Bordeaux 2018: The Wines of the Vintage

In this, my final piece on Bordeaux 2018, the aim is to offer a more general appraisal, piecing together this complex and heterogeneous vintage from my reviews of the Médoc, the Right Bank and Graves/Pessac. In the process I have sought to identify a few potential wines of the vintage in a range of categories and at a range of price points.

Overall, this is an exceptional but uneven vintage forged in exceptional and extreme climatic conditions – albeit conditions that are becoming more and more the norm.

Those conditions posed (as they are likely to pose in future vintages) a series of very serious challenges, above all and most obviously in the vineyard, but also afterwards during the vinification process.

Unremarkably perhaps, differential exposure to these challenges and, of course, differences in both the capacity and strategies for responding to them have contributed massively to the uneven character of the vintage taken as a whole. In 2018, climatic conditions, terroir and wine-making have each played a role in stretching the qualitative spectrum.

As this suggests, while there are many great wines in 2018 there are just as many disappointments. On the Right Bank in particular, too many wines are just a little too forced and extracted, just a little (and, in some cases, rather more than just a little) too alcoholic, and just a little lacking in freshness, delicacy and finesse.

This is also a ‘red’ rather than a ‘white’ vintage – with many Sémillon-dominated wines coming across as fat, oily, undefined and flabby unless in the hands of exceptionally skilled winemakers.

But that should not put one off. For the highs are very high indeed. The best red wines of the vintage are definitely on a qualitative par with the best of 2015 and 2016 – even if these are the exception rather than the rule.

This poses a particular challenge to the consumer who, invariably, has to rely on the opinions of others in selecting what if anything to purchase en primeur. In the absence of a strong price- and market-shaping critic like Robert Parker and in a vintage in which a great many wines covering a great stylistic range have been identified by the aspirant successors to Parker’s crown as potentially great, it is important to know that one shares the taste of the critics one follows.

All I can do is to offer a few of my own personal highlights. I have resisted the temptation to add scores to my notes and I have not sought in any way to provide a fully comprehensive assessment. I have preferred instead to concentrate on wines that I both enjoyed and was able to taste under optimal conditions (ideally, more than once). I have also sought to identify the wines of the vintage rather than to dwell on the disappointments.

So here are my wines of the vintage in a series of categories. The pick of the vintage in each category is highlighted in italics before a series of close contenders, listed alphabetically. Full tasting notes for these are other favourites appear below, arranged by appellation.

Médoc wines of the vintage: Léoville-Las-Cases; Calon-Ségur; Latour; Margaux; Mouton Rothschild; Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande; Rauzan-Ségla;

Right Bank wines of the vintage: Lafleur; Belair-Monange; Canon; Cheval Blanc; Evangile; Le Pin; Trotanoy; Vieux Chateau Certan; La Violette

Pessac-Leognan wines of the vintage: Haut-Brion; Les Carmes de Haut-Brion; Domaine de Chevalier; La Mission Haut-Brion

White wines of the vintage: Domaine de Chevalier; Bouscaut; Les Champs Libres; Haut-Brion blanc; Pavillon Blanc de Margaux; Smith Haut-Laffite 

Exceeding all expectations: Berliquet; Canon La Gaffelière; de Fieuzal; Gruaud Larose; Latour-Martillac; Léoville-Poyferré; Marquis d’Alesme; Quinault L’Enclos; Montviel; Réserve de la Comtesse;

Confirming the best of expectations: Brane Cantenac; Beychevelle; Canon; l’Eglise-Clinet; Haut-Bailly; La Tour St Christophe; Rauzan-Ségla

Potential value picks: Branas Grand-Poujeaux; Capbern; Le Crock; La Tour St Christophe; Les Perrières de Lafleur; Montlandrie

Read more: Vintage overview

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