Bordeaux 2018 vintage – the character of the vintage

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2019-04-08


Given the climatic conditions of the Bordeaux 2018 vintage described in an earlier post here – what impact did this have on the wines produced?

Chateau Beychevelle - Wine Owners
The new chai in Beychevelle which was used for the first time in 2016 and which helped to manage the 2018 vintage.
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners

The generic statistics fail to reveal the arduous nature of the vintage for the vine growers and whilst the widespread difficulties left their imprint on the wines the essentially dry and hot summer which lasted through to the autumn brought a phenolic ripeness to the fruit and permitted the chateaux to harvest in conditions almost unseen for decades.

The three main issues in the Bordeaux 2018 vintage:

  • Devastating phenomena such as hail which continued late into the year

  • Mildew – a threat which persisted until early summer

  • Drought-like conditions in the summer and autumn

Hail, as large as tennis balls, arrived in Bordeaux in May. The devastation it wrought on some vineyards was total and some estates will produce no wine from this vintage. Others were luckier although it reduced their crop. Some vines, incredibly, although struck by hail, managed to repair themselves. For one estate this was only the third time in 30 years hail had struck the vineyards – not an easy phenomenon to manage.

Given the persistent rain the mildew was extensive in Bordeaux in 2018. The warm almost tropical weather in June followed by further outbreaks in July brought huge casualties across Bordeaux. This was a year of firsts. Managers had rarely if ever seen such extensive ground rot and one estate in Margaux lost two-thirds of their crop overnight. This reduced the remaining crop to one bunch per vine. A common way for estates to deal with the threat of mildew is to de-leaf the vine permitting air to circulate and dry out the plant. However, the canopy might be needed later (as it turned out) and if this effeuillage was too drastic the consequences would be felt later on. Maintaining a canopy might also help to maintain the freshness and fruit. As it turned out, the second half of the year needed to use the resources (water) of the first part. Without this water it would have been a very different vintage.

Once the anti-cyclone established itself over the region the grapes matured with a richness unseen before. This in itself meant additional care at harvest time. One estate manager commented that the change in conditions from the end of July to when people returned from their holidays in August was ‘spectacular’. Something he ‘had never witnessed in the 25 years or working on the estate’. Not only that but the meteorological forecast was ‘extraordinary’ – and was fulfilled.

Given the replenishment of the water table the remaining harvestable crop was of outstanding quality. Merlot berries were normal size because their growth cycle coincided more with the presence of water in the soil but the Cabernet Sauvignon were small and concentrated – but not ‘cooked’ nor ‘confit’.

Some estates might produce normal or near-normal yields but 20-30% less was common, 50% not uncommon, with some reduced to 10hl/ha - a volume not seen since the 60s.

Judging maturity is probably the most important factor to produce a good wine. Undoubtedly, given the richness of the grapes this was going to be another area of distinction for the various estates – when to harvest? Ironically, some estates decided to harvest early to preserve acidity (one source of freshness). But it’s not clear this was a functional objective. As one technical manager told us, ‘some estates near them were harvesting 10 days earlier than them, when normally they would be harvesting a week later. Clearly, a disparity in vision. When the harvest did come in, there were still summer conditions and, if they could, estates cooled the fruit down before it was processed. Realising the grapes were rich, extraction would need to be managed ‘almost by itself’. Reducing the temperature of fermentation was a more common technique along with less pigeage or remontage, for example, and other techniques often employed to extract more. This helped to preserve the fruit and freshness. Tannins dissolve more in higher alcohol solutions - extracting the polyphenols wasn’t going to be a problem in 2018. Some estates had the highest IPT (Indice de Polyphénols Totaux) of any year on record.

The successful red wines from the Bordeaux 2018 vintage (and there are a lot less of those than expected) are dense, deep coloured almost opaque in cases. The benchmark 2018 nose is red fruit driven with some chocolate and coffee aromas. The pallet is full and round, and the tannins have the potential to be silky. Surprisingly, the wines have maintained a degree of freshness. The wines are structured with unusual body. It is a good year for the dry whites which have preserved good acidity and are perfectly ripe. The sweet whites are concentrated and rich but lack the complexity of really good years due to the late arrival of botrytis – it was simply too dry.

Chateau Figeac - Wine Owners
A model of the new chais currently underway at Chateau Figeac
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners


En Primeur - DAY THREE: Saint-Julien Delivers

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-12


A late return tonight (past midnight) and a long day, waking at 05:00. But there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak. Over the course of the day we gathered thoughts in advance for the below.


Saint-Julien Delivers

JR has been looking for patterns all week - some form of shape around which to build recommendations for wise en primeur purchases. Until this afternoon we failed to find anything solid, but then...Saint-Julien delivered. At the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Saint-Julien tasting hosted by Chateau Beychevelle at its modern-looking new winery, we noticed a clear consistency in the wines; there wasn't a dud among them. Well, maybe there was one, but we don't need to talk about that as it wasn't really that bad. Either way, this was the first appellation we'd seen where quality was reliably high in these en primeur tastings. Everywhere else had required dedicated tasting to work out what was hot and what was not. So thank you Saint-Julien, and bravo!


Bright Whites

Of course, as soon as this pattern had been spotted, we remembered another that we wanted to talk about yesterday(but ran out of time). It's the incredible purity to the whites this year, all around Bordeaux - not just in Graves where we were today (starting with Haut-Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte) but everywhere. Lovely balanced wines great concentration and acidity, and pithy, chalky tannins. Our tasting notes are full of descriptors like kaffir lime leaves, sweet sage, gooseberry, sherbet and candied lemon. Even lemon verbena made it in there. 2017 looks like a really great year for Bordeaux whites.


©Nick Martin / Wine Owners

The Cold Shoulder

Frost - the running theme of conversations all around Bordeaux this week - was as much as issue in Graves as it was in the right bank. The frost pattern here in the Graves seems to have been much more black and white than over in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. For some producers, there is a glittering silver lining to this rather painful situation, in that they adapted to it by significantly changing their blend and have come out smiling. Larrivet Haut-Brion is a gleaming example of this; the team there turned their blend around to use three times the usual amount of Cabernet Franc, and one third the amount of Merlot (which got severely hit by the frost). Les Carmes de Haut Brion is a similar story, and a similar success.

We have been focusing a lot on the frost topic (both here in the blog, and in our conversations with producers), but in fact a key point we'd like to make is that the frost is not something that consumers and investors should really focus on. What really matters, ultimately, is what each of the producers has managed to create. There are no strong patterns that consumers can reliably follow with regard to the frost.


Softly Softly Catchy Monkey

After a morning on the right bank, we returned to the Medoc, to the UGC tasting at Lafon Rochet. There, Basil Tesseron told us that 2017 was a vintage where it was extremely important not to over-extract, not being a super-ripe or sunny vintage. Over-extraction would just lead to mean, green bitter compounds leaching into the wine. This echoed a sentiment raised earlier in the day at Smith Haut-Lafitte, where the team did 4 pigeages per day, but no pumperovers, in order to keep the winemaking relatively gentle. 2017 was a year to be patient for picking and gentle in the winery.

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

Less (Wine) Does Not Necessarily Mean More (Money)

Despite indications given by some chateaux that smaller harvests will mean higher release prices, we see no justification for this. Traditionally, in vintages which are not 'stellar' -particularly those which followed relatively good vintages (as 2016 was) vintages, prices have tended to drop or remain roughly stable. Even in 2006 prices didn't significantly rise; they stayed roughly the same as 2005 even though the vintage clearly wasn't quite as impressive.

Tomorrow is a final look at the top producers we've not yet visited, all around the region. Lots of driving, between Le Pin, Angelus, La Conseillante, Eglise-Clinet and then back over the river to Latour, Leoville Barton and Palmer. Here's hoping for good driving conditions!



2011 Bordeaux – speed tasting at the UGC Vinexpo Asia.

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2014-06-06


The most noticeable aspect to many of the 2011s is the hole in the middle. Sappy, fresh flavours upon entry, bland characteristics and dry finishes with a tendency to fade away. Red Graves seems to have had a particularly poor time of it, whilst many St Emilion wines suffer from especially dry finishes. Margaux hit the heights for the vintage, as well as some of the depths.

 The wine that proved to be my fine wine initiation was Prieuré Lichine 1986, a young wine in 1989 bought for £6.80 from Laytons. I was happy that their 2011 was so pretty, floral and aromatic: near-term drinking in a well constructed package that’s the epitome of what the vintage can offer. There was no shortage of elegant examples from the Margaux appellation including Rauzan-Ségla and Siran.

 St Julien flew the standard for homogeneity as it so often does. Léoville Poyferré was exceptional, St. Pierre svelte, integrated and very smart. Gloria, Lagrange, and the Bartons showing some complexity and all very pleasant. Beychevelle was forward, cheeky and easy-going.

Pauillac excelled in the vintage; the Pichons both lovely, with a delicious Lynch-Bages occupying the next rung down.

Finally, a special mention for La Conseillante, which stood out from the blandness and dry finishes of so may of the Libournais. A superb wine. Still too expensive at £680, so worth waiting for the secondary market to wreak its inevitable damage on a vintage, like 2012 and 2013, that nobody really wants or needs.

La conseillante


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