VERDICT : THE 2018 BORDEAUX VINTAGE
The most frequently mentioned word concerning the 2018 Bordeaux vintage is “mildew”.
Great care was required of winegrowers to ensure there was as little damage as possible.
Hopes were not high when between December 2017 and May 2018 an entire year of rain – about 850 millimetres – had fallen. If it had been windy and cold after that, it would had been alright. Instead, it became very warm. Moisture and heat trigger humidity and bring on mildew. If not arrested you have a failed crop. Even worse, if affected grapes find their way into the fermenting vats, good luck to the rest of the wine. Great care was therefore required of winegrowers to ensure there was as little damage as possible.
Bordeaux mixture – comprised of copper sulphate and slaked lime is used as a fungicide. This remedy is however not available if your vineyard is certified biodynamic( and should you wish to keep that certification). At Chateau Palmer, for example, being entirely biodynamic, they have no such recourse and harvested their lowest yield on record, 11 hectolitres per hectare! (It was 12 hectolitres in 1961). While the Médoc and the Graves suffered more, mildew was not a particular problem on the Right Bank.
The reduced grape size was about 20% lower than usual
From mid-July, record breaking temperatures, low rainfall (barely a drop in August) and near drought conditions followed. Luckily, hot days alternated with cool nights which helped retain aromatics and freshness. The end result was grapes of exceptional ripeness and incredibly rich tannins. This was all but guaranteed because with fewer bunches and which reduced grape size was about 20% lower than usual, the energy of the vines went into overdrive and effortlessly ripen the considerably lower yield and smaller berries. The result is highly concentrated, high alcohol wines (some approaching 15%), and very rich tannins from thick skins of smaller than normal berries.Philippe Bascaules – who returned to Chateau Margaux from Napa Valley following the death of Paul Pontaillier in March 2016 – had never experienced another vintage like this.
‘I have never seen smaller berries. Usually, a cabernet sauvignon berry is about 1.8 or 1.9 gm. In 2018, it was 1 to 1.2 gm. As far as yield was concerned, we lost 15% to mildew and another 15% to the dehydration of the grapes. No saignee was needed as that was already made in the vineyard (because of the weather conditions).’
The Right Bank did better as a whole.
Given the ripeness, concentration, and millionaire tannins, the best winemakers ensure there was no over-extraction in an already opulent vintage. The frequency of pumping over – of juice over skins – was reduced. So too the temperature of fermentation so that the extraction is more gentle to ensure elegant fruit and greater freshness.
As for the 2018 dry whites, they are outstanding, combining fruit, intensity and incredible freshness. The sweet wines are not so successful as botrytis was not so present.
2018 is not a very homogenous vintage for the reds. The Right Bank did better as a whole. As for the Left Bank and the Graves, you have to be selective. The wines that are well made are outstanding. Another remarkable result is that the quality of the grand vin and the second wine has scarcely been so close. Great value can be reaped from them.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2018
This is the champion wine. At this quality, concentration, elegance, finesse, poise and polish, Lafite serves as the benchmark for the 2018 vintage. Intensely violetty and floral. Layered with the deepest blue/purple fruit of defying intensity and reckless persistence. The tannins are just as epic. An unforgettable wine! Deserves an extra star to make it our only 6-star wine.
Chateau Cheval Blanc 2018
This is one of the best Cheval Blanc since Pierre Lurton joined the St-Emilion estate in 1991. Although winemaking is left to his assistant Pierre Olivier Clouet, Lurton is overall in charge and the two work as a team. The fruit, discreet oak and vivacity are intricately woven into a seamless whole. The blend is a complex weave of 80% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon and 5% malbec.
Chateau Haut-Brion 2018
Although the harvest ended the same time as La Mission on 2 October, it started earlier on 6 September. The blend is also different, 49.4% merlot, 38.7% cabernet sauvignon and 11.9% cabernet franc. The dark blue fruit in Haut-Brion is riper and more supple than that of La Mission. In spite of being relatively richer, there is no shortage of freshness.
Chateau Margaux 2018
At 14%, the alcohol is relatively low for the vintage. Cassis and deep blue fruit. Big, ripe, rich red with equal astounding measure of structure from 100% new oak, which does not feel nor taste woody. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 4% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, and 2% petit verdot.
La Mission Haut-Brion 2018
If you love finesse, freshness and restrain, this is where you worship. The pristine blue fruit is finely chiseled, as with the tannins. The harvest started on 10 September and ended on 2 October. The blend is 53.5% merlot, 42.9% cabernet sauvignon and 3.6% cabernet franc. Third-generation winemaker and Deputy Managing Director of Domaine Clarence Dillon, Jean-Philippe Delmas informed that mildew was treated very early and therefore not a problem. As a result, the yield was like a normal year, around 45 hectolitres per hectare. Another reason 2018 was successful, he reminded, was because France became world champion in soccer.
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2018
Winemaker and general manager Nicolas Glumineau joined this Pauillac Second Growth in 2013 from Saint-Estephe Second Growth Chateau Montrose. He is one of the most talented winemakers in Bordeaux today. One of Glumineau’s specialities is to produce the smoothest tannins imaginable even when they are very rich. The closest sensation to it is to be riding silently in a Bentley. Pichon Lalande impresses with violets, blueberries, boysenberries, mulberries, silky tannins, and magnificent freshness.
Chateau Petrus 2018
Like father like son. Winemaker Olivier Berrouet has the sensitivity and sensibility of his parent Jean-Claude who was responsible at this Pomerol icon from 1964 to 2008 before handing the baton to his son. “Petrus is always powerful because of the merlot on clay. In such a vintage as 2018, I could have made a monster, a powerful wine with no complexity, no finesse. But, we pay attention to the quality of the tannins, the finish of the wine. If you want to preserve the freshness of the merlot, you have to pick at the right time.” The blend is 99% merlot and 1% cabernet franc. Every little detail counts at Petrus which, incidentally, is never 100% but around 50% new oak. Ripe, restrained, elegant, intense fruit of great persistence. Suave tannins. One of the great successes of 2018.
Vieux Chateau Certan 2018 5 stars
Two remarkable years in a row!! In 2017, VCC produced one of the best wines of the vintage. It has repeated the feat in 2018. This, in spite of the fact that tasting it on Thursday 25 April 2019, I pointed out to proprietor and winemaker Alexandre Thienpoint that the wine was quite tight. “I agree because 10 days ago, it was more talkative”. Thienpoint also informed that mildew was not a problem as they took all the right actions at the right time. The yield was an enviable 40 hectolitres per hectare. Ripe, rich cassis fruit wonderfully balanced with the structure. Finesse, energy and freshness. The blend is 70% merlot and 30% – the highest as usually it’s around 15% – cabernet franc which contributes “pedigree and complexity”.
4 1/2 STARS
Chateau Beychevelle 2018
These days, with many Médoc properties making white wine, Beychevelle’s General Manager Philippe Blanc has been asked if he might consider that option too. His reply has been “I will be the only Blanc at Beychevelle”. Blanc continues to make reds of intensity, concentration (but not “thick wines”), balance and finesse. Ripe fruit including a whiff of figs. Succulent tannins. A voluptuous Beychevelle.
Domaine de Chevalier 2018
Greater concentration and intensity of fruit in this the grand vin. What is equally impressive is the richness of the tannins and the energetic lift of the freshness. Any question as to how long this will age was eloquently answered at lunch when the considerably lighter 1979 was singing away, and the 1989 – and a very hot year at that – the fruit and freshness were flying and fluttering respectively.
Chateau Duhart-Milon 2018
This Pauillac Fourth Growth is part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) stable. Intense violetty/boysenberry fruit of great richness, density and flair. The tannins are equally persistent.
Chateau Giscours 2018
At 13.7%, Giscours is just a shade less alcoholic – but more full-bodied – than du Tertre. And, whereas du Tertre is feminine, Giscours is masculine. Rich blueberry/blackcurrant fruit with equally solid, intense tannins.
Chateau d’Issan 2018
Under the stewardship of Emmanuel Cruse (co-proprietor with Jacky Lorenzetti, owner of Chaeau Pedesclaux, Lilian-Ladouys and Paris Racing 92 rugby team), Chateau d’Issan has never been better. Cruse informed that they were not too badly affected by mildew (10 to 20%), nor, being near the Gironde estuary, the severe spring frost (10%) of 2017. Chateau d’Issan impresses with density of violetty fruit that has a whiff of figs, richness of tannins, freshness and great finesse. Apart from being the only chateau with a moat, d’Issan also has a remarkable clos or walled vineyard that is 35 ha in size.
Chateau Lagrange 2018
The tannins are so rich, they even surpassed those of the 2010 vintage. They also impressed because they are so suave. As for the fruit, floral, rich, dense, intense and flushed with freshness. Matthieu Bordes continues to make outstanding wines. The blend is 68% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot and 5% petit verdot.
Chateau Leoville Barton 2018
When you taste with the Barton family, the sequence is to start with Mauvesin, Langoa and then end up with super Second Growth Leoville. There are of course three Leovilles, Poyferre, Las Cases and Barton. Most people are agreed that Leoville Las Cases and Leoville Barton are the top two of the trio. Co-incidentally Eric Boissenot is consultant to both of them. Almost full-bodied, the 2018 Leoville Barton has very rich and ripe fruit and structure. Leoville is a wine capable of very long ageing.
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2018
Comprised of 86% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, and 2% cabernet franc, this Pauillac First Growth was aged 100% in new barrels. Very ripe, rich, toasty, smoky, oaky, and masculine. In a blind tasting, I could had easily mistake this for a Napa cabernet.
Chateau Palmer 2018
Violets, dark cherries, cassis and rich, millionaire tannins. Full-bodied. Round freshness. Although the alcohol is 14.3%, this is not obvious. That said, this is still a big wine. For big people. The blend is 53% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot and 7% petit verdot.
Chateau Pedesclaux 2018
Ever since Jacky Lorenzetti acquired this Pauillac Fifth Growth – the Gironde is just a pebble’s throw away – in the summer of 2009, the wine has been shooting for the stars. More vineyard has been bought and the cabernet component increased. Ripe, rich, tensioned blueberry fruit with succulent tannins. Comprised of 64% cabernet sauvignon, 27 merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot. This is the third consecutive vintage with the four varieties. 50% of the vineyard is biodynamic and the other half is organic. Eric Boissenot is consultant.
Chateau Pichon Baron 2018
Christian Seely, CEO of AXA Millesimes, the wine properties of French insurance giant AXA Assurances did the honour of hosting this tasting (we finished with the stunning Quinta do Noval 2017 and the momentous Nacional of the same vintage but that’s another story). Rich, concentrated blue/black fruit on a wave of solid tannins including vanilla from the oak. Big and full-bodied.
Blason d’Issan 2018
The first vintage of this second wine of Third Growth Chateau d’Issan was as recent as 1995. The quality between this and the grand vin is very closed indeed. Proprietor Emmanuel Cruse is on record in saying that “This is the best Blason we have ever made”. Violets, ripe deep blue fruit with equally ripe tannins.
Chateau Boutisse 2018
The best Boutisse I have tasted. Whereas previously the wine went for concentration, the intense fruit is now flushed with energy and elegant tannins. The scented, floral, cassis, mulberry fruit is elegant, persistent and articulate and eloquent.
Carruades de Lafite 2018
This is one of the best Carruades ever made. Perfume of violets with blue/purple fruit of concentration and intensity. The ripe, rich tannins are also crisp. Lafite’s second wine has remarkable freshness.
La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion 2018
An elegance some may mistake for being light. Far from it, the persistence of floral fruit and fresh, ripe tannins is beguiling.
Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2018
More closed than sister wine La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion, Le Clarence still dazzles with lifted blueberry fruit. And is no less fine even if it is relatively less feminine.
Chateau Clerc Milon 2018
Although owned by the same proprietors as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc Milon’s winemaking is independent and under the talented Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy who had worked at Napa’s Opus One. The winery – a striking wooden structure – is just across from Lafite. The blend is 60% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot, 9% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot and 1% carmenere. The rich, ripe blue/black fruit is easily matched by tannins of equal measure and volume.
L’Esprit de Domaine de Chevalier 2018
Both the grand vin and this second wine are so well-made and great value-for-money. Bright cassis fruit with lifted freshness and balancing tannins. Incidentally, the 2013 vintage of L’Esprit de Domaine de Chevalier is a Wine by the Glass at Imperial Treasure London, the Singapore-based Chinese restaurant group’s first foray into Europe. And a 100 Top Chinese Restaurants in the World 2019 in my publication of the same name.
Les Griffons de Pichon Baron 2018
The influence of the 60% new oak barrels is for the moment quite upfront – vanilla and smoky. But there’s also loads of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. No shortage of rich tannins either. A blend of 52% cabernet sauvignon and 48% merlot.
Chateau Kirwan 2018
Although not applying for official certification, Cellarmaster Philippe Delfaut informs that Third Growth Chateau Kirwan is working in an organic way. If second wine Charmes de Kirwan is already very good, Chateau Kirwan is even richer, more intense, and concentrated. This applies not just to the fruit but also the tannins. The alcohol, at 14.5 percent, is also very high. Except that we don’t feel it because of the freshness. Thomas Jefferson had visited the Margaux property between 24 and 28 May 1787. The future president of the United States of America rated Chateau Kirwan a second growth in his personal ranking.
Chateau Langoa Barton 2018
Seldom have I tasted Langoa – when young – possessing tannins of such smoothness. Floral, smoky blue/black fruit of density and freshness.
Chateau Latour-Martillac Red 2018
Ripe capsicums and boysenberries. Supple fruit with balancing tannins from skin and oak (45% new barrels). The late Denis Dubourdieu began consulting for the white wine in 1985 and Michel Rolland for the red in 1989. Then in 2005, Denis Dubourdieu consulted for both the white and red. Following his death in July 2016, his former assistant Axel Marchal has taken over that role for both wines.
Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere 2018
This Pessac-Leognan has been on an upward curve in the last few years since a new generation of the Bonnie family assumed responsibility, reducing the amount of new oak in the wine which has resulted in the fruit being more evident and eloquent. Not to mention more delicious. No pesticides nor herbicides are used in the vineyard. Intense cassis fruit supported by ripe, rich-ish tannins.
Petit Cheval 2018
As with the St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé A grand vin, this is also one of the best Petit Cheval ever produced. The blend is 70% merlot and 30% cabernet franc.
The young and old vines are found in 5 plots that have gravel, sand and clay. The fruit is floral, tannins rich and textured, even the freshness is silky. Medium-plus bodied and feminine.
Petit Mouton 2018
Ripe capsicum, blackcurrant, vanilla, liquorice, smoky fruit backed by rich, textured tannins. The blend of 56% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot and 4% cabernet franc is aged in 60% new oak (the normal being 50%).
Chateau Petit-Village 2018
Flesh and texture are the hallmarks of this delicious red. There is also freshness to buoy all that fruit. Comprised of 72% merlot, 20% cabernet franc and 8% cabernet sauvignon, winemaker Diana Berrouet Garcia has produced a Pomerol brimming with dark plum and dark cherry fruit wrapped in the most suave tannins.
Chateau de Pez 2018
This St-Estephe Cru Bourgeois has been on an upward trajectory since Nicolas Glumineau joined in 2013. De Pez is owned by the Roederer Group, owner also of Chateau Pichon-Lalande. The integration of rich smooth tannins with concentration of ripe violetty fruit is a seamless whole.
Chateau Pibran 2018
Part of the AXA Millesimes stable of wine properties, Pibran is over-achieving for a Cru Bourgeois. It is certainly producing wine worthy of a Classified Growth. Violets and juicy ripe fruit square off with rich, intense tannins.
Chateau Le Pin 2018
Fleshy blue/black fruit with a liquorice aspect and equal richness of tannins. A very ripe 100% merlot Pomerol.
Chateau Quinault L’Enclos 2018
The team at Chateau Cheval Blanc has scored a hat-trick in producing three top wines in 2018, Quinault L’Enclos, Petit Cheval and Chateau Cheval Blanc. Violets, blackcurrants and silky tannins.
Chateau Quintus 2018
This is the best Quintus produced by Domaine Clarence Dillon since the proprietor of Chateau Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion acquired this St-Emilion estate in June 2011. Only 38% new oak used to age the wine so that the ripe blackcurrant fruit can shine and sing. The make-up is 72. 3% merlot and 27.7% cabernet franc. The harvest started on 20 September and ended on 8 October.
Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux 2018
Packed with ripe, rich blue fruit but also with structure and vanillin from the 50% new oak. Finely poised and balanced. The blend is 69% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 9% petit verdot and 3% cabernet franc.
Reserve de la Comtesse 2018
I don’t recall the second wine of Pichon Lalande being so intense but still remaining so very fine. The richness of fruit and tannins is impressive. So too the freshness.
Chateau du Tertre 2018
Everything is more intense and persistent than second wine Les Hauts du Tertre, the blue/purple/liquorice fruit, tannins and freshness. Elegant. Both du Tertre and Les Hauts are 13.8% in alcohol, considerably lower than other wines of the vintage. The freshness is very vivacious as the two wines have one of the highest cabernet franc proportions of the Left Bank. A blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 16% cabernet franc and 14% petit verdot.
Les Tourelles de Longueville 2018
The quality of Les Tourelles 2018 is riveting. Cassis and ripe capsicum with a touch of sweetness from the oak (30% new and 70% one-year old barrels). Comprised of 60% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvigno, 8% cabernet franc and 6% petit verdot.
3 1/2 TO 4 STARS
Baron de Brane 2018
1989 was the first vintage of this second wine (known as Chateau Notton in the 1970s) of Second Growth Chateau Brane Cantenac. Violets, capsicum and blueberry fruit of medium-plus richness.
Les Charmes de Kirwan 2018
When Michel Rolland was consultant to Chateau Kirwan, there was little that was charming about Charmes de Kirwan. Since Philippe Delfaut took over winemaking responsibility in 2008, elegance has returned to the wine. Delfaut – who came over from Chateau Palmer – lowered the temperature for vinifying the wine so that it would better capture and reveal the fruit and freshness of the wine. Just as importantly, he lowered the percentage of new oak for ageing the wine. The final stroke of inspiration was to engage Eric Boissenot – whose around 200 clients include Chateau Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Mouton – as Chateau Kirwan’s consultant. Floral – including violets – and blackcurrant cassis. The sweetness of fruit is lifted by bouncy freshness. Charming.
Domaine de la Solitude 2018
Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier has been responsible for producing and commercialising the wine since 1993. This Pessac-Leognan has ripe blueberry/blackcurrant fruit and smooth tannins.
Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2018
Violets, ripe raspberry and blue fruit with a little spiced aspect. The tannins are ripe and rich. Good freshness on the finish.
Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt 2018
Also owned by the Bonnie family of Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere, this Pessac-Leognan has blueberry/blackcurrant fruit, flesh and freshness.
Les Hauts du Tertre 2018
Violets and blue/purple fruit that is very balanced with the tannins and freshness. Medium-plus-ish bodied. A blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot and 25% cabernet franc.
Chateau Lespault-Martillac 2018
Another Pessac-Leognan property under the wings of Olivier Bernard, the blend is 60% merlot, 27% cabernet sauvignon and 13% petit verdot. Minty, capsicum, cassis fruit fuelled by freshness and ripe, soft tannins.
Chateau Lilian-Ladouys 2018
Floral, blackberry, smoky/toasty fruit with a grip of tannins and freshness on the end. The blend is 64% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot. This St-Estephe Cru Bourgeois is owned by Jacky Lorenzetti.
Pastourelle de Clerc Milon 2018
The second wine of Paullac Fifth Growth Chateau Clerc Milon is elegant and packed with ripe, floral, blueberry fruit delivered by silky tannins.
La Reserve de Malartic 2018
Blackcurrants and cassis of some intensity. Lovely bite of tannins on the end to round up all that fruit. This Pessac-Leognan property has an indoor swimming pool.
La Sirene de Giscours 2018
Cassis fruit and rich, ripe tannins. Both Chateau Giscours and du Tertre are owned by the same Albada Jelgersma family of Holland.
3 1/2 STARS
Clarendelle Bordeaux 2018
This is part of a range of very well-made, balanced – accessible when relatively young – wines “Inspired by Haut-Brion” by the team at Domaine Clarence Dillion. Blackcurrant fruit with a whiff of tobacco. Smooth tannins and freshness.
Clarendelle St-Emilion 2018
Ripe red/blue fruit with back-bone giving tannins that are ripe but also crisp. Delicious freshness. Clarandelle has established itself as a respected brand that has found its way into the Business Class of airlines and top restaurants.
Le Dragon de Quintus 2018
The blend is 75.2% merlot and 24.8% cabernet franc. Violetty, juicy blueberry and dark cherry fruit, suave tannins and freshness. A wonderful introduction to the grand vin Chateau Quintus.
Chateau Fourcas Hosten 2018
The 2014, 2015 and 2016 were tasted before the 2018 (2017 being bottled and not available for tasting). Whereas the earlier three vintages were very balanced, they lacked greater concentration of fruit. When we tasted 2018, the extra intensity and persistence was very obvious. Red/black curranty fruit with balancing rich tannins.
This second wine of Chateau Latour-Martillac is very attractive now and will remain deliciously accessible. A whiff of violets. Blueberry/cassis-ish fruit with ripe tannins that has a grip on the fresh finish. Edouard Kressman – son of Loic Kressman – informed that Latour-Martillac was not too adversely affected by mildew and that the estate achieved yields of just slightly below 40 hectolitres per hectare. Edouard spent seven years in Beijing from September 2011 before returning to Bordeaux in December 2018.
Chateau Marjosse 2018
This is the property of Pierre Lurton, CEO of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Yquem. Situated in the Entre-deux-Mers, Marjosse always over delivers for its humble AOC. Mulberry fruit balanced by ripe, crisp tannins.
Chateau Mauvesin Barton 2018
Violets and blue fruit with crisp tannins and wraparound freshness. Medium-plus-ish bodied and very balanced.
3 TO 3 1/2 STARS
Chateau Recougne 2018
Situated on the Right Bank, Chateau Recougne is one the best Bordeaux Superieur there is. Vintage after vintage and decade after decade which, incidentally is how long the wine can age. Light cassis fruit with ripe tannins and lift on the finish. The blend is 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 4.5% cabernet franc and 0.5% malbec.
Chateau Brane Cantenac 2018
A bit reductive. The acidity is quite tight and the fruit seems a touch leafy. Structure much in front of the wine. Given the quality of the second wine Baron de Brane – 3 1/2 to 4 stars – this should no doubt be better. Very closed and, therefore, hard to give a fair assessment. Needs re-tasting in the future. No rating for the time being.
Monday 20 MAY 2019 • THE DRY WHITES