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In focus: This week’s Bordeaux 2020 en primeur releases

The fifth week of the Bordeaux 2020 en primeur campaign brought with it a quickening in the pace of releases, turning a trickle into a torrent. As it did so, the percentage increase in release price in comparison with 2019 also started to grow, finds Colin Hay.

That is hardly surprising when it is considered that a good number of the early releases have already sold out in London, with Liv-ex reporting secondary markets opening up for a number of wines.

Indeed, whilst the first week of the campaign saw, on average, no increase in price relative to the 2019s in sterling-equivalent terms, the fifth week of the campaign saw in bond price rises of just over 9%. That is much closer to pre-campaign expectations.

That said, and as if so often the case, the devil lies in the detail. Closer inspection of this week’s most significant releases shows that they fall quite neatly into one of three clusters. In the first of these we have wines releasing at sometimes well over 10 per cent higher than their 2019 sterling-equivalent release prices. These are typically wines bolstered by a handful of extremely strong scores from the leading international critics.

Examples include La Mondotte (at £1596 IB for a case of 12, an increase of almost 18% and with a potential 100 points from Jeff Leve), Lagrange (at £425 IB for a case of 12, an increase of just over 15% and 94-96 points from both Lisa Perotti-Brown and Jeb Dunnock) and Le Gay (at £900 IB for a case of 12, an increase also of 15% and 98-99 from James Suckling and 95-97 from the generally more conservative Neal Martin).

In the second cluster, we have wines whose sterling-equivalent release price is between 8 and 10 per cent higher than that for their 2019. These are invariably wines with a good run of recent form, something of an upward trajectory in the market over recent vintages and with a 2020 well-backed by a range of critics. Examples here include Clos du Marquis (£450 in bond for a case of 12, an increase of 10%; NM 92-94; LPB 93-95); Ferrière (£332IB, AG 94-96; RvF 95-96) and Haut-Bages Libéral (£311IB, JS 95-96; AG 93-95) from Claire Villars-Lurton, La Lagune (£324IB, JS 93-94; JA 93; RvF 93-95) and Malartic-Lagravière (£347IB, NM 94-96; JD 93-95).

Whilst the Guinaudeau’s Lafleur in Pomerol would seem to fall into this category too, it is in fact something of an exception – to any en primeur rule in fact. For it is arguably now the most cherished en primeur allocation of them all and it tends to double in price on release (the 2019 is already shown as trading on Liv-ex at over twice the price it was released at a year ago). In this context, a 9% increase in price in sterling-equivalent terms seems somewhat modest. It is most unlikely to deter anyone with an allocation.

In the third cluster we have those who have kept their sterling-equivalent release prices to below 7 per cent. This includes wines like Clos L’Eglise whose sterling-equivalent price is the same as that for the 2019, Armailhac (despite 92-94 points from Neal Martin and 93 from Jane Anson), Beychevelle (despite very strong critical acclaim, an excellent run of recent vintages and strong secondary market performance over at least a decade) and Gazin (despite similarly strong critical appreciation). Each has been very well received and deserves to sell well.

Full details of this week’s most notable new releases:

Armailhac (£396 in bond for 12, up 6.5% on the 2019 (£372); NM 92-94; JA 93; LPB 93-94; JS 93-94; JD 92-94; RvF 93-94+).

Beychevelle (£695 in bond for 12; up 5.6% on the 2019 (£658); LPB 94-96; JS 94-95; AG 94-96; JA 94; RvF 95-96; CH 94-96).

Canon La Gaffelière (£653 in bond for 12; up 5.7% on the 2019 (£618); NM 93-5; JA 94; AG 94-96+; JL 95-97; JD 95-97; JS 95-96; RvF 96-97+).

Clos l’Eglise (£650 in bond for 12; same price as the 2019; NM 93-95; JA 94; JD 95-97; AG 95-97; LPB 93-95).

Clos du Marquis (£450 in bond for 12, up 10% on the 2019 (£409); NM 92-94; JD 94-96; JA 92; AG 91-93+; JS 94-95; LBP 93-95).

Domaine de Chevalier rouge (£565 for 12; up 14.1% on the 2019 (£495); NM 93-95; LPB 95-97+; JS 96-97; AG 95-97; JA 95; CH 96-98+).

Ferrière (£332 in bond for 12; up 10.7% on the 2019 (£300); AG 94-96; RvF 95-96; CH 92-94+).

Le Gay (£900 in bond, for 12; up 15% on the 2019 (£783); NM 95-97; LPB 94-96+; JS 98-99; AG 92-94; JA 94).

Gazin (£673 in bond for 12, up 6.5% on the 2019 (£632); NM 92-94; LPB 92-4; JS 96-97; JA 94).

Haut-Bages Libéral (£311 in bond for 12; up 9.1% on the 2019 (£285); AG 93-95; JS 95-96; JA 91; CH 93-95).

Lafleur (£6320 in bond for 12, up 9% on the 2019 (£5800); JA 98; JL for JR 19; CH 98-100).

Lagrange (£425 in bond for 12; up 15.2% on the 2019 (£425); NM 93-95; JA 93; LPB 94-96; CH 93-95+).

La Lagune (£324 in bond for 12; up 8% on the 2019 (£300); NM 91-93; JA 93; LPB 92-94; JS 93-94; RvF 93-95; CH 93-95+).

Lascombes (£600 in bond for 12, up 4.9% on the 2019 (£572); NM 88-90; JA 92 LPB 92-94; RvF 90-91).

Malartic Lagravière rouge (£347 in bond for 12, up 5.2% on the 2019 (£330); NM 94-96; JD 93-95; JA 94; LPB 92-94; CH 93-95).

Meyney (£240 in bond for 12, up 6.7% on the 2019 (£225); NM 91-93; JA 93; JS 93-94; AG 90-92; RvF 93-94; CH 92-94).

La Mondotte (£1596 in bond for 12; up 17.9% on the 2019 (£1354); NM 95-97; JL 98-100; AG 95-97; JD 96-98; RvF 96-97+).

Ormes de Pez (£225 in bond for 12; up 7.1% on the 2019 (£210); NM 90-92; LPB 90-92; JA 93; RvF 93-94).

La Violette (£2880 in bond for 12, up 9.1% on the 2019 (£2640); NM 91-93; JA 95; JS 94-95; LPB 94-96).


My tasting notes for each new release:

D’Armailhac (Pauillac; 59% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; yields described as ‘less than generous’; pH 3.8; 13.3% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. Bright, fresh and lifted, but the most serious of the portfolio of Mouton wines in 2020 and the least expressively aromatic at this stage. Slightly floral – the small flowers of a blackcurrant bush perhaps – as the floral note seems tightly wound into the fruit itself, here a mix of red and darker berry fruit with black and redcurrant notes the most prominent. This has quite an evident structure that lifts the wine vertically on the attack and supports it high on the roof of the mouth through the mid-palate before we arrive at a lovely long tapered and elegant finish. The tannins are grainy and they seem to interweave with the acidity and minerality, bringing a sappy juiciness to the finish.

Beychevelle (St Julien; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 4% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 47 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; pH 3.81; IPT 78; 13.4% alcohol). Tasted first at the UGC tasting in Paris and then from a sample sent from the property. This is extremely floral, very elegant and instantly recognisable as Beychevelle on the nose. It is pure and lifted, with a signature nutty element – walnuts and hazelnuts alongside the brambles, black berries, mulberries and a hint of cherry.

There is also a rather enticing gentle suggestion of the cedar that will come through with more age; and a hint of black tea leaf. On the palate this is plump and juicy on the attack, but also compact, with more density and concentration that it used to have – but without any loss in its signature svelteness and refined elegance. The tannins and the resulting mouthfeel are sublime – it’s as if they bundle up the energy of the bright, crisp, fresh fruit delivering it in a succession of juicy waves on the long, stylish and slowly tapering finish. I love the hint of grape and cherry skin right at the end. Every bit as good as the 2016.

Canon La Gaffelière (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 19.5 hectares at the foot of the slope, down the hill from Ausone on argilo-calcaire and argilo-sableux terroirs; 55% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; certified organic; final yield of 32.5 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). Lightly extracted and with a shimmering limpidity in the glass that seems to capture well the luminosity of the wine itself. The nose is a beautiful study in tension itself, between the fresh vertical lift of the pure almost crunchy berry and cherry fruit and the stony, gravelly, graphite and cedar minerality and wild herbyness that are both so equally present.

The ultra-soft and supple tannins on the entry disguise well the density and concentration of this slightly austere and imposing wine. Rich, if always elegant rather than opulent, this has a shimmering almost crystalline blueberry and black cherry fruit and the finest grained of fine-grained tannins that bring an almost pixilating focus to the fruit in the mid palate, before a sumptuous rippling, rolling sappy finish. Extremely harmonious even at this very early stage.

Clos L’Eglise (Pomerol; from a fantastically well-situated property directly opposite Eglise-Clinet on the plateau; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted just after Feytit-Clinet, this is similar in hue but significantly lighter in extraction (which probably wouldn’t have been the case a few vintages ago). A sumptuous and extremely expressive nose much less defined by the oak than in recent vintages – with a pure, bright and quite lifted baked plum, black cherry and blueberry fruit, aromatic baking spices and crushed hazelnuts. A lovely soft plump and slightly spicy attack, this has great amplitude, impressive concentration and depth and very fine-grained but still textured and tactile tannins which stop this from becoming soupy and monochromatic. It’s not as complex or layered as some of the very best wines from the plateau in this vintage, but it has plenty of energy and appeal and is archetypally of its appellation.

Clos du Marquis (St Julien; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; IPT 84 – higher than Las Cases itself and higher than the 2016; pH 3.76; 13.57% alcohol; a final yield of 33 hl/ha). Darker in the glass than La Marquise, but equally pure with a lovely crunchy blackberry, bramble and cassis fruit, cracked peppercorns and walnut shell on the nose.

On the palate, this is both rich and creamily textured on the one hand, but also rolling and rippling through the generous mid-palate on the other – and it has a gracious, tense and slowly tapering finish. Sumptuous and elegant despite the high IPT, this is beautifully structured and the tannin management is, as ever, extraordinary. A wine of great quality and textural interest.

Domaine de Chevalier rouge (Pessac-Léognan; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, only 35% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). Very dark garnet/magenta at the core but impressively translucent and incredibly glass-staining and with the colour really yet to set. When you swirl the glass you almost imagine that the colour will circulate more slowly than the wine itself!

This has the most sublime nose and is amongst the most open and aromatic wines of the vintage so far. Shimmering, bright, intense yet extremely darkly fruited – with brambles, blackberries, blueberries, fruits of the forest, a little black cherry and a wonderful rich dollop of graphite and cedar. There is also a stony-gravelly minerality and a fresh rich peaty earthiness, with a hint of new season wild garlic and, just at the end, a little whiff of tobacco smoke and vanilla. Incredibly light and delicate on the palate, despite the considerable fruit density, this is the latest of a series of seemingly gravity-defying wines in which it is almost impossible to imagine how something so compact and concentrated can be so lithe, so sinuous and so ethereal.

Beautifully layered with the silkiest of tannins and the most glorious mouthfeel. Tense, energetic, bright and packed with detail, this might be the best Domaine de Chevalier I have ever tasted. It’s certainly right up there and yet what I think I love about it most of all is that it is just so recognisable as Domaine de Chevalier. Chapeau!

Ferrière (Margaux; from a vineyard of 24 hectares on deep gravel over limestone; 68% Cabernet Sauvignon; 27% Merlot; 3% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; certified organic and biodynamic; aging in amphorae (20%) and oak barrels, 40% new, 40% of one year for 18 months; a final yield of 23 hl/ha; 13.36% alcohol). Tasted immediately after La Gurgue with Claire Villars-Lurton at the Château, this is ultra-bright and marked by its searing acidity, both on the nose and the palate. 7 hectares of very old vine Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The fruit is a little darker in tone and actually a little softer and creamier on the nose – plump brambles, black raspberries and mulberries just plucked cleanly from their hulls, with a little hint of eucalyptus oil, rosemary and sous bois, with even a touch of chanterelles. With more air, we get bracken and gorse. Impressively compact and concentrated. On the palate, this is very lively and bright with a sparky, zesty sense of energy and fine-grained but always textural and texturing tannins, bringing interest and definition to the long mid-palate and finale. Very fresh and a vintage in which the organic and biodynamic wine-making really helps the mid-palate sing.

Gazin (Pomerol; from a vineyard of 22 hectares on the clay-gravel plateau; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from a sample sent from the property. There is no Cabernet Franc in the blend here for the first time, just Cabernet Sauvignon. A beautiful wine to look at in the glass, with incredible viscosity and limpidity, its translucence at the core accentuating the blue, purple and garnet highlights that appear on swirling.

A fabulous nose too, with all that Gazin ferrous-saline minerality but also big, rich, plump blueberry and black cherry fruit – wow – and also gorgeous notes of cedar and graphite. This is super silky in the mouth. The attack is sumptuous and opulent in the very best tradition of the appellation and the property; but there is a lovely grip from the tannins that reins in the fruit, wrestling it back to the mineral-tannic spine of the wine. But it’s quite a battle as this is so lively, bright, energetic and charged with freshness. The titanic struggle produces great tension. This is a truly fantastic Gazin that captures the essence of the vintage so well – I can’t recall better at this stage. The influence of Thomas Duclos as consultant oenologist is very clear.

Haut-Bages Libéral (Pauillac; from a vineyard of 30 hectares on deep gravel and clay and limestone gravel; 78% Cabernet Sauvignon; 22% Merlot; certified organic and biodynamic; aging in amphorae (20%) and oak barrels, 40% new, 40% of one year for 16 months; a final yield of 44 hl/ha; 13.7% alcohol). Light and bright in extraction, limpid and glossy in the glass, this is at first quite reductive on the nose. When that clears with a signature bright fresh pear-drop and red berry fruit nose – fresh raspberries and unsweetened raspberry coulis, red currants and cranberries, with almonds and frangipane (but without the sweetness).

Fresh, focussed and extremely precise, this is defined and structured as much by its searing acidity as by the crumbly, flaky chewy tannins. There’s lots of detail here, lots of energy too with the tannins almost pixilating the palate helping to sustain the focus and the interest. A very long and chewy finish, this is wine that is already very approachable but that actually needs a good decade in the cellar to show of its best. Glorious texture that comes in part from the lovely fine-grained slightly chalky (calcaire) tannins. A very dynamic Pauillac that is an impressive advert for the clarity that comes (or can come) with organic and biodynamic wine-making.

Lafleur (Pomerol; 46% Bouchet; 54% Merlot). As ever, the most architectural and structured wine not just of the appellation but of Bordeaux itself – and perhaps the most complex too in this vintage. On the nose we have sloes, damsons and blueberries, graphite and walnut shell, black tea leaf and black cherry, an earthy/smoky note from the Merlot, an almost feral element and then the wonderful floral notes from the Bouchet – violets, lilies and irises.

The attack is simply divine and lifts one almost into a different dimension, such is the complexity of the unfurling of the wine across the palate. We have the sublime concentrated presence of cedar and graphite, a fabulous cornucopia of floral elements – iris, lilac, peony, violet, rose petal and a touch of saffron. But it is the weightlessness of the mid-palate that I find most incredible – this is floaty, almost velouté and souffléd in texture, despite having massive depth and profundity. Diaphanous, radiant, profoundly lithe and energetic and, quite simply, brilliant, this has staggering potential.

Lagrange (St Julien; from a vineyard of 118 hectares on two Guntzian gravel slopes; historically low yields of 26.5 hl/ha and only 38% of the total production made it into the grand vin; 74% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; pH 3.58; IPT 77; 13.5% alcohol). Purple/black at the core, but nicely translucent; glossy and quite viscous with blue/purple highlights on swirling and a violet rim. This has a beautifully archetypal St Julien nose – delicate yet expressive, refined and elegant yet full and engaging, bright and energetic.

Mulberries, damsons, notes of frangipane and toasted brioche, peonies, a loamy-earthiness and wild thyme and dark cocoa powder all intermingle seamlessly on the nose and, indeed, the palate. This has a most exquisite mouthfeel from the filigree tannins – quite the best in my memory from this property. The mid-palate is beautifully layered and holding this all together is a wonderful combination of juicy, sappy freshness and a cedar-coated graphite minerality. Lovely stuff and the best I have ever tasted from Lagrange; the ultra-strict selection has really paid off.

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.

Lascombes (Margaux; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels for 18 months; 13.5% alcohol). Tasted first at the UGC tasting in Paris, then from a sample sent from the chateau and finally at the chateau itself over a 10-day period with similar notes. Another really excellent Margaux from a property that has been on sparkling form now for a number of vintages. This is supremely pure and fresh, very expressive on the nose and quite grand and opulent, but more lithe and elegant than ever, with a bold and crunchy cassis and bramble fruit, seemingly rather less oak influence than in previous vintages and the signature violet and wisteria florality of Lascombes.

On the palate this is dense and compact, with impressive mid-palate concentration, considerable layering and lovely detail reinforced by the fine-grained tannins. I love the graphite and saline minerality and also the sappy, juicy fruit that rolls in and across the mid-palate in rippling-pulsing waves reinforcing the freshness and brightness of the crisp, pure fruit. We finish with a little hint of walnut shell and a touch of fleur de sel. Really excellent.

Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan; from 62 hectares on a Guntzian gravel and clay over limestone terroir; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 48% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 26 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 65% of which are new; 14.2% alcohol). Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the appellation in quite a challenging vintage. This seems to have locked in the freshness that others sometimes lack. On the nose we have a deep rich dark ripe plump and crunchy berry and stone fruit, with fresh cassis the most notable element, along with currant leaves and graphite and a lovely loamy-earthy element.

On the palate this is rich and ample, with tannins of velvet and that lovely diaphanous and sinuous feel that so many of the wines of the appellation lack. This glides gracefully over the palate in a way that disguises its actually quite considerable density and concentration; the fine-grain tannins bring detail and focus and this is one of the more precise and pure expressions of the vintage that will surely age gracefully. The oak is more moderate that in recent vintages, but this does not lack for personality. Very impressive.

Meyney (St Estèphe; 52% Cabernet Sauvignon; 35% Merlot; 13% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). This is now so reliably excellent and, indeed, reliably such a ringer for a (perhaps more rapidly evolving) Montrose (which is, of course, just across the stream that divides the properties). Beautifully expressive of its prime St Estèphe terroir adjoining the river, this is archetypal Meyney – a touch of tobacco leaf and, indeed, the café it was smoked in (in the days when one could!), a hint of game and charcuterie, some warm baking spices (notably cinnamon), cedar and a touch of graphite, roasted coffee beans and a dark plum and berry fruit.

On the palate this is very classical again. Rich, full, with lovely grip from the tannins and a pronounced ferrous-saline almost briny minerality. My only very slight gripe – and it’s not the only St Estèphe where I have the same very minor quibble – is that it is a little less expressive of the vintage (with all its lift and zingy bright freshness) than is of its appellation and terroir. But there’s no mistaking, this is another great wine from Meyney of classed growth quality.

La Mondotte (St Emilion; from a little vineyard of 4.5 hectares on a fantastic argilo-limoneux-calcaire terroir perched high on the plateau; the vines here have an average age of 60 years; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 36 hl/ha despite organic certification and the age of the vines; aged in French oak barrels, 60% of which are new; 14% alcohol). A little darker still, a shade more extracted but still translucent at its bright and radiant shimmering garnet/purple core. This is bigger, bolder and more burly on the nose than Canon-La-Gaffelière and much more marked, as you’d expect, by the gloriously ripe and more opulent Merlot.

Red and black cherries, damsons and baked plums, almonds and frangipane, cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted and crushed fennel seeds and a gamey note too, with just a hint of violet and lavender – a heady mix, but all in harmony. On the palate, this is cool and fresh with a touch of mint leaf on the entry before the gloriously ripe and fresh cherry and berry fruit starts to ripple and roll and unfurl on the stage that is the mid-palate of this wine; the tannins play a sensitively supportive role but never steal centre stage and this has a beautifully sustained, elegant, long and tapering finish. Really excellent and charged with brightness, energy and tension.

Ormes de Pez (St Estèphe; 54% Merlot; 38% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; aging in oak barrels, 45% of which are new; 13.1% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC in Paris and then from a sample sent by the property with similar notes. This is quite open on the nose, with a distinct ferrous-saline minerality. I find this just a little unfocused. In the context of the vintage, the tannins are just a little strict and aggressive, even if nicely fine-grained – though that impression is possibly reinforced by tasting this immediately after the St Julien flight. More positively, this is tender on the mid-palate and quite pure and fresh.

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