Bordeaux 2020: Prices rise during campaign’s crescendo
The final week of the Bordeaux en primeur 2020 campaign was something of a crescendo, with a flurry of releases and unprecedented hikes in prices, finds Colin Hay.
The proverbial diva has finally stopped singing; the opera is over; en primeur is done for another year.
Appropriately, perhaps, the final week of the campaign was something of a crescendo – with a flurry of releases and some as yet previously unprecedented hikes in prices. The operatic sopranos of Bordeaux, it seems, exploited their full vocal range and some of them hit some very high notes indeed.
How much the resulting show was appreciated by the audience is another matter and an issue that I will return to next week in more detail when I examine the link between en primeur and the return of ‘Bordeaux bashing’.
The final week of the campaign saw average price rises amongst the red wines of a quite staggering 29.5 per cent. That compares to 16 per cent last week, 12 per cent the week before, 9 per cent the week before that, and, of course no increase in price relative to 2019 in the very first week of the campaign. That sustained and accelerating upward trend, and the potential damage it is doing (or has already done) to the reputation of Bordeaux, lies at the heart of the issue I will return to in future analysis. For now, at least, I will try to stick to the facts themselves.
There were, of course, many notable releases in the last week. Full details are provided below – and, indeed, below that, you will find my full tasting notes on each wine. I will concentrate my analysis here on just a handful, starting with the remaining first growths.
The three final first growths – Haut-Brion, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild – all released last week and they all released at exactly the same price (at an ex negoce. price per bottle of €432, or £5196 in bond for a case of 12 bottles).
As the following figure shows, this represents the greatest degree of price coordination between the first growths in recent vintages; and is has also produced the lowest release price dispersion in the period for which I have data (the last 20 years or so).
First growth release prices, 2016-2020 (£, in bond, for a case of 12 bottles) Source: Replotted from Liv-ex.com
But if the price is the same, the implications of it are not. For Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild (who, of course, released at the same price – €282 ex negoce. per bottle – in 2019), a release price of €432 per bottle represents an increase of 53.2 per cent, whilst for Margaux (€330 in 2019) the increase is just 30.9 per cent. Either way, this is significantly above the 19.9 per cent increase in release price of Lafite Rothschild which was, of course, only just within the 10-20 per cent band anticipated by most before the campaign started.
It is important to note that all of these wines have sold well (albeit with a reduction in the amount of wine released of between 20 and 40 per cent relative to the 2019 campaign). As I write, for instance, at Farr Vintners Haut-Brion, Lafite and Margaux have all sold out and Mouton Rothschild is listed as on allocation only. Those are the facts.
Elsewhere in the Médoc, the last week saw the release of the remaining super seconds, with Léoville Las Cases up 43.5% at €198 per bottle ex negoc., Léoville-Poyferré up 46.3% at €72 and Ducru Beaucaillou up 40.4% at €160. All have significant and consistent acclaim from the international critics, with Neal Martin for instance giving 96-98 to Ducru and Las Cases and 95-97 to Poyferré. Montrose, not widely tasted but with 98 points from Jane Anson, was up 33.3% at €128. We also saw the release of the most obviously ‘thriving third’, Palmer, with 96-98 from Neal Martin, up 49% at €240.
Further south in Pessac-Léognan, Haut Bailly was up 45% (at €96) – bolstered, presumably, by James Suckling seeing potential perfection in the wine; and, not to be outdone, Smith Haut-Lafitte, potential perfection in the eyes of both Suckling and Lisa Perrotti Brown, was up 48% (at €98).
In St Emilion, last week’s release prices were in general more moderate, with Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau Lagarrosse (at €90 and Josephine Duffau-Lagarrosse’s first vintage), Figeac (at €156), Pavie Macquin (at €57.60) and Quintus (at €78) up 15.4, 30, 16.4 and 23 per cent respectively.
But it was across the appellation border in Pomerol that we witnessed the greatest variation in price rises amongst last week’s new releases. The potentially perfect Trotanoy (NM 98-100; LPB 98-100; JS 99-100; CH 98-100) looks like the pick of the bunch for anyone with an allocation – with an increase in price in euros relative to the 2019 of just 2.7% (at €210 ex negoce.). By contrast, it is difficult not to see Petit Village’s price (up 97.4% at €90) as extremely ambitious.
The property is, of course, under new ownership, the total production drastically reduced with a very strict selection and the resulting wine certainly in my view the best ever produced at the estate. But with quite divergent views amongst the leading critics (compare Neal Martin’s 91-93 with James Suckling’s 97-98), it is difficult to see this working. Somewhere in between we find the ethereal La Conseillante and the majestic Vieux Chateau Certan, up 23.8 and 32.1 per cent respectively. The former receives 98-99 from Suckling, the latter 98-100 from Perrotti Brown. Both seem set to sell well.
Full details of this week’s most notable new releases:
Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse (£1080 in bond for 12, up 9.5% on the 2019 (£986); NM 93-95; JA –; LPB 95-97+; JS 97-98; AG 95-98; JD 95-97+; CH 96-98+).
Le Clarence Haut-Brion (£1440 in bond for 12, up 25.2% on the 2019 (£1150); NM 91-93; JA 92; LPB 91-93+; JS 97-98; AG 91-93).
Le Clarté de Haut-Brion (£864 in bond for 12, up 30.9% on the 2019 (£660); NM –; JA 92; LPB 90-92; JS 94-96; AG 90-92).
La Conseillante (£1872 in bond for 12, up 23.8% on the 2019 (£1512); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 97-99; JS 98-99; AG 94-97; CH 97-99).
Ducru Beaucaillou (£1920 in bond for 12, up 33.3% on the 2019 (£1440); NM 96-98; JA 98; LPB 95-97; JS 98-99; CH 96-98+).
Figeac (£1872 in bond for 12, up 23.8% on the 2019 (£1512); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 96-98+; JS 97-98; AG 95-97; CH 96-98).
Haut Bailly (£1150 in bond for 12, up 36.9% on the 2019 (£840); NM 95-97; JA 96; LPB 96-98+; JS 99-100; AG 95-97; CH 94-96+).
Haut-Brion (£5196 in bond for 12, up 46.8% on the 2019 (£3540); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 98-100; JS 99-100; AG 97-99; CH 97-99).
Haut-Brion blanc (£7200 in bond for 12, up 7.1% on the 2019 (£6720); NM 94-96; JA 96; LPB 95-97+; JS 97-98; AG 94-96).
Léoville Las Cases (£2370 in bond for 12, up 35.7% on the 2019 (£1746); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 96-98; JS 98-99; AG 95-98; CH 96-98).
Léoville-Poyferré (£864 in bond for 12, up 40.3% on the 2019 (£616); NM 95-97; JA 96; LPB 95-97; JS 96-97; CH 95-97).
Margaux (£5196 in bond for 12, up 26.7% on the 2019 (£4100); NM 98-100; JA 98-100; LPB 98-100; JS 99-100; AG 97-99; CH 98-100).
La Mission Haut-Brion (£3024 in bond for 12, up 34% on the 2019 (£2256); NM 97-99; JA 98; LPB 97-99; JS 97-98; AG 96-98; CH 96-98).
La Mission Haut-Brion blanc (£5760 in bond for 12, up 6.7% on the 2019 (£5400); NM 95-97; JA 95; LPB 95-97; JS 98-99; AG 94-96).
Montrose (£1540 in bond for 12, up 28.3% on the 2019 (£1200); NM –; JA 98; LPB –; JS –; AG –; JL for JR 18+; CH 98-100).
Mouton Rothschild (£5196 in bond for 12, up 44.8% on the 2019 (£3588); NM 96-98; JA 98; LPB 97-99; JS 99-100; AG 96-98; CH 98-100).
Palmer (£2880 in bond for 12, up 44.1% on the 2019 (£1998); NM 96-98; JA 97; LPB –; JS –; AG —; JL for JR 18+; CH 97-99).
Pavie Macquin (£691 in bond for 12, up 17.1% on the 2019 (£590); NM 91-93; JA 95; LPB 96-98; JS 95-96; AG 95-98; CH 95-97).
Le Pavillon blanc de Margaux (£2160 in bond for 12, up 10.4% on the 2019 (£1956); NM 92-94; JA 97; LPB –; JS –; AG –; CH 95-97+).
Le Pavillon rouge de Margaux (£1656 in bond for 12, up 10.4% on the 2019 (£1656); NM 91-93; JA 94; LPB –; JS –; AG 92-94; CH 94-96).
Petit Village (£1080 in bond for 12, up 89.5% on the 2019 (£570); NM 91-93; JA 93; LPB 93-95+; JS 97-98; AG 92-94; JD 91-93+; CH 96-98).
Quintus (£936 in bond for 12, up 17% on the 2019 (£800); NM 92-94; JA 93; LPB 95-97; JS 97-98; AG 92-94; CH 95-97).
Smith Haut-Lafitte (£1152 in bond for 12, up 41.9% on the 2019 (£812); NM 95-97; JA 97; LPB 98-100; JS 99-100; AG 95-97; CH 94-96+).
Smith Haut-Lafitte blanc (£1152 in bond for 12, up 21.4% on the 2019 (£949); NM 92-94; JA 96; LPB 94-96+; JS –; AG 93-95).
Trotanoy (£2700 in bond for 12, up 2.7% on the 2019 (£2630); NM 98-100; JA 98; LPB 98-100; JS 99-100; AG 96-98; CH 98-100).
Vieux Chateau Certan (£2880 in bond for 12, up 32.1% on the 2019 (£2120); NM 96-98; JA 95; LPB 98-100; JS 98-99; AG 96-98; CH 97-99+).
My tasting notes for each new release:
Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse (St Emilion; a fantastically well-situated vineyard of 6.8 hectares on the argilo-calcaire côtes and plateau neighbouring Angélus and Beauséjour Bécot; 81% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; around 14% alcohol). Tasted with Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse at the chateau – indeed, I was apparently the first to taste the final blend. Be careful with tasting notes for this wine, not that there are many of them. For some critics were sent the original version of this wine. If you see a tasting note for an 100% Merlot version of this, it is not the final wine.
The back story here is very complex; but the long and the short of it is that this is a simply fabulous wine, made by Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire and assembled by Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse. On the nose we have blood orange, fleur d’oranger, cassis, blueberries, brambles and a lovely graphite-inflected minerality. The palate is rich and opulent, but classical and sublimely sinuous and luminous, very expressive of its top terroir and the appellation an impression reinforced for me by the important role played here by the Cabernet Franc (which actually seems like it represents more than 19%).
The grippy and slightly crumbly chalky tannins structure the wine beautifully, shining a focussed and precise light on the pixilated detail of the mid-palate, binding the fruit quite tightly to the spine and stretching the wine out towards its very long tapered finish. This is incredibly pure, precise, bright and fresh and as good a wine from Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse as I can recall.
Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 60.1% Merlot; 31.7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6.7% Cabernet Franc; 1.5% Petit Verdot; 15.2% alcohol; harvested between the 7th and 29th of September). Almost a full degree higher in alcohol than La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion and a much bolder and bigger-boned wine, this has a shimmeringly beautiful purple core, is rather more viscous and has a brilliantly fluorescent punk pink/indigo rim. It is both opulent and at the same time elegant on the nose and it prepares you rather well for the grand vin itself – we have bright, fresh ultra-crunchy black cherries and plump blueberries enrobed in graphite with little traces of the finest dark chocolate powder. On the palate this is almost shockingly fresh and crisp, with a zingy bright fruit, tremendously fine tannins that support the fruit but also bring focus and great detail to the mid palate. Exquisite.
Le Clarté de Haut-Brion (75% Sémillon; 25% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.4% alcohol). A wine that could not be better named for this vintage. This is shimmering and beautiful on the nose, with an amazing eloquence and luminous clarity (clarté). We have the most beautiful note of oyster and cockle shells, citron pressé, tilleul (lime tree), orange blossom and fleur d’oranger. On the palate this is incredibly gentle and soft at first, but there is an immediate sense of pick-up and go, with radiant energy from the fabulous crisp freshness that imparts an amazing dynamism to the wine. This dances and glides over the palate like a silk sheet billowing in the breeze, with little hints of salinity helping to pick out details in the mid-palate much like the fine-grained tannins do in Haut-Brion’s reds. Sumptuous.
La Conseillante (Pomerol; 87% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of around 39 hl/ha; pH 3.64; 14% alcohol). Tasted with Marielle Cazaux at the Chateau. Wow – what a brilliant expression of top plateau Pomerol terroir. Cedar. Blueberries and black cherries. So dark, so rich and intense on the nose – a super-charged La Conseillante. The cedar seems to wrap itself in the parfumier’s essence of violet – there is no way any natural plant could produce a floral note so pure and concentrated and yet at the same time this feels entirely natural.
There is cassis and raspberry coulis too, with a trace of saffron. On the palate, this is dense and compact, layered and luminous – and yet richer and with greater density than used to be the case here. That works fabulously in this vintage, giving the wine both a plunge-pool depth and profundity yet at the same time it also retains that wondrously diaphanous and luminous quality. A lovely cool minty authoritative finish. Honestly, I can’t recall a better La Conseillante. I loved the 2019; I love this even more. Chapeau!
Ducru Beaucaillou (St Julien; 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; IPT 90; pH 3.83; aging in new oak barrels for 18 months; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Bruno Borie and Tracey Dobbin from Flaconwit samples. Sumptuous, cool on the nose, very quietly composed and calm and subtle, yet also open and expressive aromatically – pure, precision with wonderful lift and dynamism. Quite explosive. Graphite, cedar, tobacco leaf, spring flowers, black and red cherry fruit, blackberries and blueberries, a little cassis too.
Incredibly soft and yet immediately lithe and fluid on the palate – silky and luminous, this billows – and it builds too, towards a glorious crescendo on the finish. Super density, compactness and concentration and multi-layered. Opulent, flamboyant, yet elegant, refined and quite brilliant with a breath-taking complexity accentuated by the fine-grained slightly grippy tannins. Bruno Borie compares this to the 2010 and there is some truth in that, though the precision in the wine-making has advanced since then. A singular and glorious expression of the appellation that is so fresh and vital. Wow!
Figeac (St Emilion; from a unique and distinctive 54-hectare vineyard of which around 40 hectares are planted on a Guntzian gravel terroir; 37% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 31% Cabernet Sauvignon; this is aging in new French oak barrels for around 16 months; a final yield of 37 hl/ha, though the Cabernet Sauvignon yielded only 30 hl/ha; pH 3.7; 13.9% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau. A sumptuous Figeac which really shines in this vintage despite the climatic challenges that had to be negociated. On the nose, this has rather classical notes of leather and graphite, chocolate and violets, crushed stones, a touch of both cedar and acacia and a hint of clove and vanilla.
There is also a suggestion of patchouli, dried rose petals and garrigue herbs – very redolent of the vintage. On the palate, this is bright, dynamic, energetic, lively and engaging with an impressive sapidity and lift despite the no less impressive depth, concentration and sheer density of the compact mid-palate. Each cépage brings something distinct – aromatically, structurally and texturally – and yet what is most impressive about this wine is its seamless integration and the sense of natural harmony that it exudes. An excellent Figeac, very much on a par with the 2019 and 2018.
Haut Bailly (Pessac-Léognan; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 42% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; pH and IPT very close to the 2010 and not far off the 2016; a final yield of 37hl/ha, 20% less than the 2019; 14.3% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Veronique Sanders whose single-word descriptor for the vintage is diabolique! The result is heavenly. This, too, has been very gently extracted. Intensely limpid and viscous, this rolls and glides in the glass, revealing garnet and crimson highlights, and a punk pink/magenta rim.
Haut Bailly 2020 is extremely refined, suave and elegant on the nose, with the signature floral and herbal notes of the vintage – here rose petals, freesia and lavender – but also copious amounts of graphite, incense and a hint of the cedar to come. The fruit is nicely lifted – raspberries and brambles, blueberries and cherries, with a dusting of very fine dark chocolate powder intermingling with the lavender notes and a lovely hint of fragrant Asiatic peppercorns. On the attack this is warm and supple, lithe and svelte with an almost physical and very tactile sense of layering through the mid-palate. The considerable concentration and density is fantastically well disguised.
This unfurls beautifully, with the grain of the tannins very slowly revealing themselves and helping to stretch the fruit out over the mineral-saline backbone of the wine toward a lovely sappy, juicy finish. This is a great achievement for the appellation in the context of a vintage that was challenging in almost every respect. Its brilliance is, like many of the best wines of the vintage, testimony to the courage, conviction and dedication of the entire team at Haut Bailly.
Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 42.8% Merlot; 39.7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17.5% Cabernet Franc; 15% alcohol; harvested between the 7th and 29th of September). This is a shade darker and more garnet in hue than La Mission, a little more viscous still, more limpid in the glass if that is possible and actually it seems to focus the light much like a stained-glass window. A profoundly gorgeous and slightly more open and expansive nose, Haut-Brion seems to want to reveal a little more of its identity than the more introverted and perhaps monastic La Mission.
This is more floral, with traces of pink rose petals and hint of violets, red and black cherry, cedar, wild blueberries and mulberries, wild spring flowers and oregano, with a trace of walnut shell too. The attack is incredibly cool and gentle – the proverbial plunge-pool that sends little shivers racing up and down the spine – and the power and density is fantastically disguised, in part by the compact nature of the tannins. This seems infinitely layered and so very finely detailed. Yet one is also acutely aware that one glimpse now, at this stage, only the tiniest part of the entire canvas. A supremely intellectual and fascinatingly beautiful wine – it’s a little like entering a maze.
Haut-Brion blanc (71% Sauvignon blanc; 29% Sémillon; 13.9% alcohol; harvested beteween the 20th and 27th of August). Profound and utterly sublime and tasted, after a short pause during which I just about managed to regain my composure, after La Mission Haut-Brion blanc (see the tasting note for details!). Sublime and ethereal but in a different way. This is a little more direct and less subtle I suppose. Here we have the oyster shell from La Clarté that you won’t find at all on La Mission and we also have a quite extraordinary orange blossom and blood orange note that seems to weave its way into the oyster shell to produce a perfectly beautiful if unlikely combination.
There is passion fruit and fifty shades of citrus – indeed, 50 shades of lemon and 50 shades of grapefruit and some yuzu too, and then the smiling sunshine note of saffron. On the palate this is incredibly opulent and flamboyantly rich, with the most sumptuous and relaxed mouthfeel. It also has an incredibly natural slight sense of sweetness – something that I might normally regard as a flaw, but here it is just sublime. And I also find on the palate what I found on the nose of La Mission – the texture, almost in hair-by-hair detail, as if painted by a grand master, of the skin of a peach. The flow over the palate is just amazing too – so diaphanous, so limpid, so clear and translucent, so shimmering, so sinuous. I am again in raptures – vinous heaven!
Léoville-Las-Cases (St Julien; 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 11% Cabernet Franc; 8% Merlot; IPT 79; pH 3.80; 13.68% alcohol; contains 5.7% press wine). A truly excellent Las Cases that seems to have more similarities with Latour (next door) than ever. On the nose this is quite marked by the Cabernet Franc – blueberries, cherries, mulberries, a lovely graphite minerality and just a hint of sous bois. The attack is cool and silky, turning limpid, lithe and sinuous and the wine seems to relax and stretch itself out along its spine.
There’s a great and very natural sense of harmony and freshness here and those gorgeously fine-grained and intensely structuring tannins bring great pixilated detail to the mid palate. At this stage, rather like Latour, one feels that the pixilation is in black and white and the colours are still to come with bottle age – one senses the structure and the potential but can only begin to anticipate the evolution. The shimmering finish lasts for minutes and minutes.
Léoville-Poyferré (St Julien; 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 80% of which are new; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 13.7% alcohol). The 100th anniversary of the Cuvelier family’s ownership which will be marked with a special bottle for the vintage. Black/purple at the core and a shade or two darker in both colour and extraction than either Moulin Riche or Le Pavillon, with a pronounced band of lilac/purple at the rim. Viscous and glossy. Poyferré is intensely floral in this vintage – violets, lilacs, peonies and rose petals, saffron and star anise, a splash of hoisin and a deep dark cherry and plum fruit, with freshly crushed new season walnuts. Cool and unbelievably svelte on the palate with intensely dark crushed pulpy black and blueberry fruit and super-fine but always tactile tannins giving this an almost pixilated complexity and textural focus through the very long mid-palate. This has an exquisite sense of poise and harmony and an almost eternal asymptotic tapered finish.
Margaux (Margaux; 89% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.67; IPT 80 – which is higher than the 2019; 13.5% alcohol; this represents around 36% of the total production). Tasted at the Chateau with Philippe Bascaules. A study in harmony. This has a wondrous blue/purple core that almost seems to suck all light towards it. On the nose, this feels utterly composed and natural, with blueberries, brambles, cherry stone, a hint of redcurrant (with all its freshness), spring flowers, a touch of iris and violet and wild herbs, heather and gorse and a little touch of sous bois. As I tasted this it was almost as if the songs of the birds outside were emanating from the glass, so completely natural is the aura of this wine.
On the palate this is cool, with a rolling and rippling entry leading to the most diaphanous and sinuous of mid-palates – though this is intensely pure, precise and focussed, it is not at all linear. Tense, bright, fresh and utterly brilliant, this has all the density, depth and concentration of a truly great vintage, but with an utterly singular and unique sense of vibrancy and energy. It glides and dances with a shimmering, crystalline and pixilated mid-palate – and it is also profoundly expressive of both the appellation and its terroir. Undoubtedly one the wines of the vintage.
La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 48.6% Merlot; 43.2% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8.2% Cabernet Franc; 14.7% alcohol; harvested between the 7th and 29th of September). This is brilliantly magenta/purple at the core and practically radiant at the rim with a beautiful sheen in the glass and the capacity it seems to draw all light towards it. The nose is a little introverted, introspective and almost intimate – it beckons you in and enthrals you in the wine, with subtle and delicate hints of cedar and apple wood, graphite and red and darker berry fruit and plums that are just à point in terms of ripeness; I find a slight iodine-saline-marine mineral note too.
On the palate this is ultra-pure, quite compact and the unbelievably tight and fine-grained tannins seem to clutch the fruit tightly to the acid-mineral spine of the wine. As in La Chapelle they seem almost to be coated in chalk dust so fine and textural are they and they bring a fascinating interest, clarity and luminous quality to the mid-palate like the stained glass windows in La Mission’s Chapel focus the sunlight. This is very beautiful, very compact, slightly sombre, austere and seriously contemplative. Scintillating.
La Mission Haut-Brion blanc (55% Sauvignon Blanc; 45% Sémillon; 13.8% alcohol; harvested between the 19th and the 28th of August). Quite ethereal and quite spiritual in a way. The nose is utterly beautiful and impossible to describe – and it’s a bit of crime to try to do so, especially by reducing it to a series of labels and individual descriptors when it is experienced only as it exists as a wonderfully integrated totality. But let me try.
We have apricots and peaches, but so precise is the nose that one can almost sense the soft yet tactile texture of the skin, we have elderflower and elderberry, we have thyme and chervil and a fantastically delicate marine iodine-saline mineral note. On the palate the texture is incredible, and incredibly luminous. At first we have cool plunge-pool depth and crystalline calm, then the tannins start to engage and the wine starts gently to unfurl unleashing the most sappy and juicy wave of bright, fresh intense citrus notes and spring flowers, with that glorious saline minerality wrapping this all off in the most sublimely long slowly tapering finale – that goes on for minutes. Utterly spectacular and even more memorable than any other experience of this wine I can recall. Rather unexpectedly, it had me in tears.
Montrose (St Estèphe; 71% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; pH 3.86; IPT 80; 13.4% alcohol; just 40% of the production made into the grand vin). Tasted at the Chateau, this has a pronounced radiance to the bright purple rim and is intensely limpid and viscous in the glass, capturing beautifully the late morning sunshine (so tasted in optimal conditions). An utterly profound and beautiful wine. I would never have guessed that Montrose could produce something of such shimmering elegance and finesse this young.
Montrose 2020 has an opulent and bright brilliance on the nose, with radiant black cherry, the parfumier’s intense absolu of violet and essence of rose petal, and then fresh, plump wild blueberries, brambles and mulberries, with hints of wild herbs. This is remarkably open aromatically and searingly beautiful – so expressive of the singularity of this extraordinary vintage. On the palate, this is incredible. Subtle, cool, elegant, it opens and as it does so unfurls so gently and so languidly, releasing in the process little cedary ripples as it builds graciously in amplitude.
This is joyously bright and dynamic with an intensely pixelated and crystalline mid-palate that simply shimmers. But at the same time, and in a very Montrose-way, it is austere and authoritative, dense, compact and concentrated (the IPT of the 2019 is 72), with incredible layering and staggering detail. A simply extraordinary wine that challenges the senses and that has the most savoury, salivating and sappy of finishes. A study in harmony, this is of clear 1st growth quality. I didn’t think Montrose could bring a tear to my eye, certainly not en primeur; this does.
Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac; 84% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; pH 3.80; 13.1% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. A simply brilliant Mouton. The nose reveals itself, or those parts of itself that the wines seems to wish to reveal at this stage, in instalments. First spring flowers and a gentle loamy earthiness, then a little hint of beurre noisette and then the fruit starts to arrive, again gradually and in instalments – dark plum cherries, brambles, blackberries, mulberries and sloes, with a little hint of dark chocolate shavings, graphite and cedar (more and more as the wine breathes in the air and softens) and aniseed and grated liquorice root.
By this stage we have something utterly sublime, fantastically complicated and entirely harmonious – but also, crucially, staggering bright, fresh and dynamic. The palate is no less extraordinary. This is a wine of amazing clarity and luminosity. It is creamy, rich, plump and layered but it is also diaphanous and sinuous with the fruits seemingly supported on cushions of ultra-fine grained yet almost pixilated and tactile tannins. The iron fist in the velvet glove is perhaps a tired cliché, but it was never appropriate than here. Sumptuous, opulent, elegant and classical yet so exciting fresh and energetic – and with so much still to reveal of itself.
Palmer (Margaux; 48% Cabernet Sauvignon; 48% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; pH 3.77; IPT 78; 14.1% alcohol; this represents 55% of the total production and includes 13% press wine). Tasted at Chateau Palmer. A fabulous deep dark plunge pool purple with blue highlights and an almost luminescent rim. On the nose we have graphite shading to cedar as the wine slowly opens, crunchy black and red cherries, plump brambles and walnut oil with spring flowers and wild thyme. This is so pure with plunge pool depth and profundity.
The attack is sumptuous and multi-dimensional, yet at the same time the tannins are so soft that they have an almost anaesthetising effect contributing to the very slow unfurling of the wine across the palate. Palmer 2020 is intensely juicy, with the slight grip of the tannins serving to inject little ripples and wavelets of pure fresh concentrated juicy fruit onto the palate, disguising as they do so the considerable depth and density of the mid-palate. Exceptional bright and energetic and both archetypally Palmer in all its wild natural brilliance and archetypally 2020. A staggering and exciting wine that shows just what biodynamic vineyard management allied to very skilled wine-making can achieve.
Pavie Macquin (St Emilion; from a well-placed vineyard of 15 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau situated between Pavie and Troplong-Mondot; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; 85% of the production was selected for the grand vin; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50-55% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Limpid, glossy and translucent, with a beautiful dark purple/garnet core, this is utterly divine on the nose.
We have deep dark graphite and acacia wood notes, lavender, lots of quite floral peppercorn notes (Baies de Timut, green Szechuan peppercorns, Baies de Selim), lilac, wild thyme and marjoram all beautifully integrated with the pure, almost crystalline, blackberry and blueberry fruit. This is intensely fresh on the palate, with a bright, crisp pick-up and considerable forward thrust coming from the ultra-fine-grained limestone tannins, but there is a really impressive creaminess to this too – and, overall, the wine has a juicy, sapid sinuous flow across the palate. I love the little combination of fresh mint leaf with a delicate trace of pepper on the very fine and gently asymptotic finish. Truly excellent.
Pavillon Rouge de Margaux (Margaux; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; pH 3.67; 13.6% alcohol; this represents just over 30% of the total production). This is wonderfully bright and fresh and natural on the nose, with spring flowers, wild herbs and a lovely aerial pure blackberry and bramble fruit with hints of pepper, candlewax, nutmeg and graphite. The attack is voluptuous, with beautifully svelte tannins that gently support the fruit, allowing it to glide, dance and shimmer on the mid-palate; the effect is to give this a brilliantly light and diaphanous feel in the mouth despite the considerable density and depth. Very elegant, very stylish and so utterly balanced and harmonious, this feels profoundly classical and very natural too. I love the touch of hazelnut and sesame seed oil on the finish.
Petit-Village (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 10.5 hectares on a clay-gravel terroir, 2.5 hectares of which are being replanted and only a half of the remaining 4 hectares was uses for the grand vin; 60% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 27 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Diana Berrouet-Garcia. A remarkable transformation since this was acquired by the Moulin family in June 2020. An utterly brilliant wine and a complete revelation. This is now right up there, for me, with the very best wines of the plateau; and one of the things that really makes the difference is the elevated proportion of Cabernet (Franc and Sauvignon) in the blend. Intensely purple and intensely limpid in the glass, even if it seems like the colour has still to set and has been dropped in with a pipette as it shimmers and seems to change in density as the viscous liquid rolls around the glass.
The nose is Pomerol perfection – peonies and violets first, then plump freshly plucked and perfectly ripe blueberries, black cherries, maybe mulberries too, graphite and cedar and black pen ink. This is the closest to cashmere in terms of texture of any wine I have thus far tasted in the vintage. Rich, deep, plump, plush with a rippling, undulating current of juicy, sappy fresh fruit. Petit Village used to be slightly strict and stern; this is the very antithesis. It is light, dynamic, vibrant and exuberant but at the same time it has succulence, depth and profundity. I was expecting this to be good, but not this good. A new benchmark for Petit-Village and a property that really deserves your attention.
Quintus (St Emilion; a property created by Domaine Clarence Dillon – the owners of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion – from the bringing together of the two vineyards of Tertre Daugay and L’Arrosée in 2013 after the initial acquisition of the former in 2011; 62.5% Merlot; 37.5% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, c. 40% of which are new; 15.4% alcohol). A lovely shocking indigo-violet in the glass, impressively translucent at the core and with a shocking pink/lilac rim, this has a beautifully and intensely aromatic nose that I find very stylish and elegant.
The oak is quite noticeable, but it beautifully reinforces the floral themes – violets and lily of the valley – and, indeed, the cedar, which it seems to coat in very dark chocolate powder and vanilla. The palate is beautifully limpid, sinuous and diaphanous with a gorgeous mouthfeel; the tannins are velvety and seem to hold the fresh, bright cassis fruit hovering just above the palate and the beautifully refined fine-grained tannins seem gently to massage the fruit highlighting little detail as they do so. I might have said this last year too, but this is the finest vintage of Quintus to date in my view.
Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 60% of which are new, for 18 months; average age of the vines is 48 years; 14% alcohol). Darker in the glass than Domaine de Chevalier tasted alongside, more lilac and purple at the core, but certainly no more extracted, the rim is a little more set. This is actually more floral on the nose than Chevalier with less cedar and graphite at first – violets and peonies, saffron and a very rich, plump dark berry and stone fruit – blackberries, mulberries, sloes and damsons, the oak less obvious than in previous vintages but gently supporting the fruit; there’s a little suggestion of vanilla and wood-smoke at the end and it remains in the glass afterwards, but it never dominates.
Richer and fuller on the palate than Chevalier with impressive and more evident density and concentration, and more of an immediate sense of amplitude. The tannins are at first gorgeously voluptuous and then, once we enter the mid-plate, impressively grippy and chewy. A big, taut and sumptuous wine that has loads of bright irrepressible energy, a stylish swagger, yet also considerable finesse and detail. More showy in a way than Chevalier, but another truly excellent wine from Smith Haut-Lafitte.
Smith Haut Lafitte blanc (Pessac-Léognan; 90% Sauvignon Blanc; 5% Sémillon; 5% Suvignon Gris; a final yield of 29 hl/ha; fermentation and élevage in oak barrels, 50% of which are new). A lovely wine with a shimmering, crystalline citrus nose with acacia and perhaps redcurrant leaf, a little hint of cinnamon too. Fresh and lively on the palate and with lots of freshness; but also decent weight, density and concentration; perhaps a little less spicy and rich than previously, but with a lovely sense of balance, energy and tension.
Trotanoy (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 7.2 hectares on gravel on clay and black clay; 100% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 15% alcohol). Many of these Moueix Pomerols in this vintage come close to flirting with perfection, this one quite possibly attains it. It is very different from the others and the nose alone brings a slight tear to my eye and goose-pimples to the back of my neck. We have pure violet and pure blueberry fruit but they are accompanied here less by the cedar of Latour à Pomerol or Hosanna and more by pure graphite – and that brings somehow an even more pure and crystalline focus to the nose. On the palate this dances and rolls and glides and shimmers with brilliant clarity and a luminous quality that sets it apart from the other wines in this exceptional line-up. It is also the most challenging to describe as if so often the case the closer one gets to perfection.
Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted alongside Le Pin and Guillot Clauzel with Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont at the Chateau. This is simply stunning. Beautiful in the glass, intensely limpid and shimmering even in the cool light of the cellar, with crystalline blue highlights. This is sublime and lifted on the nose with plump, crunchy black cherries, blueberries and fresh walnuts and hazelnuts, then wisteria, peonies and violets – and then the graphite and cedar notes start to build, wrapping themselves around the floral elements and weaving themselves into the texture of the fruit.
On the palate this is supremely bright, clear and luminous – it just shines and shimmers as it glides and floats around the mouth. It has the most extraordinarily fine-grained of gossamer tannins, with just enough texture to provide pixilated detail to the mid-palate. Vibrant and extremely energetic, this is utterly brilliant. A profound expression of its terroir and one of the real stars of the vintage.