Bordeaux 2018 En Primeur: Vintage Report

‘Les années passent mais ne se ressemblent pas’

‘Years are passing, but none of them are the same.’

The Armit En Primeur team spent a week tasting the length and breadth of Bordeaux to be able to give an informed pick of the 2018 vintage.

The Bordeaux 2018 vintage has given the Bordelaise cause to smile broadly; this is a vintage of superb quality, albeit selectively.  The vintage can be characterized by the above comment from Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Chateau Certan, a year of extremes, and difficulties previously only seen every 50 years (but as was 2016, 2015, 2010).  In footballing parlance, it was a vintage of two halves. 

The growing season began with an unusually wet first half of the year, from December 2017 to May 2018.  Some estates reported that the entire expected annual rainfall arrived in the first 6 months of the year.  The damp conditions for the first 6 months of the year created a high risk of mildew.  Some estates such as Palmer, Montrose and Pontet Canet reported up to 66% loss of their crop largely due to mildew.  Those particularly susceptible were those that favoured organic and biodynamic viticulture as it limited their ability to protect their crop by chemical means.

The second half of the season was marked by a noticeably dry period from June to September, creating hydric stress and drought.  This dry period led to smaller grapes with thick skins, around 30% small smaller than normal.  The result was concentrated flavours with firm tannins, key to this vintage. A few crucial rain showers in July and August helped the grapes to avoid excessive water stress on the left bank.   Cooler night time temperatures helped to preserve freshness and avoid over-ripeness, giving tension and structure to the wines.

Below are the key points noted by the team following a week of tasting:

  • The vintage particularly favoured the Cabernets, both Sauvignon and Franc 
  • Star performing villages are St Estephe and St Julien in the left bank where gentle winemaking help to avoid over extraction, less pigeage (punching-down), more remontage (pumping over).  
  • The right bank was blessed in 2018, the limestone plateau of St Emilion and the clay in Pomerol have been blessed with some extraordinary quality of fruit, the Cabernet Franc is the key in the blend, giving precision and elegance to the wine.
  • The wines were showing well; alcohol is a little higher than usual but, when in balance doesn’t create problems.  The tannins are high but ripe, giving a beautiful, voluptuous texture.   We were surprised by the accessibility of this vintage; at its best this is a year of pretty, bright fruit, generosity and balance wrapping the firm tannins beautifully.
  • White wines –as with the reds, being selective is key.  The top producers were able to make wines of precision and elegance due to their superior terroir and expertise.

In conclusion, the weather conditions ensured that the producers had to work hard but those that succeeded matched the levels of the recent great vintages (2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016) but some did not hit those heights.  We will be happy to lead you through a curated list of key picks and great value drinkers once the campaign kicks off.  In the meantime, our wishlist is a compilation of our favourites.  

The final result can prove mesmerizing and many wines have the potential to age for decades, but many can be enjoyed after 5 years of cellaring.

Nicolas Clerc MS
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