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?
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.
A model of the new chais currently underway at Chateau Figeac
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-10-17
When tasted from barrel in the spring of 2017, it was very evident that this was a vintage with loads of extract, with one of the highest ever IPT levels ever recorded in Bordeaux. IPT is a measure of the combined phenolic compounds in the juice - principally tannins and colorants responsible for the red, purple and blue hues in grapes. Large bunches of rather small berries meant high skin to juice ratios.
We suspected that the finest wines were those who extractions were gentle - neatly summarised by Frédéric Faye at Chateau Figeac who described their fermentation process as an ‘infusion’ with the gentlest of extractions achieved from the submerged cap.
With the proviso that the 2016s have been in bottle for as little as 3 months, this was an opportunity to re-taste a selection and test our original impressions from 18 months ago.
The more extracted wines with highest IPT levels were evident, and at this stage it has to be said that they were the least harmonious. Where there was a desire to make full use of, or to accentuate, all the elements proffered by nature, the palate tended to be dominated by raw power, the scale undeniable but at the expense of charm for now.
The structure of 2016, hidden under a cloak of velvety fruit and sweet tannins when barrel samples, was much more evident now the wines are in bottle, and this structure allied to tremendously aromatic fruit in the best examples, affirms 2016 as a vintage with some truly great wines in the making.
It’s not just a great cabernet sauvignon vintage either, with some of the right bank merlots absolutely stunning. La Conseillante that had seemed a little sweet and svelte at the property in April 2017 is now brilliantly pitched, with extremely expressive and aromatic fruit held in check by an impressive frame of tannins.
What was slightly surprising however, was the wide variation. Those who are tempted to categorise 2016 as a uniformly great vintage will be disappointed; there is plenty of dull wine. The difference between the vintage's heights and the good average is a chasm.
The Northern Medoc had an especially successful vintage, with Cantermerle showing excellent concentration and focus, and my pick of the appellation at en primeur, Citran, showing all of its former promise and more. Could this be the bargain of the vintage?
Domaine de Chevalier has made an epic red, with great substance and lovely resonance, and on this showing had the better of the high-in-cabernet-franc Carmes Haut-Brion. Though evidently fine fruited, Haut Bailly’s firm tannins are a bit overwhelming for now. Both Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte major on great substance and scale, but show a raw or unknit character at this early stage.
Canon was showing very defined fruit with loads of grip but for now felt very slightly loose on the finish. Figeac has managed to combine stunning definition, texture, harmony and length and on this showing must be a 100 point wine in the making.
Gazin was absolutely charming with an impressively solid core. La Conseillante as already mentioned was a hit.
St Estephe and Pauillac were as good as expected given how fine the Cabernet was from this upper part of the Medoc peninsular, and wines from Cos Labory and Phelan Segur were notably excellent at their price levels.
Clerc Milon had stood out as exceptional in April 2017, and now in bottle shows impressive density, a huge finish and attractive gaminess. D’Armailhac was extremely exciting, packed with red fruit and finely beaded acidity and plenty of accompanying structure. Pichon Longueville Comtesse was one of the stars of the en primeur tasting and once again stood out for its super-refinement: unquestionably a top wine of the vintage.
In St Julien the Bartons stood out. Langoa was svelte, intense, showed gorgeous scale and definition at a very attractive price point. Leoville Barton was another league and heads above the other St Juliens. Huge, but super fresh, light-footed, with a mouthwatering blood orange infused core and a very direct, linear finish. One of the greatest wines of the vintage.
Lagrange was fine, the tannins so ripe and silky that their velvety texture cloak its underlying structure, just as it did when tasted in London a year ago. Talbot was back to it’s very best, likely up there with its beautifully balanced 1982.
The Margaux appellation in the main was not quite as exciting as the magnificent 2015s, a vintage in which the commune excelled. However one stood out for it’s stunning definition and extraordinary elegance. A fitting wine to finish this round-up of 2016s in bottle. Beautifully textured. A wine that simply flows across the palate with effortless grace. It helps that it’s also one of the most under-rated wines in the whole of Bordeaux, sitting as it does on great terroir. The wine in question is Chateau Dufort-Vivens, Second Growth Margaux, fully biodynamic, and an outstanding success in 2016.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2016-07-25
It is fair to say that in the recent improvement of fortunes in Bordeaux prices, most focus is given to the classed growths of the Medoc on the Left Bank, and the top wines of Pomerol and St Emilion on the Right Bank. The recovery over the last 12 months has been significant, as seen below, with the Medoc Classed Growth Index (the turquoise line) rising by over 23% and the Libournais Index (purple line) up over 18%. Great news for all those people who have experienced the huge price correction of 2011 to 2014.
But, when looking at Bordeaux as a whole the focus should perhaps swing further south. See what happens when I add the Graves Classed Growth Index (the purple line in the chart, below) into the mix. Over the same time frame the wines of Graves, headlined by Haut Brion and la Mission Haut-Brion, have leapt up by over 30%, outstripping their neighbouring appelations.
Even when you take into account the Brexit effect, which has seen a weak pound in the past month provide a boost from sterling denominated stock as HK and US buyers pile in, this still represents a huge return to form. The lesson here is to realise that the 1855 classification (which ignores Graves, with the notable exception of Haut-Brion) and finest wines north of the Garonne are not the be all and end all. Look south, towards Graves, and you will find a raft of excellent wines that have improved dramatically in the last few years in many instances (think Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut-Bailly, Pape Clement), and which represent both great quality and great value. It is perhaps important that the gravelly, smoky, pencil lead and pencil shaving notes which characterise the best wines of Graves have few, if any, imitations around the world. Bordeaux blends from other continents tend to mimic the Medoc or the Libourne, and so the terroir-specific nature of Graves wines perhaps gives them a uniqueness that collectors ascribe value to in the same way as they do in Burgundy.
Sometimes it pays to take the path less travelled….
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2014-03-25
With a level of 221 at the end of February 2013 (baseline January 31st 2007), the Libournais Index shows a relatively flat performance, with a change of only 1.8% over a 1-year period to 228.31.
While the top movers of the Medoc Classed Growth Index were relatively affordable vintages, the Libournais Index top gainers feature higher value wines, as do the biggest fallers, perhaps indicating a rather higher level of market interest than on the left bank.
Individual high-scoring wines, however, buck the trend, with the 100 pointers La Violette 2010 and Petrus 2009 showing that a perfect Parker score can still be a market driver and suggesting that scarcity may increasingly be a market driver within the Bordeaux market, either due to tiny production or due to age.
It's arguably even more interesting to see the price of Vieux Chateau Certan 2010 fall quite significantly since the turn of the year (possibly as stockholders finally throw their hands up and start to write-down the value of their holdings?). Will Vieux Chateau Certan 2010 fall further carried by the momentum of price gravity? At some point this could be extremely tempting, for an utterly sublime wine that was considered by many (including us) to be perfect.
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