Opinion

Bordeaux’s topsy-turvy class of 2018

Every year, a group of about 20 wine writers and Bordeaux-specialist merchants meet in the Wandsworth offices of fine wine traders Farr Vintners to taste blind about 250 bordeaux well after they are safely in bottle, including all the most revered names.

Châteaux donate samples, which are then gathered by retired Bordeaux-based wine merchant Bill Blatch. Farr staff marshal and open the wines, decanting them into neutral bottles (usually, most disconcertingly, burgundy shaped). None of us tasters knows which wine is which, although we do know which wines are in each flight.

Then there is the business of gathering our scores and entering them into a database while we discuss the wines in each flight still without knowing their identities. Only after we have swapped opinions, and Blatch has made notes on our conclusions to share with the winemakers and château owners, is it revealed which wine was which, resulting in a combination of groans and knowing grunts.

We all score out of 20 and I stick to the doubtless very annoyingly restricted scale I use on my website whereby a wine must be faulty to earn fewer than 15 points and absolutely amazing to win more than 18. (Many a half-point is awarded.) Yet some of the merchants, who don’t have to publish their notes and scores, are notoriously stingy — or, perhaps, use a more usefully extensive scale — and quite frequently award single digits.

The most recent vintage we assessed, last month, was 2018, and I think it would be fair to say that the range of scores was one of the widest ever for one of these tastings. This is very far from a uniformly poor vintage from Bordeaux, but there are some low as well as high points.

The whites, both dry and sweet, are less successful than the reds in general but there were exceptions. It wasn’t surprising that the whites of the Haut-Brion stable performed well, nor that Domaine de Chevalier Blanc did. More unexpectedly, the other notable dry whites were the two newcomers on the white bordeaux scene, which are modelled on Sancerre rather than Pessac-Léognan, the classical heartland of dry white bordeaux: Petit Cheval from Ch Cheval Blanc and Champs Libres from the Guinaudeaus of Ch Lafleur.

Unlike the glorious 2019, the 2018 vintage of Sauternes was blighted by a lack of noble rot. The warm, dry autumn may have helped those harvesting red wine grapes enormously, but noble rot thrives on humidity and it didn’t arrive until very late in October. So late, in fact, that some usually reliable Sauternes properties such as Chx Rieussec and Suduiraut delayed their harvest to such an extent that they ran into winter weather. Many of the sweet white 2018 bordeaux from less ambitious properties taste decidedly simple.

As for the 2018 reds, it’s difficult to generalise but there are some truly thrilling wines here, wines that will be worth waiting for. Although official analyses from Bordeaux’s academic oenologists suggest that tannin levels were fairly average — a little lower than in the glorious 2016 vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and a little higher for Merlot — the wines tasted pretty tannic.

This presumably reflects the thick grape skins resulting from a dry summer when some vines, especially those planted in well-drained soils, suffered stress before some late August showers, although water reserves had been topped up by a rainy winter and spring. Cooler, damper soils with a high clay content, as in St-Estèphe and parts of Pomerol, should have benefited.

The only quirky analytical characteristic to emerge from the analysts’ many charts is that acid levels in the 2018s were a little lower than average. Perhaps that made us notice the tannins a bit more (even though they are lower in general than in 2019, for instance)? Or perhaps it was because in the less successful reds — and 2018 is not the most consistent vintage — the most common fault was a lack of fruit to stand up to some distinctly drying, punishing tannins. This was most noticeable in Pessac-Léognan, while St-Estèphe estates seemed to cope especially well with the growing conditions of 2018 (which included rampant mildew and hail in spring, not a reassuring start).

Because September and early October were warmer and drier than usual there was no rush to pick and clearly many producers decided to strive for extra ripeness (hence the lower acidity). This meant that overall alcohol levels from these very ripe grapes were notably high.

Assuming the percentages given on the labels were accurate, of the 205 red wines we tasted, only 19 were less than 14 per cent and 19 were at least 15 per cent, of which four — Magrez Fombrauge, Péby Faugères, Quintus and Valandraud, all St-Émilions — had 15.5 per cent on the label. The most common alcoholic strength was 14.5 per cent. (White wines, whether dry or sweet, tended to be less potent, although Valandraud Blanc was 15 per cent.)

It was good to see some excellent “second” wines (less expensive reds from glamorous châteaux) such as those from the St-Estèphe superstars Ch Montrose and Cos d’Estournel. Ch Pichon Baron of Pauillac, usually a strong performer in these tastings, effectively makes two second wines: the Merlot-heavy Tourelles de Longueville and the longer-lasting Griffons de Pichon Baron. Both were popular with the group, though I preferred Griffons in 2018.

The most contentious wines we tasted were the pair made by the Mitjavile family, Tertre Roteboeuf in St-Émilion and Roc de Cambes in a favoured enclave in the relatively minor Côtes de Bourg district. These are super-ripe and unashamedly sensual, the liquid equivalent of a full-blown rose on the cusp of losing its petals. Obtrusive tannins? Forget it! Both wines really stood out from the rest and garnered many a low score, but I loved them. And I know from experience of past vintages that they are well capable of ageing.

The wines were released at higher prices than the Covid‑discounted 2019s so there may be fewer bargains. In my list of recommendations, I have asterisked the wines that impressed me for their relative value.

My favourite 2018 bordeaux

I scored all these wines at least 17 out of 20. The more reasonably priced are asterisked.

Dry white

  • Bouscaut*

  • Champs Libres

  • Domaine de Chevalier

  • Petit Cheval

Sweet white

  • Yquem

  • Rayne Vigneau*

  • La Tour Blanche*

St-Émilion

  • Angélus

  • Ausone

  • Belair Monange

  • Canon

  • Cheval Blanc

  • Figeac

  • Larcis Ducasse

  • Pavie

  • Pavie Macquin

  • Quintus

  • Tertre Roteboeuf

  • La Tour Figeac*

  • Troplong Mondot

Pomerol

  • Bon Pasteur

  • Église Clinet

  • Lafleur and Pensées de Lafleur

  • Le Gay

  • Gazin

  • Petrus

  • Le Pin

  • Roc de Cambes* (Côtes de Bourg)

  • Trotanoy

  • Vieux Château Certan

Pessac-Léognan

  • Bouscaut*

  • Domaine de Chevalier

  • Haut-Bailly

  • Haut-Brion

  • La Mission Haut-Brion

Margaux

  • Cantenac Brown*

  • Issan

  • Malescot St-Exupéry*

  • Ch Margaux

  • Marquis d’Alesme*

  • Prieuré Lichine*

  • Rauzan Ségla

St-Julien

  • Ducru Beaucaillou

  • Léoville Barton

  • Léoville Las Cases

  • Léoville Poyferré

  • St-Pierre*

  • Talbot

Pauillac

  • Lafite

  • Latour and Forts de Latour

  • Haut Batailley Lynch Bages

  • Mouton Rothschild and Petit Mouton

  • Pédesclaux*

  • Pichon Baron and Griffons de Pichon Baron*

  • Pichon Lalande

St-Estèphe and Médoc

  • Calon Ségur

  • Cos d’Estournel and Pagodes de Cos*

  • Lafon Rochet*

  • Montrose and Dame de Montrose*

  • Ormes de Pez*

  • Sociando Mallet* (Haut-Médoc)

  • Tronquoy Lalande*

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com. More stockists from Wine-searcher.com

Follow Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson

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hello, I am Flora Khan and i work journalist in allnewshouse website i work in other sites like forbes and washington post with 5 years in experience.

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