Back in early April ... The Bordelais opened their doors and unveiled their respective barrel samples to the international wine trade. The week, known as En Primeur week, is usually accompanied by praise and hype that would make Madison Avenue proud. Like it or not, that's what happens, it's just how it goes. More on that later. By now, those of you who are interested in such things know a thing or two about the 2018 vintage in Bordeaux, but just to be thorough, here's a brief overview. Please keep in mind that this is a general summary, conditions varied greatly from place to place. Though not as consistent as 2005, 2009, 2010, or 2016, there were some absolutely stunning samples presented.
The 2018 growing season started out cold and wet. This delayed things in the vineyards a bit, though the rain persisted through May and especially June. Toss in a hailstorm or two, and you get the picture. It was a challenging start to be sure. Another rainstorm hit, coincidentally on the day France won the World Cup (in July), and the weather warmed up. All the moisture combined with the heat made conditions quite tropical, and unfortunately ideal for the outbreak of downy mildew. Vineyards farmed biodynamically were pretty much wiped out, and they weren't the only ones. This was where a little luck (and wherewithal) made the difference. For instance, at Château Haut-Brion, they told us that they saw these conditions coming, and with their deep pockets, employed workers in the vineyard to treat the vines, and subsequently were not affected at all. The aforementioned hail hit mainly in the Côtes de Bourg and Blaye areas, though in the southern Médoc, Château La Lagune was hit so hard that no wine was produced in 2018. Once the mildew situation passed, the summer grew hot and dry. The heat concentrated the fruit, and that is where we get the quality of the vintage. Conditions remained hot for the rest of the growing season, creating concern regarding alcohol levels and tannins. It seemed everyone wanted to compare 2018 to some other vintage, and I heard all sorts of comparisons. The best one I heard came from Philippe Dhalluin, director of Château Mouton Rothschild et al. He told me that in a way, 2018 reminded him of 1995, as he was there making wine (at a different château) at the time. Nowadays, they have the means, which weren't available in 1995, to manage the tannins through gentle extraction, producing wines which will be accessible in their youth, yet rewarding to those patient enough to cellar them a decade or more.
For me, the strengths of the vintage were in Pomerol and the northern Médoc - from Saint-Julien up through Saint-Estephe. The top Margaux, Pessac-Léognan red, and Saint-Emilion producers presented sensational samples, yet I found these appellations to be less consistent than the others. My wines of the vintage were Pichon Lalande on the Left Bank and La Conseillante on the Right. Though for those of us on more modest budgets, there are plenty of great 2018's that won't set you back so much. Look for names like Sociando Mallet, Sansonnet, Clos Marsalette, Ormes de Pez, Prieure Lichine, and Meyney. In 2018, as in any other vintage, you can count on us here at TWH to have sorted through the barrel samples, and will import those wines which offer substantial quality for our customers.
The campaign is approximately half way finished, with the Bordelais taking this week off as they host VinExpo. We are actively participating in the campaign, and several 2018 Bordeaux Futures are available on our website. Listed below are some of our favorites among the wines released so far. If you are looking for any wine which doesn't appear on our website, there is a good chance we can source it for you. Please contact me at peter@wineSF.com or 415.355.9463, and I will be happy to look into it.
- Peter Zavialoff