Below are our general comments on this 2018 vintage in Bordeaux, the third great vintage (with 2015 and 2016) in 4 years, the fifth (with 2009 and 2010) in 10 years, attesting that global warming is well underway and that winegrowers, with an increasingly hot and dry climate, are enjoying good times (for the moment).
After a winter (December-February) that was much wetter than the norm (+26%), March was particularly wet: 113 mm for an average of 65 mm in the thirties. The soils were soaked, favouring the departure of the vine but also and especially mildew.
In the memory of a winegrower in Gironde, there had never been such a strong and long (until July) pressure from this fungus, which first attacks the leaves and then the bunches. Organic vineyards have been heavily impacted, especially those less experienced in conversion, but also those in conventional cultivation. It only took one or two days of delay in a treatment for the damage to be significant.
Second event, violent hail storms very localized but devastating for the properties concerned:
- on 26 May in the southern Médoc (Cantemerle, La Lagune...) and the Côtes de Bourg/Blaye,
- on July 15th on Sauternes (Fargues, Guiraud, Rieussec...) and again in the southern Médoc.
Finally, the third event, the most important because it shaped the profile of the 2018 vintage, is the mid-July weather changeover. From July 17, summer settled in and never left the Gironde until the end of October, 15 continuous weeks of warm (+2.8°C compared to the norm, 26 days at over 30°C) and incredibly dry weather. In 3 months it fell barely a quarter of the usual rainfall (58 mm instead of 210 mm).
With a month of September practically without water (3.2 mm instead of 80.0 mm), the weather was cloudless, allowing everyone, in dry white and red, to harvest at their ease and according to their choices.
• quality: after such a radiant summer, the health of the white grapes was necessarily perfect, but it was to be feared that the white wines lacked nervousness and aromatic complexity.
Fortunately, this was not the case thanks to the nights of August, which, by remaining fresh, preserved the acidity of the grapes and the aromatic precursor molecules. In addition, the producers harvested without delay, between the end of August (24 August in Smith-Haut-Lafitte, 27 August in Haut-Brion...) and the first week of September.
The good 2018 white wines are above all pure, expressive and immediately seductive, with a freshness and a balance of acidity and richness that we did not expect given the summer weather. This ease of approach will quickly make them suitable for tasting shortly after bottling.
• quantity: mildew (for all) and hail (for the unlucky) having taken their quotas, it is a small harvest in 2018 for whites, almost half as much as in 2016.
• prices: prices are constant compared to those of 2017, between a 6% drop in Malartic-Lagravière and a 5% increase in Doisy-Daëne sec.
• quality: the absolute drought in September concentrated the grapes by passerillage but it was not until October that the castles saw the first signs of botrytis. And then spend a lot of labour to collect the grains in several selections as botrytisation progresses, sometimes until early November.
The sweet wines bear the mark of the vintage: great liquor, ripe and intense aromas, more apricot/mango than acacia/pineapple. Rich, qualitative sweet wines, in a style reminiscent of those of the last century, with balances based on richness and unctuousness. They will be refined and will benefit from being expected in the cellar.
• quantity: no wine in the Haut Sauternes region washed away by the hail in mid-July. For the other vintages, the damage caused by mildew and the severity of the selections during selection explain a minimal 2018 harvest, most often less than 10 hl/ha (the ceiling of the appellation is 25 hl/ha).
• prices: despite significantly higher production costs in 2018, last year's prices were renewed by all producers, except Doisy-Daëne (down 10%) and Suduiraut (down 16%). Once again, Sauternes is reserved for sponsors.
• quality: 2018 is undoubtedly one of the greatest recent Bordeaux vintages. We place it behind 2016 (the reference), at the same level as 2015 and 2009. With the nuance that success was not universal in 2018, each appellation having its share of sumptuous wines and other unbalanced wines. The reasons for this quality but also for this heterogeneity are twofold:
- the natural factor. The summer drought induced favourable or excessive water stress depending on the nature of the soils and their ability to retain water. Thus, the presence of clay and/or limestone allowed the subsoil to store spring water and regularly feed the vines during the summer. Conversely, sandy or fine gravel draining soils have accentuated the effects of drought and caused maturity blockages by dehydration of the plants or even desiccation of the grapes.
The nature of the basements therefore indicates the areas favoured in 2018. On the left bank, the north of the Médoc from Saint-Julien, with Saint-Estèphe as its epicentre and its limestone base. On the right bank, the hillside and the limestone plateau of Saint-Émilion, the clayey area of Pomerol overflowing on the gravel plateau of Figeac and all the beautiful clay-limestone soils of Fronsac and Côtes de Castillon.
That is to say, exactly the same terroirs as those that shone during the 2003 heat wave.
- the human factor. The know-how of the technical teams has played a key role in creating major differences between neighbouring vintages, on the same terroirs and with the same plant material.
In 2018, it was necessary to know how to harvest just ripe grapes on time without looking for over-maturity or over-concentration. However, it was all the more tempting to wait until mid-October when the weather was durably ideal.
Then, after having brought in grapes with thick skins and naturally concentrated juices (especially Cabernets), it was necessary to vinify with gentleness and tact must extremely rich in anthocyanins, sugars and tannins, proceed by infusion more than by extraction. Fortunately, the lessons of previous dry vintages (2003, 1995...) have been learned in many estates and the trend is no longer towards excessively dense wines.
When they are successful, the 2018s are very colourful, powerful in terms of aromas and taste, full-bodied, compact, built on firm and dense tannic structures, with alcoholic richness 1° higher than usual. In short, the 2018s are presented as a blend of 2009 (for maturity) and 2005 (for the tannic structure), where we find the straightness of Bordeaux tinged with an exuberance all Californian. More serious than usual wines, which will have to be waited patiently in the cellar, few will be the great wines that will enter their peak period before a good ten years of ageing.
The quality of Bordeaux reds therefore depends greatly on the resources and stylistic philosophy of each château where, clearly, fruit, sweet tannins, finesse and elegance were the cards to be played in 2018. Regardless of the wines used to success for their ability to make the most of their terroir intelligently and each vintage, here are our recommendations, confirmations or revelations of the vintage by appellation (assuming reasonable prices for those who are not yet known):
- the success in a warm year of the Haut-Brion vineyards (+La Mission, Clarence, Chapelle...), which are nevertheless part of the Bordeaux urban area, can only be explained by the quality of the terroir. 2018 is no exception to the rule.
- The Pessac-Léognan appellation remains a nursery with excellent quality/price ratios on the left bank, for example the very attractive Malartic-Lagravière or the very fine Domaine de Chevalier.
- even if Professor Dubourdieu passed away 3 years ago, Clos Floridène, directed by his two sons, continues to shine with a full, silky and refined 2018.
- in this region of fine, draining gravel, we were not surprised to find the most meticulous and attentive winegrowers at the top, such as Mille Roses, Belle-Vue, Deyrem-Valentin or Fonréaud.
- 2018 was made for the 100% Petit Verdot Belle-Vue cuvée, a small-fruited variety with late ripening, fruity, spicy and oh so tasty (Syrah du Médoc).
- as in 2009, several of Margaux's great wines fared magnificently in 2018 with more coated and enchanting wines than usual: Brane-Cantenac, Durfort-Vivens, Malescot St-Exupéry, Cantenac-Brown, Issan, Giscours, La Gurgue...
- the star of Moulis in 2018 is Poujeaux, hands down.
- the combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, a (slightly) warmer climate and higher air humidity thanks to the proximity of the ocean and the Gironde estuary has favoured the northern Médoc, starting with the three communal appellations, Saint-Julien/Pauillac/Saint-Estèphe where quality means homogeneity.
- the grouped shooting of the classified growths of Saint-Julien is impressive: all magnificent, none lagging behind. If the price has to decide between them, Lagrange and Langoa-Barton have every chance of winning.
- the extra smoothness of the 2018 vintage goes like a glove to naturally structured or slender wines, such as Duhart-Milon, Grand-Puy Lacoste, Branaire-Ducru, Gruaud-Larose and Léoville-Barton.
- among the first classified vintages, Lafite is dazzling. Mr. Bettane does not hesitate to bring it closer to Lafite 1959, a legendary wine of the 20th century like Mouton 1945 and Latour 1961.
- after the 1st classified growths of the Médoc, Cos d'Estournel (best Saint-Estèphe), Pichon-Baron (for its breed) and Pichon-Lalande (for its charm), Léoville-Las Cases (best Saint-Julien) compete for the second place.
- excluding communal appellations, many excellent bourgeois wines from the northern Médoc were celebrated in 2018, such as Charmail, Sociando-Mallet, Ormes de Pez, Clos Manou, Potensac, Gloria, du Retout, among many others...
Libourne area / Côtes
- there are superb clayey, pure limestone or clay-limestone terroirs on the right bank which, in the hands of talented winegrowers, produced remarkable wines in 2018 that have nothing to envy the best of Saint-Émilion or Pomerol.
- on Fronsac (Haut-Carles, Dalem, Les Trois Croix, La Vieille Cure...), Lalande de Pomerol (Fleur de Boüard, Les Cruzelles,...), Côtes de Francs (Puyguéraud...), Côtes de Castillon (Clos Louie, Domaine de l'A, Alcée, Montlandrie, Peyrou....) or in the Saint-Émilion satellites (La Mauriane, Clos de Boüard...), so many vintages that have exploited the 2018 vintage to the full, without blocking maturity thanks to the water reserves in their subsoils.
- in these vintages, it is no coincidence that these successes are the work of great Bordeaux signatures: Thienpont, Derenoncourt, Durantou, de Boüard, Papon-Nouvel, Thunevin, etc. Unlike in 2016, Mother Nature did not do everything in 2018, you had to be talented and well advised to make exceptional musts.
- no miracle in Pomerol, the best 2018s will be the most expensive. They come from the great clayey terroirs at the heart of the appellation, owned by the greatest vintages, from Petrus to Feytit-Clinet (east-west) or from La Violette to Petit-Village (north-south). As in 1947, another great hot and dry vintage.
- this appellation of a thousand châteaux is particularly diverse in 2018, depending on the exposure, the type of soil, the grape varieties, the age of the vines, the technical expertise and the qualitative ambition of each individual.
- among the freshest and most elegant: Figeac, Quintus, Canon-La Gaffelière, La Gaffelière, Clos Saint-Julien, Clos de l'Oratoire, Petit Gravet Aîné, Fonroque, Grand Pontet,
- among the richest and most velvety: White Horse, Angelus, Troplong-Mondot, Larcis-Ducasse, Dominica, Bellefont-Belcier, Barde Haut, Fombrauge, Côte de Baleau,
- among the most extensive and firm: Ausone, La Mondotte, Valandraud, Beauséjour-Duffau, Clos Fourtet, Rocheyron, Pavie-Macquin, Moulin Saint-Georges, Poesia.
• quantity: in Bordeaux, a great vintage is most often abundant. This was the case in 2016, 2015, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000, etc. However, 2018 escapes the rule with the lowest harvest in the decade, except for 2013 and 2017. Two factors explain the decrease in volumes offered this year:
- the natural factor. The three climatic events described above each contributed to reducing the quantities: the virulence of mildew, which affected all grape varieties and appellations, hail storms, which devastated several properties, and the drought in September, which finished concentrating the grapes.
These causes put end to end, many vintages (Guiraud, Rieussec, La Lagune, Clos Puy Arnaud...) give up the sale of their 2018 futures after having noticed the narrowness of their production while others (Palmer, Durfort-Vivens, Chasse-Spleen, Angélus...) have experienced a half harvest (yields below 20hl/ha).
- the human factor. Year after year, the great vintages tend to offer less and less wine as futures, either to prevent any risk of future productive accidents (frost in 2017, mildew in 2018...), or to replenish stocks damaged by international demand in recent years, or to later supply new markets that do not buy futures.
If this trend (initiated by Château Latour, which stopped its sales in Future in 2012) is to continue, we can fear that the system of sales in primeur, which is the specificity and strength of Bordeaux, will eventually disappear.
• prices: for once, it is not usual, it is easy to guess this year the price at which the vintages must display their 2018, between the price (floor) of 2017 and the price (ceiling) of 2016.
The 2015 price in Future 3 years ago is a good compromise for us, a signal given at the beginning of the campaign by Angelus. Those who wish to derogate from it must have serious qualitative arguments.