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Bordeaux en primeur 2020: The lull before the storm?

The fourth week of the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign saw a slight deceleration in the flow of releases. Even if the pace seems set to quicken this week, it seems now likely that we will have a rather more drawn-out campaign than in 2019, writes Colin Hay

Château Kirwan. Image c/o Oeno Group

An upward trend in prices when compared to those of the 2019s is now clearly discernible. The fourth week of the campaign also saw Liv-ex report secondary markets opening up for two of the early super-star St Emilion releases – Cheval Blanc and, perhaps more interestingly given its 7% increase in price on release (in sterling-equivalent terms), Angélus.

In St Emilion we saw the release of Canon’s stablemate, Berliquet and Cheval Blanc’s stablemate, Quinault L’Enclos.

Berliquet was released at an ex negoce. price per bottle of €35, up 9.3% on the 2019’s €32. In sterling-equivalent terms that represents an increase of 8.2% (£435 for a case of 12 bottles in bond in comparison to £402 for the 2019). The wine has extremely strong reviews from the north American critics (JS 95-96; LPB 94-96) but is evaluated a little more conservatively by Jane Anson (93) and, rather more equivocally, by Neal Martin (90-92).

Quinault L’Enclos was released at an ex negoce. price per bottle of €25.80, up 7.5% on the 2019’s €24 (an increase in sterling-equivalent terms of a more modest 4% at £312 for a case relative to the 2019’s £300). The wine has only been tasted by those able to visit Bordeaux and so been less widely tasted, though it is well appreciated by those who managed to visit Cheval Blanc (JA 92; JL for JR 16+; CH 92-94).

Also on the right-bank we have the release of the Durantou family’s Lalande de Pomerol, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux and St Emilion wines. In quality-price ratio terms these represent fantastic value and have now been massively appreciated by a range of wine critics on both sides of the Atlantic over several vintages.

They achieve amongst their highest ever scores in 2020 (with Saintayme securing 94-95 from James Suckling; Montlandrie 92-94 from Lisa Perotti Brown, La Chenade 91-93 from Neal Martin and Les Cruzelles 94 from Jane Anson). Their release prices, in sterling-equivalent terms, are between 6 and 15% higher than those for 2019 (full details appear below). But they have all been well received and seem to be selling well.

Turning to the Left Bank, we have seen a number of notable releases – in Margaux from Kirwan, Prieuré-Lichine and du Tertre and in Haut-Medoc from La Lagune.

Kirwan has made an excellent wine, consolidating its recent change in style towards Margellais classicism. It is well-backed by a range of critics (JS 94-95; JA 92; LPB 91-93+; JH for JR 17; CH 93-95); but with an increase in price relative to the 2019 of just over 14% in euros, it remains to be seen whether it will find market support.

Prieuré-Lichine, too, has made a very classical wine that has similarly rave reviews (JS 95-96; JA 93; LPB 91-93; JH for JR 17; CH 93-95). It is released at £300 in bond for a case of 12 bottles – exactly the same price as the 2019. It can be expected to sell well.

Du Tertre has divided the critics rather more (NM 87-89; JS 94-95; JD 91-93+; LPB 87-89; JA 93; JH for JR 17+; CH 93-95). It is released at €27 per bottle ex. negoce, an increase of 7.1% or, in sterling-equivalent terms, 3.1% (at £318 in bond for a case of 12 bottles).

Finally, La Lagune was released at €26.40 (up 10% on its 2019 release price of €24). This produces an increase of 8% in sterling-equivalent terms (at £324 in bond for a case of 12 bottles). It has been well and consistently evaluated by the critics (NM 91-93; JA 93; JS 93-94; LPB 92-94; CH 93-95+).

Other interesting releases and full details of the Durantou wines:

La Chenade (£160 in bond for 12; up 6.7% on the 2019 (£150); NM 91-93; LBP 89-91; JS 91-92; CH 90-92).

Clos de Sarpe (£508 in bond for 12; up 1.6% on the 2019 (£500); LPB 94-96+; JD 94-96+; JS 95-96; JL for JR 15.5; JA 87).

Les Cruzelles (£215 in bond for 12; up 10.3% on the 2019 (£195); LPB 91-93; JS 92-93; NM 90-92; JA 94).

La Fleur Cardinale (£336 in bond for 12; up 15.8% on the 2019 (£290); LPB 94-96+; JS 95-96; JA 94; JL for JL 17; CH 92-94+).

Grand Mayne (£334 in bond for 12; up 5% on the 2019 (£318); NM 93-95; JA 93; JL for JR 16; CH 92-94).

Montlandrie (£181 in bond for 12 up 14.6% on the 2019 (£158); LPB 92-94; NM 88-90; JS 92-93; JA 93; CH 92-94+).

Péby-Faugères (£1188 in bond for 12; up 4.9% on the 2019 (£1132); NM 90-92; LPB 94-96+; JS 97-98).

Saintayme (£138 in bond for 12; up 10.4% on the 2019 (£125); NM 87-89; LPB 90-92; JS 94-95; JA 92; CH 90-92).


My tasting notes for each new release:

Berliquet (St Emilion; from a fantastic vineyard of 10 hectares, 7.5 hectares of which are in production, on the argilo-calcaire plateau and côtes of St Emilion between Chateaux Canon and Angélus; the vines have a south and south-western exposure; this is made by the team from Chateau Canon; 66% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels with a medium or medium-long toasting, 50% of which are new for 16 months; 14.5% alcohol; the fruit was picked between the 14th and 24th of September, the Cabernet all being picked on the 24th). Purple/blue/black at the core, yet not overly extracted and with an almost fluorescent lilac rim.

Searingly vertical on the nose – instantly placing this on or near the St Emilion plateau (though that’s always an easier trick to perform when you can see the label). A spicy peppery nose – green Szechuan peppercorns seem to have been crushed in a pestle with a combination of red and darker berry fruit – raspberries, loganberries, mulberries and brambles. Heather and wild herbs too and a little sandalwood. On the palate, this is very engaging with a gentle natural sweetness that seems to characterise the Chanel St Emilion wines in this vintage.

It works well with the, at first, filigree tannins which then build slowly in granularity, turning crumbly and then chewy as they do so. This is very structural and, once again, very strongly defined by its calcaire terroir, with a lovely, long chiselled and tapered finish that is extremely palate-cleansing and which imparts a calm air of tranquility and harmony. Very fine indeed, though I think I just prefer the 2019.

La Chenade (Lalande de Pomerol; made from the younger vines of the 10.5-hectare vineyard of Les Cruzelles on gravel/sand and gravel terroirs on the plateau de Néac; 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 14% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. A lovely bright crunchy red cherry, redcurrant and cranberry fruit nose, a little cassis, with a hint of frangipane and an interesting slightly gamey note and the ferrous minerality of the Cruzelles vineyard (normally more evident in Les Cruzelles itself). On the palate this is lively, bright and lifted, with a little more concentration than in previous vintages; the tannins grip nicely in the mid-palate bringing with them an injection of juicy, sappy fruit. Very clean, crisp and refreshing.

Les Cruzelles (Lalande de Pomerol; from a vineyard of 10.5 hectares on the plateau de Néac and just 1 kilometre from Eglise Clinet on a clay and gravel terroir; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. This is bigger, bolder and more feisty than La Chenade with lots of personality and interest. On the nose it’s very pure and quite direct – blackcurrant, redcurrant and red cherries, wild herbs, more spice than La Chenade, some black pepper and a hint of roasted coffee beans; with air the ferrous salinity of the terroir becomes more prominent, bringing with it a more spicy element.

On the palate, this is plump yet lithe and fluid with lovely fine-grained but very tactile tannins that bring precision and focus to the detailed mid-palate and that seem to bind the fruit more closely to the spine than in previous vintages. The high class wine-making is very much in evidence here. I love the chewy grape-skin note on the finish and the plumpness of the fleshy fruit on the attack that is reined back by the tannins in the mid-palate.

La Fleur Cardinale (St Emilion; from a vineyard of which just over 23 hectares are in current production, on a combination of argilo-calcaire terroirs and next to Valandraud; the average age of the vines is 40 years; 77% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; pH 3.57; 14.5% alcohol). Glossy deep purple in a way that has you asking how a colour like that is even possible naturally.

Expansive and expressive and intensely floral – pot pourri, dried rose petals, peonies and irises intermingle with the bramble and blackberry fruit and the lovely graphite-cedar note that starts to develop with a little more air, and there’s almost a hint of coal dust – certainly a rocky mineral note. This has a nose that you want to bottle any carry around with you! Full, plush, plump and pulpy on the palate, with incredibly soft yet not inconsiderable tannins and impressive mid-palate density and concentration. A big and powerful wine, but with oodles of charm, great freshness and plenty of energy.

Grand Mayne (St Emilion; a vineyard of 17 hectares (14.5 of which are in production) on the western slope and foot of the slope of the plateau of St Emilion on a mix of argilo-calcaire and clay terroirs; 74% Merlot; 23% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 41 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; 14.1% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC. One of the best wines in an impressive flight from St Emilion, this is broad-shouldered and quite ample, but nicely focussed too and with a lovely sense of freshness and lift but also depth and charm. Grape and cherry skins, graphite and hazelnut, with a lovely note of cracked black peppercorns on the lifted finish. 

Kirwan (Margaux; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC tasting in Paris and with Sophie Schyler at the chateau. Quite simply the best Kirwan I have ever tasted. Rather like Lascombes, tasted just before, this is super-pure and rather lovely in all its fresh intensity. Kirwan in 2020 has a beautiful florality – violets, wisteria and touch of lavender – with hints of hazelnut shell and, with a little air, cedar and graphite.

On the nose, the fruit is dark, pure and fresh – cassis, blackberry and brambles. On the palate, this is zippy and zingy. The tannins have been beautifully managed and they bring a lot of structure to the mid-palate and the finish, which is rolling and rippling and juicy and fresh. A very pure, focused and precise expression of cassis, with a little hint of mint lead and walnut and graphite notes too. Compact, cool, elegant, slightly austere and terribly impressive.

La Lagune (Haut-Médoc; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels for 14 months; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 14.1% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from a much fresher, brighter and more expressive sample at the chateau. Whilst in Paris this was closed and firm – indeed, firmly closed – on the nose, at the property it was radiant and beautiful, shimmering with fresh, bright crunchy fruit and singing eloquently of its biodynamic vineyard management and wine-making. On the nose this has lots of lift, with that bright, plump cassis, black cherry and bramble fruit. There’s a very natural floral note, some mint, wild herbs and heather, with a trace of graphite and jet black pen ink.

At first, this is compact and tight on the palate, too, though the tannins have been very well managed and are finely textured; but as it opens it seems to relax and stretch itself out along its sinuous spine. As it does so, it seems to come alive, dancing and pulsating in and through the generous and finely detailed mid-palate. Luminous, clear and radiant in texture this glides and flows seemingly effortlessly. In Paris this was clearly excellent but so closed as to be practically inaccessible; at the chateau it was a revelation. I love the touch of cedar that emerges with air and patience, the gracious slowly tapering finish, the trace of toast on the finale and the lingering sensation of chewing on grape and cherry skins. Balanced, energetic, lithe and in total harmony, this is the best wine I’ve tasted from La Lagune.

Montlandrie (Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux; from a 12-hectare vineyard on a clay-limestone terroir on the plateau and côtes of the Côtes de Castillon purchased by Denis Durantou in 2009; the vines have an average age of 25 years; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; and, for the first time, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon (planted in 2013); a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. The progression here is incredible as it really has been over a number of vintages; but it is exciting to see it continue with this fabulous wine in 2020 – coursing with Durantou DNA.

This is rich and earthy, wild and very natural on the nose – there are slightly gamey notes, heather and gorse, even peat and damp earth alongside the plump and crunchy fresh berry and stone fruit – blueberries, brambles but also damsons – and white and black pepper, with a little graphite for good measure. The palate is quite ample and a little more broad-shouldered than Les Cruzelles, but with the same compact, dense and impressively concentrated mid-palate. This feels a little less sinuous, as the fruit density is greater, but it’s no less vibrant and energetic and I love the lifted fresh and slightly minty finish, supported by those towering calcaire tannins. Quite superb.

Péby-Faugères (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 7.45 hectares in Saint-Étienne de Lisse on a south and south-eastern sloping clay-limestone terroir; 100% Merlot with an average age of 45 years; malolactic fermentation and aging for 18 months in new French oak barrels; a final yield of just 17 hl/ha; 15% alcohol). Viscous, glossy, limpid, still just translucent at the core with a radiant crimson/pink rim.

Very floral and quite creamy on the nose with violet and crushed rose petals interwoven with the black cherry and cassis fruit and pencil shavings; the vanilla from the oak is quite evident but will incorporate well with time. Soft on the entry and plump in the mid-palate with a very pure black cherry fruit, gossamer tannins and a lovely structure where the fruits clings quite tightly to the limestone tannic spice. I like, too, the slightly flaky-crumbly tannins on the finish and the sensation that they give of chewing on grape-skins.

Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux; from 78 hectares of the vineyard, all on Guntzian gravel; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; with a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14% alcohol). This is another classed growth Margaux on a steep upward ascent now. And this is a lovely wine that is, once again, beautifully expressive of its appellation and its terroir.

Pure, bright, lifted, with beautiful freshness and clear vein of acidity on the nose – pure violets, cassis, blackberries and redcurrant leaf, cedar and pencil lead, black pen ink and walnut shells, with a loamy-earthy undertone. On the palate this is vibrant yet soft, very much defined by its bright and fresh cassis and blackberry fruit. Super-pure, precise and nicely focussed with no excess fat and with the fine-grained tannins pushing through the silky fruit to bring clarity and further detail. Really lovely. One of the many very fine wines to choose between from Margaux in this vintage.

Quinault L’Enclos (St Emilion; made by the team from Cheval Blanc on 19 hectares of graves and argilo-limoneux terroir bordering the Dordorgne in the town of Libourne itself and with the same attention to detail as Cheval Blanc; there has been a complete renovation of the wine-making facility here; despite replanting, the average age of the vines is 45 years; 78% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; aged for 12 months in large oak barrels of 500 litres, 50% of which are new; 14% alcohol).

This is very nicely managed, with plenty of freshness and lift on the nose. Graphite, cassis and croquant redcurrants, with spring flowers and violets and just a hint of graphite. This has the depth, substance and concentration of the vintage but with the freshness of fruit that is more characteristic of 2017. The tannins have a lovely tight fine grain that reinforces the detail in the mid-palate and also the precision and focus. A bright, sapid and refreshing finish has one craving more. Very natural, nicely poised and with plenty of tension if, of course, not the complexity of the other wines from Cheval Blanc.

Saintayme (St Emilion; from a 9-hectare parcel of 35-year old Merlot vines in Saint Etienne de Lisse; 100% Merlot; aged in French oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. This is rather lovely and more stylish and interesting that it has sometimes been, with a touch of violet and cedar on the nose that I don’t recall previously and a bright, lifted fresh dark black berry, bramble and blueberry fruit. Plump and very gentle on the attack this has a very charming slight natural sweetness (not at all the residual sucrosity that I find in some other wines). Very pure, precise and with the fine-grained tannins nicely stretching this out towards a long and tapered finish. Simple, perhaps, but very refreshing and nicely judged.

Clos de Sarpe (St Emilion; from a little very well situated vineyard of 3.7 hectares on an argilo-calcaire côte terroir with a south-west exposure on the Plateau de Sarpe – a vineyard that copes very well with heat and hydric stress; aged in oak, 70% of which is new; 15% alcohol). Almost opaque at the garnet/purple core and extremely viscous. This has a very gathered, composed, opulent nose – violets and lilacs, graphite and cedar, black cherry and black forest gateau with a hint of vanilla and the palpable presence of the oak.

Sumptuous, too, on the palate, with a cashmere mouthfeel and great depth and extraordinary concentration. The calcaire tannins are very fine-grained but they have an almost slightly spikey granularity that is crucial here in stopping this from becoming just a bit monochromatic and one-dimensional. The extraction has been pushed quite far, the oak is quite prominent too and I feel the presence of the alcohol. A wine that I suspect will divide opinion; for me, this has been taken just half a step too far.

Du Tertre (Margaux; 47% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; 8% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 27.8 hl/ha; pH 3.72; 13.4% alcohol). As ever, a fascinating wine given its unusual assemblage, this has a gorgeous and strikingly fresh and lifted note of bright cassis with blackcurrant and redcurrant leaf notes accentuating the lift and acidity and little hints of walnuts and hazelnuts, with a lovely gravelly-stoney-graphite minerality. Very balanced and very harmonious.

This is the final vintage under the watchful eye of Alexander van Beek, though if I understand correctly many of the technical team will stay in place. That sounds very sensible to me as they have done a spectacular job here over the last 5-10 vintages. What is clear is that this is a really impressive high note on which to pass on the property to the Helfrich family (founders of Les Grands Chais de France). Bright, energetic and very fine indeed.

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