'A Vintage Of Choice'

2018 was 'hell and paradise' according to Gabriel Vialard, technical director at Haut-Bailly. The first half of the year was certainly cursed with mildew and hail. It required miracle work in the vineyard just to keep the fruit from rotting. Then the sun came out and the vines basked in a glorious summer and serene harvest. Growers could pick as soon as the fruit reached phenolic ripeness and, though sugar and tannin levels were very high, cool nights had helped preserve acidity. Surely this was going to be another heavenly vintage?

Well, in many cases it is. There are some powerful but well-balanced wines on both sides of the river that many will compare to the greats of 2009, 2010 and 2016. A word of warning though - we generally found the 2018s to be more richly fruited, more densely structured, and higher in alcohol than either 2010 or 2016. The signature balance of those two hallowed vintages is not quite as prevalent in 2018. Quality is also far from universal. In 2010 and 2016 you could buy with impunity but in 2018 you must be much more selective. That's because, as Augustin Lacaille at d’Issan put it, ‘freshness was the challenge of the vintage’ and in some wines it is noticeably lacking.

“…all levels of alcohol are high, some on the right bank too high. The left bank offers high levels of tannins but balance of fruit, acidity and alcohol make up for those. It is more of a left bank vintage, although I am sure that top right bank wines will deliver.” Bordeaux Négociant

For some of the Right Bank and the inland extremities of Pessac & Graves, achieving any sort of freshness was a real challenge. Unless you were sitting in a cooler spot with water-retaining clay soil or could add a refreshing dollop of Cabernet Franc to the blend, the summer heat was often just too much. Potential alcohol in some Merlot was up above 16% and one of Pomerol’s most lauded winemakers even described his own as ‘brutal’. It required a magician's touch to keep wines in balance, so it's perhaps no surprise that our Recommended Right Bank list contains familiar names like Durantou, Vauthier, Thienpont, Mitjavile and Bordeaux's en vogue wine consultant, Thomas Duclos. These are all clarets of the highest calibre packed with juicy dark fruit, very fine tannin, and beautifully integrated alcohol.

The natural characteristics of the vintage generally favoured the Left Bank and many winemakers we spoke to here were triumphant. A few genuinely believe 2018 is the best wine they have ever made and we expect the hype to yield plenty of '100 point' scores. While that seems a stretch to us, there are certainly some outstanding wines to be found. Once again, choices in the winery were paramount and it's no surprise that estates naturally erring toward elegance rather than power tended to produce the best results. Have a look at our Recommended Left Bank list for our pick of the bunch.

Time will tell whether the release prices will be as palatable as the wines. We will give an honest assessment of both the quality and value of each release. You can follow all our thoughts in the L&S Release Reports archive. One thing is for certain, the best bargains from the campaign are likely to be found among the 'drinking' wines in our Cellar Fillers list.

We hope you enjoy the campaign.

Best wishes,
The Lea & Sandeman Team

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