Bordeaux En-Primeur 2018 Thoughts
As per normal at this time of year, Bordeaux has opened its doors to the wine critics and buyers of the world to taste the new 2018 Vintage. At Points on Wine, even though the thought of heading to France, and trying these new wines sounds wonderful, we had to resist. The wines have only spent a few months in barrel, and to be able to properly asses the quality, we like to wait for the 'In-bottle' tasting which will occur in around 18 months. This is the time where the true potential of these wines can be properly assessed. For the 2018 Bordeaux vintage, this is especially important, since these young wines will significantly change over the next 18 months.
As is normal in Bordeaux, owners and winemakers are singing from the rooftops and declaring this vintage one of the top Bordeaux vintages in history. They are comparing it to 1959, 1982,1989, 2009,2010,2015 and 2016. It is still too early to indicate how good this vintage is, yet one thing is for sure, 2018 did not start off the way it should have. Let us look at how the weather impacted this vintage of two halves.
Weather is key for any vintage, 2018 started with rain, and a lot of it. The winter was wet, the spring wet and then came July, when everything changed. Bordeaux suddenly became dry and sunny, however, this was a two-edged sword. With this sudden improvement in weather + dampness from the spring + low humidity = Mildew, a Chateaux worst nightmare. Mildew quickly attacks the vines, and unless properly treated can seriously affect the harvest. Luckily for those not practicing organic or biodynamic farming, this can be easily treated by spraying Bordeaux Mixture, a chemical which includes copper Sulfate. Copper Sulfate is technically organic, yet European leaders have been trying to eliminate this treatment in recent years. Copper Sulphate is know to harm living creatures, as well as the soil to which it is sprayed upon. Those who are sustainable or biodynamic, attempt to cover their vines using a high canopy, yet this usually has little to no effect. Hence, certain Chateaux headed into the summer knowing their vintage would be seriously reduced. Once the Mildew was out of the way, the rest of the summer was very dry, along with warm days and cool nights. This was a match made in heaven, to help the little grapes grow and reach maturity. Along came September, and still very little rain, this allowed for the Chateaux to pick the Bordeaux 2018 vintage at the perfect time. However, caution had to be exerted, with a hot dry summer, picking too late could lead to wines with high alcohol and overripe tendencies.
Yields, in general, were slightly down. This was due to both the mildew, hail, as well as the hot summer, just in September alone, some vineyards reported around 10% loss in crop. The berries also lost significant mass, resulting in berries with thick skin, which resulted in higher than normal tannins.
2018 Vintage, best ever?
On the offset probably not, the season was far from perfect. Yields were acceptable, concentrations good, yet Ph's were high, along with lots of tannins and reasonably higher alcohol versus the 2016 vintage. This makes it even harder to evaluate this vintage at this early stage. Which is why Points on Wine did not make the trip out to Bordeaux. However, the reports coming from Bordeaux tend to suggest, that those who carefully managed the harvest, as well as the vinification, will have stunning wines. Potentially better than 2009,2010,2015 and 2016. It does seem though, the wines are not consistently good across the board, neither for the Left or Right bank. Unlike 2015, where the right bank and Margaux produced consistently good wines, or the 2016 vintage, where the left bank produced stunning wines, 2018 was not as clear cut. In terms of weather conditions, this was similar to 2003, with a dry and hot summer along with rain in the winter and spring.
This is where Bordeaux cannot make any mistakes. Bordeaux fans around the world have cellars full of 2014, 2015 and 2016. 2014 and 2015 were well priced, 2016 was more expensive and hence sold less, and 2017 was an average year and hence did not sell particularly well. The pricing of 2018 should be done knowing that buyers were less interested in the 2016s and 2017s. Another points is that Burgundy, is currently becoming very popular and it's marketshare over Bordeaux is increasing. Other concerns include Brexit and a potential economic slowdown, Chateaux needs to factor these elements in when pricing this vintage . Angelus 2018 has already been released, and has priced their wines at similar levels to 2015. This is encouraging news, I hope other Chateaux will follow suit.
2018 was a vintage of two halves, and Chateaux either dealt well or badly with the climate that was thrown at them. In general, you will find certain Chateaux producing phenomenal wines which will out perform those of 2010, 2015 and 2016. Other Chateaux will pick grapes too late, producing high alcohol, tannic and jammy wines. Points on Wine will be tasting these wines in 18 months when the tannins would have settled down and the fruit and oak better integrated. The good news is that the difference in price between En Primeur and the final release prices tends to be very similar. In most cases the prices stay identical, hence there is no rush into buying today.
To be continued in 18 months.......