or at various châteaux. These days it is difficult to taste wines blind, but color density, aromatic freshness, tannin density and overall balance are obvious indicators. In some cases, I tasted wines a few times, which allowed me to cross references.
The weather until a few days ago was clear with bright sunshine, warm days and a cool breeze. Temperatures have dropped now with more cloud cover and intermittent rain. Driving from Sauternes to St Emilion we passed through some light hail but not enough to cause too many problems. In two weeks, we saw dormant vines and trees come to life. The growing season starts a little early and, of course, people worry about the chance of frost. After the devastating frost episodes of 2017 and the challenges created by hail and mildew in 2018, there is a feeling that climate change could well have an unpredictable impact on future Bordeaux vintages.
We have tasted a good amount of primeur wines now. As usual the vintage will be exaggerated. The growing season was almost calamitous, but long hours of hot sunshine over the summer cleaned everything up and allowed the grapes to ripen very, very well. The colors, flavors, density and acidities are truly impressive and as a result the vintage is generally quite exceptional. It's difficult to truly understand overall crop losses, as growers are naturally quite cagey. But they vary from almost nothing to less than a third. At Ch Climens in Sauternes Barsac, I estimate that the harvest is around 20% of the average. When we know that this area lost its entire harvest in 2017 due to frost, the shock must be keenly felt. Mother Nature has been particularly cruel lately. The growing season story 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 so, it's not just an exceptional vintage, it's something beyond the norm. An immortal year. The concentration, weight and vitality of the wines are impressive. Despite the incredible density of tannins, saturated colors and flavors, the wines are actually quite easy to taste, indicating remarkable balance and life.
In my opinion, the strongest sub-regions are Pauillac and St Julien – both of which have produced wines of great consistency and classicism. They are powerfully expressive with pronounced ripe tannins and pure fruit flavors. The combination of better microclimatic conditions, wealth and physical resources contributed to the result. Ch Pontet Canet is an exception because of its approach to biodynamic viticulture. It suffered terribly from downy mildew and only produced a third of the harvest. The wine is distinctly different from wines like Ch Latour or Ch Pichon Lalande, but its overall buoyancy and fruit richness are convincing. It also represents something worthwhile and important.
I still think Pauilac is the benchmark for Bordeaux. Typically, the wines are extremely expressive with aromas of pure cedar and fine grainy tannins. This year, the wines are particularly dense and inky with abundant graphite tannins. They are not at all tense or soft and so when the tannins settle in, the wines will be exceptional.
There are many exceptional wines from Pauillac, including Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Ch Pichon Longueville Baron, Ch Lynch Bages, Ch Batailley, Ch d’Armailhac and Ch Grand Puy Lacoste. The premier crus Ch Latour, Ch Mouton Rothschild and Ch Lafite Rothschild are very impressive. Their second wines Les Forts de Latour, Petit Mouton and Carruades are also of very high quality.