2018 Bordeaux En Primeur: Left Bank Roundup

by Edward Richardson

On Wednesday we published our immediate thoughts on the wines of the Right Bank (see 2018 Bordeaux En Primeur: Right Bank Roundup). Here are our first impressions from the other side of the river and a list of wines we felt were outstanding within their quality level or commune.

Key Impressions:

While our previous blog illustrated that plenty of Right Bank wines have great potential, it鈥檚 clear the natural characteristics of the vintage have favoured the Left. It鈥檚 a generalisation of course but we tended to find fresher fruit, finer tannins and less obvious alcohol on this side of the river. You have to be selective but there are some outstanding wines, particularly in among the famous villages of the Haut M茅doc.

The heat was still as issue though. Inland parts of the Haut M茅doc and the south-eastern extremities of Pessac and the Graves suffered in the drought. One producer we spoke to recorded some 鈥榲ery powerful Merlot鈥 with more than 16% potential alcohol. As a result, too many reds in these parts of Bordeaux showed slightly burnt fruit or rather drying tannin. As for the whites, I鈥檓 afraid most were overtly tropical and rather flabby. Precious few had the balancing acidity to make them worthy of note and some even struggled to stay dry. By contrast, the cooler spots of the Northern M茅doc have made some excellent reds that should offer superb value, as they often do in warmer vintages. Clos Manou and Potensac were two particular favourites.

Mildew was mentioned more on this side of the river where organic and biodynamic plots were badly hit. In these areas, yields here were often down to 15-20 hectolitres per hectare (hl/h) or less – compared to an average of around 35-45hl/h. That sounds bad but, with the notable exception of Palmer, bio plots rarely made up more than 20-25% of the total vineyard area, so overall yield was still good.

The mood in the top communes of the Haut M茅doc was therefore nothing short of triumphant. Many winemakers talked of 2018 being an outstanding vintage, confidently comparing it to 2010 or 2016. Some genuinely believe 2018 is the best wine they have ever made and slipped into a state of reverie when talking about the quality of their Merlot and Cabernet. The statistics were certainly impressive: high alcohol levels, often record IPTs (Indice de Polyph茅nols Totaux 鈥 a rather imperfect measure of tannin level), and relatively low pHs. It all sounded very promising indeed but the Bordelais are past masters at 鈥榯alking up鈥 a vintage so we took most of this with a pinch of salt and just focused on analysing the samples put in front of us.

In truth, we found a vintage stylistically quite different to 2010 or 2016. The 2018s tend to be more richly fruited, more densely structured, and generally higher in alcohol. As on the Right Bank, the best wines had a balancing freshness but this was by no means universally achieved. Augustin Lacaille of d鈥橧ssan summed it up, 鈥榝reshness was the challenge of the vintage鈥.聽As on the Right Bank, old vines and water retaining clay soils were key to success. With such a serene harvest most were able to pick with impunity so that made choices in the winery all the more important. It became 鈥榓 vintage of choice鈥 according to one top Pauillac estate, and those that naturally err toward elegance rather than power tended to produce the best wines.

You don鈥檛 have to spend big to find these qualities and Saint 脡stephe was a particularly rich hunting ground. Capbern, Le Crock, Meyney and Ormes de Pez were all very impressive. Elsewhere, S茅n茅jac and Lab茅gorce really caught our eye among the more accessible properties.聽Cooler spots did very well too – those areas with imperfect aspects often singled out for second wines produced some very fine fruit indeed. We were bowled over by wines like Marquis de Calon, Reserve de Comtesse, Lacoste Borie, Blason d’Issan and Baron de Brane. They are immensely attractive, ripe, juicy clarets that will provide a huge amount of pleasure in five years鈥 time. Magnums wouldn鈥檛 be a bad idea at all.

At the other end of the spectrum, we felt Mouton won among the first growths for pure pleasure. Latour just pipped Lafite but you will certainly have a long wait ahead. Margaux was very good but we felt that two cases of Brane Cantenac would probably be a sweeter deal in this vintage. At the risk of raising eyebrows, we marginally preferred the slightly more open and fresher fruited La Mission to Haut Brion this year.

Among the super-seconds, the Pichons both excelled in their different styles. L茅oville Barton was the best among a very strong crop of Saint Julien and Calon S茅gur deserves to be mentioned in despatches for downright deliciousness. In this vintage the distance between the first growths and these other top wines is quite narrow so they are well worthy of close consideration if you want something special to add to your cellar.

One final observation 鈥 several winemakers spoke openly about subtle changes they are making in order to produce wines 鈥榝or the new consumer鈥. Their goal is to create wines that can be enjoyed at every stage of their evolution. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, it鈥檚 likely that climactic changes and these winemaking tweaks are going to produce claret in a more obviously fruit-forward style, with very supple tannins and more mid-palate softness. Vignerons claim that the wines will still age gracefully for decades, and we鈥檙e sure many will, but expect this to be growing trend as Bordeaux seeks to satisfy the more impatient consumer.

鈥榃ine Of The Vintage鈥 Contenders (Left Bank):

Mouton-Rothschild

Latour

Lafite

 

Pichon-Comtesse

Pichon-Baron

Brane-Cantenac

Calon S茅gur

L茅oville Barton

La Mission Haut-Brion

 

鈥楳ost Impressed By鈥 (Left Bank):

Potensac

Clos Manou

 

S茅n茅jac

Sociando-Mallet

Cambon la Pelouse

Fourcas-Dupr茅

 

Marquis de Calon

Capbern

Le Crock

Meyney

Ormes de Pez

 

Haut Bages Lib茅ral

Clerc Milon

Grand Puy Lacoste

Lacoste Borie

Lynch Bages

Reserve de la Comtesse

 

L茅oville-Poyferr茅

Branaire-Ducru

Ducru-Beaucaillou

Langoa Barton

Talbot

Gloria

 

d鈥橧ssan

Blason d’Issan

Ferri猫re

Baron de Brane

Lab茅gorce

Rauzan-Segla

 

Carmes Haut Brion

Le Thil

 

Keep an eye out for our full vintage report next week.