Bordeaux 2019 by appellation: Saint-Julien

The only appellation that can possibly compete with Pauillac in terms of qualitative homogeneity in 2019 is Saint-Julien. Indeed, it might just have the edge.

Pierre Graffeuille, director of Château Léoville-Las-Cases

If it does so, it is for three principle reasons. The first is the relative qualitative homogeneity (reinforced by the relatively small size) of the appellation itself (St Julien, of course, has neither first growths nor fifth growths). The second is the proximity to the river.

This seems to have helped mitigate and moderate the temperature peaks (and related hydric stress) of the summer – reducing, certainly in comparison to Margaux and St Estephe, levels of sugar and hence potential alcohol.

And the third is that those properties on slightly less hallowed terroirs further from the river have typically now put in place a very strict selection for their first wines (only a meagre 30 per cent of the total production of Chateau Lagrange, for instance, made it into the grand vin).

The result is less qualitative diversity between the leading wines of the appellation than anywhere else in the Medoc. Indeed, tasting the 2019s one has very much the sense of the pack closing up.

Leoville-Las-Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou, though strikingly different in style and personality, remain the two outstanding wines of the appellation – and they are close to the Medocain summit in this vintage, as they so often have been in recent vintages.

But they are now much more closely tracked and followed, in at least qualitative terms, by Beychevelle, the Leovilles (Barton and Poyferre) and, in this vintage in particular, by Gruaud-Larose and Langoa-Barton.

And they, in turn, are more closely tracked and followed by Branaire-Ducru, Gloria (not actually a classed growth but comprised of plots that at some point in their history have all been classified), Lagrange, Talbot and St Pierre.

This is excellent news for the consumer. For some of these wines remains remarkably affordable given their sheer quality – especially with a c. 20% reduction in release price vis-à-vis the 2018s.

It is in fact difficult to go wrong in St Julien in 2019, not least because the stylistic extremes of the appellation are not very extreme at all. Ironically, they are most pronounced at the top.

Leoville-Las-Cases is, as it tends to be, something of an exception to any St Julien generalisation. Stylistically, and arguably even in terms of its terroir, it has more in common with Pauillac than it does the rest of the appellation.

The wine is, as it has been since at least 2016, very close to the top of the Medoc tree. It has extraordinary depth, gravitas and grandeur; but it also has a very considerable concentration of tannin and it is, as a consequence, rather less fun at this early stage than many of the other leading crus of the appellation. That is not in any sense a criticism. For me it remains the leading wine of St Julien – even if a case could easily be made for re-drawing the appellation border to place it in Pauillac.

Ducru-Beaucaillou is almost the mirror opposite – a St Julien thoroughbred through and through. It is extrovert, energetic and flamboyant, steering a path to opulence and exoticism rather than classicism, restraint and elegance. Each will have, and each deserves, its many admirers – and it is of course possible to love both.

But it is the chasing pack, however, that stand out for me in 2019. Beychevelle has made the latest in a series of exceptional wines in this, Philippe Blanc’s 25th year at the helm. It might well be the best yet. It certainly captures, quite brilliantly, the heart and soul of St Julien in this vintage – with a wonderfully lithe and tense combination of cashmere texture and radiant pure fresh fruit. It is simply sumptuous.

Gruaud-Larose too is something of a revelation. It was difficult to track down a sample – this is a wine that one either needs to taste at, or collected from, the chateau itself. But it is magical – without doubt the best I have ever tasted from this far too long-ignored and often under-appreciated second growth. Though the release price was ambitious (especially given that very few critics has had the opportunity to taste the wine), the quality is undoubtedly there. Arnaud Frederic regards it as the best wine they have made in thirty years; I am certainly not going to disagree with him.

Leoville and Langoa Barton also stand out for me. These are wines that are often a little difficult to appreciate en primeur – coming into their own only a year or so after bottling. But both hit new qualitative heights in 2019, certainly as en primeur samples. And that makes Langoa-Barton, in particular, look like excellent value.

But, as the following notes testify, St Julien in 2019 is an embarrassment of riches – at practically all price point.

Wines of the appellation:      Leoville-Las-Cases; Beychevelle; Ducru-Beaucaillou; Gruaud-Larose; Leoville-Barton

Most improved:                    Gruaud Larose; Lagrange

Quality/price ratio:                Beychevelle; Branaire-Ducru; Lagrange; Langoa-Barton

Colin Hay is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris where he works on the political economy of la place de Bordeaux and wine markets more generally. His Bordeaux 2019 coverage will continue further appellation profiles in the coming few days.

Detailed tasting notes

All tasted from samples supplied by the chateau unless otherwise stated. Samples tasted, at least twice, from Zalto, Grassl and Reidel stemware over a two-month period from early May to early July. Around 5% of samples were rejected as damaged and/or unrepresentative of the barrel from which they were drawn.

Amiral de Beychevelle (68% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; alcohol 13,3%; pH 3,84; aged in 35% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. This really is a great second wine, as my recent vertical tasting confirms. Beautiful limpid deep purple in the glass; glossy. The nose is very St Julien and very Beychevelle. Heather. Irises. A very floral expression of the appellation. Rose petals too. Lovely.

Dark but very fresh berry fruit. Velour texture – so impressive for a second wine. Very classy. Pure, deep, rich and with a lovely black currant and black cherry fruit, raspberries and loganberries too. Little hints of chocolate and even just a slight hint of kirsch, but loads of freshness. Soft, gentle grape skin finish. Very accomplished indeed. Highly recommended. Best Amiral I have tasted (and I tasted quite a few in a vertical at the chateau quite recently).

Beychevelle (49% Merlot; 46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 13,7%; pH 3,77; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau and later at the UGC in Paris. Strict selection, with only around 55% of the production making it into the first wine. Philippe Blanc’s 25th vintage – and certainly one to celebrate with his talented wine-maker, Romain Ducolomb. Blue/purple. Very beautiful and viscous in the glass. Lovely limpidity. Blue, too, in terms of its fruit.

Gorgeous rich blueberries, but oh so St Julien too. Nice nuttiness from the ripe pip tannins – and, like the second wine very floral. Hedgerow flowers, rose petals and hints of saffron and sweet spices – cinnamon, cloves. Very lovely; very appealing. Beautiful plunge-pool tannins – that sensation of coolness in the mouth which comes from the softness of the tannins. Very refined and classy. Deep blueberry fruit, a little griotte cherry too. Lovely freshness. Not the biggest wine of the appellation, but much class, finesse and precision. My kind of wine; my kind of St Julien.

Branaire Ducru (56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Gentle and inviting. Very St Julien. Cedar, graphite, cinnamon, plums, damsons. A suggestion of hoisin. Easy and soft. Nice vein of acidity. Lifted. No great complexity but restraint and refinement.

The softness of the tannins, though not that marked on the attack is nicely sustained across the palate. Soft and gentle on the finish, which I like – no bite of acidity on the tongue as in many wines in this vintage. Indeed, this caresses the tip of the tongue. Grape skins. Good balance. Builds on the palate and then ever so softly fades to a whisper. Lovely texture. Very harmonious. Almonds and walnuts from the ripe pips. Gentle sweet spicing – mace, nutmeg and crushed fennel seeds. Excellent wine. Good value too.

Clos du Marquis (70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,1%; pH 3,62). Tasted at Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases. Lifted and with a very dark fruit profile. This is deep, earthy, herby and with loads of mineral terroir typicity. It is, as it often is, slightly sombre and austere – very much a St Julien from the northern part of the appellation.

The fruit is bitingly fresh and crunchy and the wine beautifully flowing and integrated already. Lots of refinement and restraint here – though the tannins are considerable. A lovely graphite, cedar minerality clings to the backbone of the wine.   Will be very good; but needs a few years in the cellar first.

La Croix Ducru Beaucaillou (50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 46% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14.3%; pH 3,78; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Lithe. Bright. Energetic. Pure. Oak a little less obviously present. Walnuts. Quite creamy. Lovely St Julien nose, with plenty of graphite and cedar. Darker fruit. Black cherries. Almonds and frangipane. Very plush and polished velour tannins. Great length and poise. Good structure. Less complex than the first wine, but very fine indeed. Quite powerful in a Ducru kind of way but very silky tannins. Long.

Ducru Beaucaillou (80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot; alcohol 14,2%; pH 3,8; aged in 100% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Grated chocolate or cocoa powder on the nose. Walnuts and pine kernels, even pistachios. Floral – violets, irises, peonies, rose petals. Black and red cherry, blackcurrant, even hints of blueberries. Bright, energetic, dances on the palate. Tobacco, a little bit of pepper.

Supremely succulent tannins. Quite broad; impressive mid-palate concentration. Exuberant yet cool and concentrated too. Lively and tense. This has the 2017’s crunchy fruit; with the depth and structure and sophistication of 2016; and the accessibility and warmth of 2015. Very harmonious already; the wood gently integrated. For such a big wine it is instantly appealing and very attractive. Will make lots of friends. Very Ducru but not particularly like any of other vintage I have tasted in its totality.

Gloria (55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14,2%; aged in 45% new oak; yields of 40 hl/ha). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. An easy pick. Oaky and spicy; toasty too, yet lots of St Julien character. For me, just a little too much toast. A bit fudgy in the mid-palate. Indeed, the attack and the mid-palate are a bit of a blur – slightly clumsy and lacking delineation, but that may well resolve itself.

Chewy tannins. Nice deep black cherry fruit. But I miss something on the attack. Powerful and for me trying just a little too hard – I miss a bit of finesse here. Quite sweet too and I notice the alcohol on the finish. Strangely this is a wine I tend to prefer in leaner and more challenging vintages.

Gruaud Larose (72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 25% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 13,65%; aged in 80% new oak). From a sample kindly prepared by the chateau and collected directly from them, tasted during the day, as per their instructions. Reductive at first and quite closed. Needs a little time to breath and come to life. But when it does this is very lively and exciting and the nose evolves dramatically with further aeration – as the fruit darkens towards deep ripe black cherries and blackcurrants.

Complex and enticing. Brambles, baked plums and damsons, forest fruits. Autumnal in a way, with its notes of freshly cracked walnut shells and a sense of crunching through leaves in an ancient oak forest; little truffly hints too. Nutty – walnuts. A hint of oak smoke; white pepper and a slight whiff of iodine. Quite floral. Yet spicy – cloves, allspice, even a hint of cumin. Gentle and lifted and aromatic – very much the identity of a wine from the southern part of the appellation.

Very Gruaud in fact and if it had to be anything else it could only really be Beychevelle. Creamy yet sappy. Big and rich, energetic and quite opulent for Gruaud. Gentle graphite/cedar notes on the long, flowing and shapely finish. A most beautiful mouth-feel and not an iota of harshness anywhere about it. As good a Gruaud as I have tasted.

Lagrange (80% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; yields of 40 hl/ha; very strict selection – with only 30% in the grand vin). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Another St Julien wine that really announces where it comes from. Almost a little Beychevelle-like in style; quite graceful. Good progress here and a very severe selection – less than a third of the harvest made it into the grand vin.

Nutty and spicy. Not big but certainly more intense in the mid-palate than it used to be. Plush, full and rich. Brambles and blackberries. Sappy. Quite bright and energetic too – very much of the vintage. Not up there with the very best (yet) but evident strict selection and skilful winemaking is yielding results.

Langoa Barton (67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 7% Petit Verdot; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Plump. Big. Rich. Full. Ultra-soft tannins; doing quite a good imitation of Leoville Barton actually. Attractive and accessible as St Julien should be. Less delineated than its more famous and feted sibling but very good. At least on a par with the 2016. Power in velour.

Seductive, elegant and quite opulent. Almost plateau Pomerol like in texture. Blackberries and cherries, cedar and graphite (of course), a hint of blackcurrant liqueur. This will be very good. Grated chocolate and even mocha notes. The freshness is key here. Balanced, lithe – excellent.

Leoville Barton (84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 16% Merlot; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris immediatelty after Langoa-Barton. Deeper, darker and richer still. Very limpid and glossy, almost viscous – and radiant despite being almost jet black in the glass. A shade more serious and sombre than Langoa, but with so much tension and energy all the same. Waves of cedar-coated deep black fruit. Floral too.

Lifted yet deep – a lovely point of balance and tension between the two. Pot pourri and dried petals. Spicy – saffron, nutmeg and cloves. Cool, with great underlying puissance – from the pulsing reactor core beneath the sleek and soft exterior. Sappy, too, with a lovely marine minerality. Rain on hot rocks. For the long term – a wine for one’s children.

Leoville Las Cases (79% Cabernet Sauvignon; 11% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,02%; pH 3,67; aged in 90% new oak). Tasted at the Chateau. This is cool, gloriously soft on the attack and big and rich. It is extraordinarily long on the palate. Here it is not just the freshness and acidity of the wine that becomes part of the structure, but the minerality of the terroir too.

On the palate one has the impression of alternating waves of fruity-juicy freshness and then iodine-tinged saline minerality breaking in one’s mouth to reveal the tannic spine of the wine. Pulsating and energetic with a profound yet slightly disguised depth and power. Refined, lifted, elegant and aerial – yet with a bucket load of Las Cases tannins that will require at least a decade in the cellar. Not for early drinking. Serious and sombre, as ever, but sumptuous too.

Leoville Poyferre (67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; pH 3,75; alcohol 14,18%; aged in 80% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau and then at the UGC. A couple of shades darker than Moulin Riche and quite extracted. Garnet/black with violet sparkles on swirling. Wow. No need to swirl this to release the opulent, graceful nose. Very St Julien with that gentle nutty sweetness but none of the obvious toasty oak that used to announce that this was Poyferre.

More serious and slightly more austere than most of the other great wines of the appellation. Plums, cherries, almonds and hazelnuts at first, but with gentle hints first in the background and then more prominently in the intense mid-palate of Christmas spices and vanilla. Some lovely earthy, loamy and cedary notes throughout. Plump and fleshy, yet always with the sensation of crunching through the skin of fresh fruit. Fans out nicely and builds to a long, gathered and lifted finish of black cherry skins.

Moulin Riche (69% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; 12% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14,14%; pH 3,73). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. A shade darker than Le Crock and sweeter, richer and nuttier on the nose. Quite lifted. Almonds, frangipane, plums and black cherries, hedgerow flowers too. Quite floral on the palate too. Creamy, nicely balanced and with decent length. A nice introduction to the first wine.

Le Petit Ducru (60% Merlot; 36% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Petit Verdot; alcohol 14,2%; pH 3,79; aged in 30% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Another new label. This is Ducru’s third wine – previously Lalande Borie, though with some new plantings too. Rather more serious. Instantly we’re in St Julien – with that touch of cedar. Plush. Richer. More concentration, interest and depth. Fresh. But the oak is more evident. Baked plums, raspberries, cherries and again skins. Quite smokey. Again, reasonably sweet on the palate. Quite easy. Broad. Good length.

Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases (46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 43% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,01%; pH 3,55). Tasted at Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases. This is rich and full, with great balance and poise. Blackberries, blueberries and rain on hot rocks. Like the first wine, it is austere and a little closed at this stage. It is fresh and juicy with cracked peppercorns and poppy seeds, bergamot, a subtle hint of iodine and a touch of cedar right at the end. Impressive and refined.

St Pierre (79% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; yields of 41 hl/ha; aged in 55% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. For me, slightly soupy. The fruit is rather blitzed and blended. Rich, full, plump and impressive – that is very much the style here. Spicy and peppery too. This will divide opinions. I can see the appeal but it’s not really to my taste. Soft, succulent and opulent – pushing that envelope as far as it can be taken (for me, just a little too far, but that is a conscious and intended choice and now a flaw – it’s a matter of taste).

Needs time – and will surely come around to something I like rather more. Black cherry, blackberry and bramble compote. Hazelnuts – almost the ingredients for a berry crumble. Creamy too – indeed, too creamy for me. But a lovely seam of fresh acidity holds this in check and offers a nice counterpoint.

Talbot (69% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; yields of 46 hl/ha; aged in 60% new oak). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Lots of personality here. A gentle natural sweetness, with a pleasing nuttiness and a little hint of toast and spice from the oak. With aeration, cedar and graphite – in fact, the pencil end you used to chew before Covid! Soft, elegant and restrained. Power, yes, but it is not at first evident, building slowly over the long palate. Good ingredients well-combined with an impressive harmony, if not perhaps the complexity of the very best.

Haut-Medoc appellation

Madame de Beaucaillou (68% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 13,92%; pH 3,62; aged in 20% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. One of two new labels to mark the 300th anniversary of the chateau. A new Haut-Medoc label sourced from vines in Cussac, Listrac and Moulis. Cherry-flavoured candy. Violets – again, perhaps candied.

Pure and attractive. Nice vein of acidity imparting intense fruit and freshness. Cherries and cherry skins, quite sweet, pronounced acidity. Pure and nice focus. Will be instantly accessible. A good first incarnation of this wine and a nice introduction to Ducru-Beaucaillou’s winemaking.

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