The Right Bank has produced some absolutely epic wines in 2018 – make no mistake. The concentration of fruit, the quality of tannins, the freshness and persistence, all combine to make a set of wines which lift themselves above virtually every vintage in the modern era. Hyperbole? Maybe. But consider the options.
Imagine the fruit power and impact of 2009 or 2015. Imagine the weight and quality of tannins of 2016. Imagine the freshness of 2010. Imagine the potential ageability of 2005. Then add in perfectly balanced alcohol. There you have the best of 2018.
What we have discovered, with Pessac and Graves still to go, is that this vintage is defined by tannins. As Baptiste Guinaudeau told us at Lafleur: “Tannins are like people. What’s important is quality, not quantity.” It is impossible to know this vintage without addressing the topic of tannins: they are the defining factor of every wine, whether for better or worse. Put simply big tannins were unavoidable in almost every case, given the nature of the growing season. Small berries with relatively limited juice and thick skins inevitably lead to an oversized proportion of tannins. So they are there; the question is how do you manage them?
A few people certainly seemed to have the answer. La Conseillante, VCC, La Mondotte, Lafleur, Figeac, L’Eglise Clinet, Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, Ausone all in their own ways handled their tannins magnificently and allowed them to frame the fruit and freshness in such a way that they never become centre stage. They are the ‘supporting cast’ (as anything ‘structural’ should be, if you’ll allow the mixed metaphor) allowing the real stars – the fruit and its ability to express the character of the vineyard – to shine.
And by god do they shine. We believe there is potential for perfect scores in at least half a dozen wines from the Right Bank, with a moderate leaning towards those wines who have access to high quality Cabernet Franc.
Oh my, that Cabernet Franc. It is simply extraordinary, adding coolness, seasoning and perfume to the sheer guts, purity and power of the Merlot. Don’t get me wrong: the Merlot is sensational and Le Pin proved that you can make a spectacular wine without the Cab Franc (indeed Mr Boom, who has tasted around 20 vintages of Le Pin from barrel, feels he may have never tasted a better one than this year). But typically it is the Cabernet Franc that creates that extra dimension of identity, of sophistication, of complexity; it adds a layer of mystique that marks the vintage out as something very special indeed.
You could listen to Omri at Lafleur all day long and his explanation of the vintage far surpasses my own meagre efforts. They are quite simply magicians over there and the way in which they express their terroir through their perfect fruit has only been emphasized by their new wine, Perrieres de Lafleur, which was formerly known as the ‘Acte’ project. This effectively takes Lafleur’s DNA – literally in the form of clonal selection from their Pomerol vineyard – and transports it to limestone soil in Fronsac. The results are amazing. It’s Lafleur, Jim, but not as you know it. And what can one say about the Grand Vin? It’s perfect. Simple as that. Tasting it is, in the words of our own David Thomas, ‘A spiritual experience’. Unforgettable.
A word has to be said about Cheval Blanc. That word is ‘un-f***ing-believable’. If you thought this estate couldn’t do better than the 1990, or 1998, or 2005, or 2009, or 2016, well hang on to your boots because I think the 2018 will match, or beat them all in time. It’s arguably the most complete Cheval ever.
We were fortunate enough to steal both Freddie Faye and Hortense de Manoncourt away from their epic building site at Figeac for an excellent lunch at La Grand Barrail. The chat veered from rugby to tannins to Brexit (and quickly away again) and the 2011 and 2002 were perfect ‘gourmand’ accompaniments to some excellent duck and veal. It has to be said that under the family guidance of Hortense and her sisters Freddie has been able to reinvigorate Figeac back to the levels of quality and grandeur for which it was once famous. It has surely become one of the most consistent, and consistently excellent, wines of the region.
We enjoyed ourselves today. Can you tell?