Bordeaux 2018: Neal Martin gives his verdict

Wine critic Neal Martin has released his report and scores on the 2018 Bordeaux vintage. The verdict: “good to excellent” but (and it is a big ‘but’) short of “potential perfection”.

For health reasons Martin was unable to join the usual crowd for the springtime descent on Bordeaux to taste the 2018 vintage. His fellow critic at Vinous, Antonio Galloni, did make the trip and it was noticeable that his scores tended to be on the more conservative side compared with certain other tasters.

The 2018 vintage was given great fanfare in the run-up to the en primeur campaign this summer, the Bordelais beating the drum for what was supposedly another blockbuster ‘best ever’ effort to rival the likes of 2016, 2009 and 2010.

Martin’s absence and lack of authoritative voice may not exactly have derailed the campaign – the prices asked for alone were enough to do that – but his opinion was certainly missed and the campaign itself never really felt as if it got going.

On the flipside, having now recovered, Martin was able to taste the wines this September, when they are a little more mature and away from the immediate sales hype surrounding the normal en primeur visits.

His report is a decidedly mixed bag and will not make thrilling reading for some who may have shelled out substantial sums for wines earlier this year.

On the positive side, Martin concluded overall that: ‘The 2018 vintage is very good to excellent in quality”.

Some of the wines were, he agreed, “genuinely astonishing” and there were many wines he “enjoyed…immensely”.

The next word here is “but”. Despite the good words he had for the vintage, Martin had to say as well that 2018 as a whole, “does not demonstrate the consistency of 2005 or 2016, and it lacks the pinnacles that mark 2010 and 2016.”

He wrote of winemakers admitting their wines had become more “serious” since this spring and Martin noted that the “unbridled enthusiasm” for the 2018s began to “gently deflate” under questioning.

Despite generally viewing the 2018s “in a positive light”, he added that, “there was not a single occasion when I encountered a barrel sample that intimated potential perfection. Not once.”

Concluding he wrote that he saw how some of the wines achieved top scores during the spring tastings but, a clutch of “great” wines aside, said, “”I am not inclined to garland it with a ‘greatest ever’ tag.”

There is already excitement about the 2019s, which seem to have higher pHs and in a vintage that did not suffer the problems of 2018 – huge mildew problems and excessive summer heat.

Martin touched on the problems of the current en primeur process as well, noting the “perfect storm” of zero Chinese interest in the game, unrest in Hong Kong, the Brexit stalemate and recently imposed US tariffs.

He also called out the increasing practice of estates withholding stock as a, “short-term remedy to control supply and demand,” and said consumers were aware of the strategy, “weakening the incentive to buy en primeur”.

Not for the fist time the Bordelais are sailing into the “perfect storm”.

 

Region-by-region

As well as a broad overall view of the vintage and market, Martin also includes a breakdown of his thoughts on the wines region-by-region, a summary of which can be read below.

He picked out Saint-Emilion in particular as a commune with some truly standout wines and where the nature of the limestone plateau was “so conspicuous in the nascent wines”. Canon, Ausone, Pavie Pavie-Macquin and Larcis-Ducasse were all judged “exceptional”.

Likewise, over in Pomerol the estates on the blue clay soils stood out and the 2018 Petrus is a wine that will “rank among the many greats”.

The much-hyped Lafleur likewise will “oblige decades in bottle”.

Over on the Left Bank the normally upward trajectory of Saint-Estèphe in recent years perhaps hit a bump in the road in 2018, with Martin saying it was, “not quite the shoo-in” he had been expecting and of all the appellations it was where he felt, “some of the high alcohol levels masked the signature of the individual estates”. Lafon-Rochet was one estate he felt was one property that succeeded.

Pauillac “pressed home its reputation” in 2018, at least in the top, top estates. Lafite is a “great wine” but “not a masterpiece”, Mouton was “splendid” and though we shall not see Latour for many moons yet Martin thought it “superb”, perhaps one of technical director Frédéric Engerer’s “best” – but not quite as good as the 2016.

Saint-Julien’s châteaux put in a “solid” performance and he approved of Léoville-Las-Cases’ decision to reduce the amount of press wine in the 2018 blend which resulted in more aromatics and suppleness.

He also had kind words for Branaire-Ducru, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville Barton.

Margaux was as varied as it always is in such a heterogeneous vintage. The eponymous first growth was “svelte and sensual” and avoided any of the “excesses” of the growing season, while Palmer (despite the reduced crop due to mildew) and Rauzan-Ségla both lived up to their primeur billing in Martin’s view.

Over in Pessac-Léognan, Haut-Brion perhaps lacked the “precision” found in other great vintages and it La Mission which “could become the standout”.

Les Carmes de Haut-Brion, an estate that can do no wrong at present it seems, drew comparisons to Lafleur in 2018 (a commendation indeed) and Domaine de Chevalier is likewise a wine the team can justifiably be proud of thought Martin.

Overall the dry whites did not stand out, some are delicious but lack the verve of great Bordeaux blancs.

A whizz around Sauternes to finish showed plenty of “very decent” sweet wines but “nothing that blew me away”.

For Martin’s full report on Vinous click here.

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