Bordeaux en primeur 2020: Onwards and upwards
The Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign is nearing its finish, with the final releases expected on or before 25 June. The last week has seen a further acceleration in the pace of releases and, with it, further increases in the upward trend in pricing now established since the start of the campaign.
Week seven brought average increases in prices, in sterling-equivalent terms, of 16 per cent. The equivalent figure was 12 per cent last week, 9 per cent the week before. It was, of course, zero in the very first week of the campaign. But, in general and for the most part, these prices have worked, even if they make many of the earlier releases look like even better value for money than they seemed at the time.
In a week of star releases it seems appropriate to start with Ausone, certainly a candidate for the wine of the vintage, even if at this stage it has not been widely tasted. It was released at an ex negoce. price per bottle of €500, up 19% from the 2019 (at €420). Those lucky enough to have been able to visit the chateau (myself included) have not been disappointed (JA 99; JL for JR 18+; CH 98-100).
Last week also brought the release of the much-vaunted Canon and Bélair-Monange, both wines on staggering runs of form. Bolstered, no doubt, by the potential perfection seen in it by Lisa Perroti-Brown, the more general sense that it has been undervalued on release for many vintages and its impressive secondary market performance after release, Canon was offered en primeur with the highest increase in price relative to its 2019 to date (up nearly 38% at an ex negoce. price of €96 as compared to €69.60 for the 2019).
Bélair-Monange has many of the same characteristics if not, as yet, quite the same secondary market performance. It was up a comparatively modest 16% in sterling-equivalent terms, despite Jane Anson seeing potential perfection in the wine and near unanimity in the critical acclaim it has received.
In St Emilion, we also saw the release of the newly resurgent Troplong Mondot, arguably the best wine made by Aymeric de Gironde at the property, up 13.3% in sterling-equivalent terms. Those looking for an excuse to justify their purchase don’t have to look far – with 97 from Jane Anson and 98-99 from James Suckling amongst a range of impressive ratings.
Across the appellation border in Pomerol we have Eglise Clinet, La Fleur Petrus and Clinet. Eglise-Clinet has produced the latest in a series of simply brilliant wines and a wonderful follow-up to Denis Durantou’s last wine, the sublime 2019. Its sterling-equivalent release price is up just 9.4% – a price rise similar to that of Lafleur and significantly lower than the other stars of the appellation that have already released (notably, Evangile and Le Gay). It has extremely consistent and very high scores from all of the leading critics, with James Suckling awarding 98-99 and Lisa Perroti-Brown 97-99. Unremarkably, it seems to have sold very well.
La Fleur-Petrus is another star of the vintage, up 17.5% on the 2019 in sterling-equivalent terms. With both James Suckling and Jed Dunnock seeing potential perfection and no dissenting voices amongst the leading critics, it is difficult not to see this as representing fair value (and the Liv-ex analysis tends to agree).
And even with a 25% increase in release price, at £800 in bond for a case of 12, Clinet continues to look like a very good value plateau Pomerol, with a very consistent set of evaluations from the leading international critics in this vintage, as in 2019.
In Pessac-Léognan we saw two key releases, Les Carmes Haut-Brion and Pape Clement, with rather different release price strategies. Les Carmes Haut-Brion’s release price (strictly speaking, release prices) make it something of a first in this campaign – for it is the only wine to date to have released a second tranche. The first tranche was offered at a sterling-equivalent price per case of 12 of £948 in bond (up 16.2% on the 2019’s £816).
Predictably given its critical acclaim, small size of production and very impressive secondary market performance since around 2015, it sold out instantly. A second tranche followed shortly, at an increase in price relative to the 2019 of 69% (at £1380 in bond for 12). Those able to secure their allocation at the first tranche price will surely be well pleased with little need to point to the widespread critical acclaim for the wine to justify their investment.
Pape-Clement’s release price, of £752 in sterling-equivalent terms for a case of 12 in bond (up just 3.7% on the 2019’s £725) seems positively generous in comparison. But with very different volumes of production, both seem to have worked well.
Turning to the Médoc, we have seen a series of fascinating releases in Pauillac in particular. Here it is interesting to place the 2020 vintage in the context of the trend in en primeur price-formation since 2016. This I do in the following figure, which compares four of this week’s star Pauillac releases – the ‘super seconds’, Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse and the ‘fab fifths, Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet – over the vintages 2016-2020.
Release prices 2016-2020 (euros, ex negoce) – assorted leading Pauillac classed growths. Source: Liv-ex.com
What we see is a clear divergence in release prices since 2016 that is maintained and possibly even a little reinforced in 2020. Pontet Canet (up 21.6% in sterling-equivalent terms in 2020 at £890 in bond for a case of 12 bottles) has repositioned over this time. In so doing it has moved closer in price to Lynch Bages (up 31.6% in sterling-equivalent terms in 2020 at £1040 in bond for a case of 12 bottles). And over the same time, the Pichons have also diverged a little, with that divergence reinforced by their relative 2020 release prices (with Pichon Comtesse rising 21.1% and Pichon Baron 11.2% in sterling-equivalent terms relative to their 2019s).
But what is perhaps most interesting here is that, overall, and in the absence of a single, dominant and market-shaping international critic, the 1855 classification actually seems to be re-asserting itself.
Amongst the other Médoc releases this week, it is the release of another ‘super second’, Cos d’Estournel, that stands out the most. For whilst the other Médocian classed growths to have released this week have all kept quite close to the weekly average increase in price of 16% (with Brane Cantenac and d’Issan just below and Calon-Ségur just above), Cos has plumped for a sterling-equivalent rise in price of 31.6%. With a specially etched commemorative bottle to mark Michel Reybier’s 20 years at the helm of the property and another set of consistent and impressive scores from the critics, the ambition will probably be rewarded.
Full details of this week’s most notable new releases:
Ausone (£6000 in bond for 12, up 17.6% on the 2019 (£5100); NM –; JA 99; JL for JR 18+; CH 98-100).
Bélair-Monange (£1450 in bond for 12, up 16% on the 2019 (£1250); NM 95-97; JA 99; LPB 95-97; JS 97-98; AG 95-97; JD 96-98+; CH 98-100).
Brane Cantenac (£590 in bond for 12, up 18.5% on the 2019 (£498); NM 96-97; JA 94; LPB 91-93; JS 96-97; AG 94-96; JD 94-96; CH 95-97).
Calon-Ségur (£936 in bond for 12, up 20.3% on the 2019 (£778); NM 92-94; JA 98; LPB 95-97; JS 95-96; AG 88-90; JD 95-97; CH 95-97).
Canon (£1152 in bond for 12, up 31.5% on the 2019 (£876); NM 96-98; JA 99; LPB 98-100; JS 98-99; AG 95-97; JD 96-98; CH 95-97).
Les Carmes Haut-Brion (1st tranche £948 in bond for 12, up 16.2% on the 2019 (£816); 2nd tranche £1380 in bond for 12, up 69% on the 2019); NM 94-96; JA 96; LPB 95-97; JS 97-98; AG 95-97; JD 96-98; CH 97-99).
Clinet (£800 in bond for 12, up 25% on the 2019 (£650); NM 94-96; JA 95; LPB 96-98; JS 96-97; AG 93-95; JD 96-98+; CH 95-97).
Clos Fourtet (£939 in bond for 12, up 14.8% on the 2019 (£818); NM 95-97; JA 96; LPB 96-98; JS 95-6; AG 96-98; CH 96-98).
Cos d’Estournel (£1800 in bond for 12, up 31.6% on the 2019 (£1368); NM 95-97; JA 97; LPB 96-98; JS 97-98; AG 94-96; JD 95-97+; CH 96-98).
La Fleur-Petrus (£1950 in bond for 12, up 17.5% on the 2019 (£1660); NM 94-96; JA 97; LPB 95-97; JS 99-100; AG 94-96; JD 97-100; CH 97-99).
L’Eglise Clinet (£2811 in bond for 12, up 9.4% on the 2019 (£2570); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 97-99; JS 98-99; AG 96-98; JD 96-98; CH 97-99+).
D’Issan (£506 in bond for 12, up 15.5% on the 2019 (£438); NM 93-95; JA 96; LPB 93-95; JS 97-98; AG 93-95; JD 93-95+; JD 93-95+; CH 93-95).
Lynch Bages (£1040 in bond for 12, up 31.6% on the 2019 (£790); NM 94-96; JA 96; LPB 94-96; JS 98-99; AG 93-95; JD 95-97; JD 95-97+; CH 95-97).
Pape Clement (£752 in bond for 12, up just 3.7% on the 2019 (£725); NM 95-97; JA 94; LPB 96-98; JS 97-98; AG 95-97; JD 97-99).
Pichon Baron (£1327 in bond for 12, up 11.7% on the 2019 (£1188); NM 95-97; JA 96-98; LPB 95-97+; JS 97-98; AG 96-98; JD 96-98; CH 95-97).
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (£1614 in bond for 12, up 21.1% on the 2019 (£1332); NM 96-98; JA 96; LPB 95-97; JS 97-98; AG 95-97; JD 98-100; CH 97-99).
Pontet Canet (£890 in bond for 12, up 21.6% on the 2019 (£732); NM –; JA 97; LPB 96-98+; JS 98-99; AG 95-97; JD –; CH 94-96).
Troplong Mondot (£864 in bond for 12, up 13.3% on the 2019 (£762); NM 94-96; JA 97; LPB 95-97+; JS 98-99; AG 93-95; JD 96-98; CH 95-97).
My tasting notes for each new release:
Ausone (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7.25 hectares on its unique limestone and clay-limestone plateau and côtes terroirs with a southern and eastern exposure; 50% Cabernet Franc; 50% Merlot; aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels; the average age of the vines is 54 years, but with the parcel around the chapel over 110 years old). This is just glorious and much more accessible that it usually is at this stage.
The nose is defined by the wondrous cedar element that seems to bring together and incorporate seamlessly every other component – brambles, black cherries, blueberries and plums, sloes and damsons with assorted aromatic and exotic baies and peppercorns and a hint of walnut shell. There is also a shimmeringly beautiful floral element, rare in Ausone especially at this stage – violets, wild oregano and marjoram flowers – with pencil shavings and freshly roasting (as distinct from freshly roasted) coffee beans. The tannins are of velour and they produce little ripples of sappy freshness; but, at the same time, they are quite tactile and textural too. It’s as if the fresh fruit of the mid-palate is conveyed on tiny spherical rollers of tannin that somehow both massage the fruit and illuminate the detail. The finish is remarkable and the empty glass has the almost haunting lingering perfection of violets and cedar. Quite brilliant.
Bélair-Monange (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 23.5 hectares on a combination of terroirs – limestone on the plateau and blue clay on limestone on the slopes; 98% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 15% alcohol). In 2020 there is only 2% of Cabernet Franc in the blend here, despite the vineyard being planted at 10%. Glossy, extremely limpid, impressively translucent at the core and with a profoundly glass-staining indigo-violet rim. Divine. This has such a composed, cool, refined, elegant and subtle nose.
Cedar, graphite, brambles, mulberries, blueberries and sloes with a gorgeously fresh, bright acidity. Sumptuously soft and plunge-pool cool on the entry in a way that catches you slightly by surprise. The effect is to prime the senses and to make you concentrate – and that allows you appreciate in a kind of slow motion, highly pixilated, almost frame-by-frame way, the unfurling and unfolding of the fruit over the palate. It’s as if the structuring mineral-acid-tannic backbone of the wine rations and moderates the release of the fruit, crafting and building the wine towards its glorious crescendo which takes the form of a succession of little ripples of juicy freshness right at the top of the palate. The structure – and the sense of structure – is extraordinary. Alongside Trotanoy, one of the wines of the vintage. In 2018 I preferred Trotanoy; in 2019 I preferred Bélair-Monange; in 2020 … it’s a tie!
Brane Cantenac (Margaux; 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 1% Carmanere; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; aging in a combination of new oak and amphorae for 18 months; pH 3.71; 13.7% alcohol). Another lovely wine from Henri Lurton and his talented team at Brane Cantenac. Extremely limpid, like moonlight on a silvery lake, very dark hued, accentuating the effect, but translucent at the core and seemingly very gently extracted. The nose is instantly ‘Brane’, for me always the most aromatic and the most distinctive aromatically of the great Margaux estates.
It takes a little while to come together, but when it does this could not be any other wine. It is more floral I think that any other left-bank wine I have thus far tasted, with rose petals, peonies and patchouli enrobing the dark berry and cherry fruit, but also with oodles of Brane graphite and cedar and a lovely fresh cracked peppercorn note too. If I could bottle the aroma I’d carry a jar of it around with me! Soft, sleek, supple, sinuous and sensuous on the palate, with the most gloriously svelte tannins, this is a very refined and elegant wine that ripples as it rolls over the palate. Very complete, supremely harmonious and utterly compelling, this is on a par with the 2016 for me. Golden Brane!
Calon-Ségur (St Estèphe; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; aging for 20 months in 100% new oak barrels; pH 3.85; 13.8% alcohol). Ultra-silky and quite viscous in the glass with a very ill-formed but gloriously bright and vibrant deep purple rim. The nose takes a little time to come together, but it’s definitely worth waiting for. It’s the graphite and floral elements that strike you first – wild meadow spring flowers, pencil shavings and a hint of saffron and then damsons, mulberries and brambles, with a little finely crushed fresh black pepper and a touch of baking spices. Dense and compact on the palate, with incredibly fine-grained yet notably granular tannins holding the plump, pulpy cherry and blueberry fruit in an almost gravity-defying suspension, this is very precise and focussed, very driven in the sense that it projects itself forward along its graphite-mineral spine rather than outwards, and it has a beautifully gathered and tapered finish. A model of harmony.
Canon (St Emilion; from 24 hectares of the 34-hectare vineyard of Chateau Canon, with the other 10 hectares dedicated to Croix Canon high on the argilo-calcaire plateau just outside St Emilion itself; the vines have a south and south-western exposure; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new for 18 months; pH 3.53; 14.5% alcohol; picked between the 4th and 23rd of September). Garnet/purple at the core with blue/purple highlights and a violet rim. Very open and charged with fresh fruit on the nose – compote blueberries and raspberries, red cherries, a hint of leather, frangipane and toasted almonds.
Glossy and quite plump on the attack with fleshy ripe yet fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit stretched out along its long fine-grained chewy chalky tannic spine. This has a lovely sense of levity and seems to dance across the palate despite the considerable density and concentration on the finely delineated mid-palate. Pure, precise, focussed and very well integrated and harmonious. The tannins are so soft that one really has to concentrate to appreciate the role they play in stretching out the fruits over the long, elegant highly-contoured and layered mid palate. This has a beautifully gathered clean finish. The latest in a succession of superb wines from Canon.
Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan; 40% Cabernet Franc; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon; 26% Merlot; 60% whole bunch fermentation; aging in oak barrels and larger formats, 80% of which are new and with 9% aging in amphorae; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; pH 3.6; 13.6% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Guillaume Pouthier. This is quite sublime, probably the best ever vintage of this wine and definitely a candidate for the wine of the appellation and one of the wines of the vintage. It is incredible to think that is an en primeur sample, so unbelievably soft and lustrous are the tannins.
Cool on the entry and producing a strange kind of discombobulation as one struggles to come to terms with quite how soft this is. Just when one starts to come back to one’s sense, a firehose of pure, bright, fresh and deeply concentrated fruit seems to explode in the mouth and then, just as one is starting to come to terms with that, one begins to sense the fine-grained quite chalky tannins that bring a pixilated level of detail to the mid-palate and that seem to hold the fruit is perpetual free-fall in the mouth. Needless to say, the finish goes on for minutes (quite literally). Amazingly structured, fantastically layered (milles feuilles) and with so much precision and detail to say nothing of the wonderful ferrous-saline minerality that is the signature of this extraordinary terroir. An incredible wine and a revelation.
Clinet (Pomerol; from a fantastic and rightly famous vineyard of 9 hectares on the plateau on a prime clay-gravel terroir; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; 15.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC. A wonderful wine. On the nose we have all forms and varieties of cherries – dried, fresh and preserved, red, black and yellow, just ripe and very ripe, but always plump and crunchy; there are blueberries too, of course, and a broad range of the parfumier’s floral armoury (and the skill to combine them). On the palate, this is dark and bright, compact and yet sinuous; though there is density and one is aware that this carrying a lot of substance, it remains bright and glossy and diaphanous – almost billowy. It is also wonderfully refreshing, charged as it is, especially on the finish, with great freshness. Above all, though, it is the silky texture that sets this apart. Luminous and clear, it simply exudes harmony. Another sumptuous wine from Clinet.
Clos Fourtet (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 20 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau just outside of St Emilion itself; 90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new, and amphorae (2%); 14.5% alcohol). With an identical final blend to the 2019, the same pH (3.6) and the same degree of alcohol. Deep purple at the core, with blue/garnet highlight and a luminescent violet glow from the rim, this is viscous and limpid in the glass.
The nose is defined by the graphite minerality which wraps itself around and becomes a mechanism for the delivery of the dark, gracious blackberry, bramble and mulberry fruit. There are lovely floral notes here too – irises, iris bulbs and stamens too and a slight suggestion of whole green tea leaves. Super-svelte and with great depth, density and concentration on the palate, the cashmere tannins are incredible. They create a wonderful clear textural tapestry which allows one to experience in a more sharply focussed way the pixilation and layered complexity of this extraordinary wine. This is bigger and richer than recent vintages, but with the same gorgeous mouthfeel and texture. Very harmonious, beautifully integrated, utterly compelling and despite all its power and density so light and aerial.
Cos d’Estournel (St Estèphe; 62% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; a final yield of 39 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 55% of which are new; pH 3.9; IPT 80; 13.46% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Dominique Arangoits. Beautifully purple in the glass, very dark and rich looking, an impression reinforced by the viscous limpidity and the shimmering magenta rim. This is a wine with extraordinary tension and dynamism, a yin and yang wine in a way. On the nose we have the most fantastically bright and lifted, fresh and crunchy red and black cherry, cherry skin and blueberry fruit, with cedar, graphite, and those archetypal Cos spices – Chinese five spice, star anise, cinnamon, bay, saffron with a touch of hoisin; and that takes one to the slightly ferrous-saline note that, for me, is so characteristic of St Estèphe.
This is a Cos that takes us back to – and deep into – its terroir and I really love that. On the palate, this is zingy yet opulent, fresh and vivid, yet tender and soft and delicate, intensely compact and concentrated and yet with so much energy and natural levity. It is also wonderfully clear and luminous. Overall, this is a wine of great natural clarity, great precision, great freshness, great focus and, above all, great balance. It is not massive, though it is actually more massive in way that it seems; but it has a tender beauty that is very natural and it has the most gorgeous texture.
L’Eglise Clinet (Pomerol; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 80% of which is new; 14.4% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. Like La Petite Eglise this slightly austere but utterly sublime wine needs time to open – it is in no rush to reveal to us its charms. But what charms they are! This is dark and mysterious, slightly gothic, even a little sombre. The fruit is incredibly dark and intense – black cherries and blueberries, with a hint of damson and sloe – and it is wrapped in the most gloriously silky and quintessentially Pomerol combination of cedar, graphite and dark chocolate-coated violets. It is utterly beautiful and breath-taking in its timeless perfection – like the stained glass of La Sainte Chapelle.
The palate is no less breath-taking, though here one is more aware that this is a vin de garde that will need several decades to reveal all of its glories. The tannins are fantastically soft on the entry, but their ultra-fine granularity is a tactile presence right from the start. They chisel, structure and shape the fruit as they build the architecture of the wine whilst also illuminating the detail of the mid-palate as they do so. It is like witnessing the construction of a gothic cathedral, with the beauty as much in the fine-grained detail as in the totality. Sumptuous, utterly compelling and brilliantly vibrant and fresh from start to finish; it also builds fantastically over the palate.
La Fleur-Pétrus (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 18.7 hectares on gravel and deep clay on an iron-rich subsoil; 93% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new, for 16-18 months; 15% alcohol). Utterly sublime and beautifully harmonious. This has a cool, dark, achingly soft and slightly sombre nose of violets, candied violets, Palma violets, blueberries and brambles and fresh finely ground peppercorns, with a deep earthy-loamy undertone too. Creamy, soft, gentle and incredibly refined, this has the most incredibly fine-grained yet intensely tactile tannins that almost seem the massage the fruit into the palate. There is a plunge-pool cool bright intensity, like the sensory thrill of diving through crystal clear cool water (or at least that’s how I imagine it). Sublime.
D’Issan (Margaux; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 1% Malbec; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; pH 3.71; IPT 73; 13.3% alcohol). Just 45% of the total production after an incredibly strict selection. The Merlot is all from the famous Clos d’Issaan. But, for the first time, the blend includes Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec from parcels recently purchased between Issan itself and Chateau Margaux. Tasted twice, both from samples sent from the property – the first of which was not the best advert for the courier service between the Médoc and Paris. Intensely Margellais.
Fresh, pure, bright on the nose (and significantly brighter still from the fresher sample) and expressing aromatically both the more herbal and floral sides of the appellation – candied violets, Palma violet and the parfumier’s essence of violent, lavender and wild herbs, moss, damp earth and sous bois, even chanterelles accompany the red and much darker and more briary berry fruit – raspberries and cherries on the one hand, brambles, mulberries and black berries on the other. Soft and plump on the attack, with an engaging and very natural sweetness that comes from the fruit rather than residual sugar, with nice grippy and then rolling, juicy tannins that build towards a lovely crescendo. This will be very good. I tell that already from the first sample; but it is massively confirmed by the beautiful shimmering finish on the second.
Lynch Bages (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 31% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 75% of which are new; 13.4% alcohol, despite reaching the same phenolic maturity as the 2019). Tasted at the UGC in Paris, then from a sample supplied by the chateau and finally at the chateau itself with Jean-Charles Cazes. The first vintage made in the entirely new wine-making facility – and isn’t it impressive! This is so very floral on the nose that we could almost be in Margaux.
There is pure crisp crunchy black cherry and cassis, with pencil-shavings and a touch of mint leaf. But what I really love about this wine is its grace and fluidity across the palate. On the attack, it is plush, plump, full, rich, cool and remarkably soft, opening out to an aerial, sinuous, luminous mid-palate before a wonderfully joyous and refreshing, juicy, sapid finish. Yet it is also rich, compact, dense and both so richly layered and so multi-layered – and with incredible length and precision. This was for me probably the best left-bank wine in the UGC tasting in Paris. It has an incredible purity and a wonderfully diaphanous quality. This is now very close in quality to the first growths. Bravo!
Pape Clément (Pessac-Léognan; from 61 hectares on a clay gravel, first planted in the 13th century; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% Merlot; aging in oak barrels for 18 months; alcohol level not disclosed). A stylish and elegant if slightly sombre Pape-Clément, this is certainly excellent, if perhaps not the finest of recent vintages. On the nose there are touches of cinnamon and baking spices, tobacco leaf and wild wood smoke accompanying the rich, ripe plump plum and black cherry fruit, with little traces of both cedar and acacia wood and a twist or two of the pencil sharpener alongside the lovely note of saline minerality. On the palate this is bold and ample, with a certain opulence and splendour moderated nicely by the grippy fine-grained tannins which seem to bind the fruit to the structuring backbone of the wine, drawing the fruit out along the spine in the process. This is long in the mouth, very fine and well crafted, even if it lacks just a little ‘va-va-voom’.
Pichon Baron (Pauillac; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; representing 48% of the total production of 73 hectares). A glorious shimmering purple in the glass; impressively translucent and shockingly rose pink at the rim. A wonderful and essentially Pauillac nose – very earthy, with crushed rocks too, loads of graphite and the cedar of the Pichons wrapped around and intermingling with the lovely plump dark berry fruit. The oak is beautifully disguised and this is a very stylish, subtle and refined expression of Pichon Baron – which has been a little chunkier in recent vintages. Gorgeously indulgent and opulent on the palate, but with a very impressive and slightly tight and dense structure which holds the fruit very close to the graphite and mineral backbone of the wine. Chiselled and very carefully crafted, this is cool, composed, layered. It seems light and aerial but it also has considerable depth, density and substance – but it’s more disguised and I rather like that.
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc). What grace, elegance and classicism. A wondrous and wonderful wine that is incredibly beautifully and almost completely impossible to describe. Utterly sensuous and appealing to every sense. Aromatically this is sublimely soft and ethereal, incredibly dark and deep, with an utterly gorgeous but so subtle and delicate violet nose alongside the cedar and the graphite and the black cherry, cassis and blackberry fruit. There is also an utterly lovely freshly cracked walnut element and a wild herbiness too.
On the palate this is, as it now seems to have the habit of being, like diving into a cool fresh mountain lake, with an incredible almost cleansing sense of purity – and the vitality that comes with that. And this has the depth and profundity of the mountain lake too. Incredibly beautiful and so dynamic and vibrant too. This is also an extraordinarily powerful wine; and that is interesting, as many people I think have assumed that Pichon Lalande’s grace comes with a certain levity. Well maybe not – or not necessarily. If this gets any bigger during its élevage it’s in danger of splitting the barriques! Unlike any other wine in the vintage (even if I fear I said something very similar last year); and, needless to say, this is one of my wines of the vintage (and I’ve said that before too)!
Pontet Canet (Pauillac; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; no second wines since 2014; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new, with 35% in concrete amphorae; alcohol in the range 13-13.%). Tasted at the chateau with Justine Tesseron. In 2020 this is an explosive wine with impressively deep, rich and dark berry fruit at its core and a lovely velvetine texture. On the nose we have those classic graphite and cedar notes with pepper, nutmeg and Italian herbs encrusting the plump blackcurrant and bramble fruit. There is also a delightful spring floral element and an interesting hint of blood orange. The attack is bright and fresh and engaging, leading to a diaphanous and very open-textured, lifted and aerial mid-palate. This has plenty of density and power but it is extremely well disguised and the overall impression is of great energy, radiance and an agile clarity and luminescence. This has great tension too. A very eloquent and harmonious expression of the vintage.
Troplong Mondot (St Emilion; the highest vineyard in the appellation on a famous argilo-calaire terroir; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak, 60% of which is new; pH 3.53; IPT 75; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde and then at the chateau itself with similar notes. I detect an interesting slight change in style. This is bigger, bolder and richer than the 2018 or 2019, back to the broad-shouldered style of earlier but with a more gentle maceration and hence extraction and with a lot less obvious and obviously toasty oak. On the nose this is less floral than many – or, at least, the floral element is more subtle and more towards small wild spring flowers rather than the more demonstrative violets and peonies and roses.
This is earthy and wild and herby, with heathery moorland notes accompanying the very dark and slightly sombre fresh ripe plump berry fruit – that seems to build in freshness and acidity as the wine opens in the glass. And then the waves of cedar and graphite arrive bringing further depth and reinforcing the tension between the vibrant fresh fruit and the more austere earthy and herby undertones. Sumptuous and soft and elegant and refined on the palate, with rolling fresh fruit charged with sappy acidity flirting with the tongue as it stretches itself out along the mineral-acid-tannic spine.
There is great depth and concentration here too and although this is multi-layered and multi-dimensional it feels seamless and perfectly balanced. I love, too, the slightly crumbly, dusty chalky tannins which bring first a sharp focus and definition to the mid-palate and then lift the wine at it builds towards its long, tapering yet intensely layered finale. In comparison with previous vintages, this has even more precision, even more focus and further layers of complexity – with more to come as this ages. This is, like the very best wines in this exciting vintage, luminous. Bravo.