En Primeur week really is a test of your mettle, both physically and mentally. On a massive high after Wednesday’s Pomerol extravaganza (not to mention a few mind-bending St Emilions) it was always going to be hard to balance expectations and emotions heading into the final day and the last region of our tour: Pessac and Graves.
Tasting at Les Carmes Haut Brion
In the past few years even when either Left Bank (2016) or Right Bank (2015) have truly excelled, or when both have been decent (2014/2017), Pessac has raised its game and the big guns of La Mission and Haut Brion have matched or outplayed the best of the rest. Think Haut Brion in ’15 and La Mission in ’16; these are wines of a lifetime.
So it was with high hopes that we headed ‘into town’.
Would it be fair to say we were disappointed? On reflection it seems churlish to award the Grand Vins from these two sister estates potential for 98+ points, and to recognize that the second wines of both were as impressive if not better than any previous iterations we have tasted, and still somehow feel a little deflated. And yet that is the power of En Primeur.
It therefore takes a little reflection and a reversion to the score sheet to remind oneself that once again these two vinous legends are sitting right near the very top of the tree in this vintage, very much in the mix with their First Growth (pace La Mish) peers, and only a notch or at most a notch-and-a-half behind a sprinkling of Right Bank wines which will unquestionably go down in history.
Of course EP isn’t just about finding ‘the best’. For us, it’s about following the progression of a property; when you taste an EP sample you are not just looking for its inherent quality vis-à-vis all other wines, you are looking to see how that wine fits into the canon of that specific estate. This is why in our view tasting EP blind has serious downsides. To put it simply, you want to know how Haut Brion-y your Haut Brion is in a new vintage. And the news here is good: both HB and LMHB deliver their own character in spades. Don’t overlook the second wines too – both Clarence and Chapelle were mighty impressive.
The final two firsts
But Graves isn’t just about the two sides of Avenue Jean Jaures. We also discovered seriously good, hugely expressive and very long-term wines from Haut Bailly (probably the ‘best of the rest’), Smith Haut Lafitte (who also made brilliant second wines and whites) and Domaine de Chevalier. We also made our first team visit to the remarkable Bond-villain winery at Les Carmes Haut Brion, where Burgundian winemaking techniques are making waves across Bordeaux. Perhaps we were expecting the influence of partial whole bunch fermentation to have a more noticeable impact on the finished wine although it’s possible that is not the intention; arguably the tannins were a little softer than elsewhere. It still feels like a wine on a journey – one which we will be following with interest.
Haut Bailly Cellar
The moat at the new Philippe Starck designed winery at Carmes
And so part one of the 2018 Primeurs ends. It’s too early to draw full conclusions – these will come in the coming days after a few chats over a beer or two – but there is a great deal to be excited about and a handful of wines which are destined for truly legendary status.