Bordeaux En Primeur 2018

Vintage Summary

  • A very good to excellent, and occasionally legendary, vintage for reds.
  • Arguably less homogenous than 2016 or 2015 but with higher peaks in certain areas.
  • Quality across the Left Bank with a concentrated peak in St Estephe but also excellent wines to be found in Pauillac, St Julien and Margaux.
  • Some excellent St Emilions, amongst more varied successes, and a handful of truly spectacular Pomerols.
  • Some of the best ‘Second’ wines we have tasted in some time.
  • Reasonable yields, with considerable variation – although especially tough on organic and/or biodynamic producers.
  • Remarkable concentration of pure fruit characters, at times astonishing.
  • Excellent, and perhaps surprising, freshness.
  • Relatively high, but on the whole very balanced, alcohol levels
  • Significant, extraordinary, unmissable, at times controversial, tannins

Orders, Pre-orders and Wishlists

You can place an order when a wine is available for general purchase and has been listed with a confirmed price. You can order in your preferred size format – the bottling charge is already included.
Before individual wines are released you have the option to pre-order or add the wines to your wishlist.

Pre-orders are the best way to get the wines you want as they represent firm commitments to purchase if the wine is released below the upper price limits we have provided. Select the wine you wish to pre-order using the search function in the top right of your screen or the regional listings in the box above and select the format and quantity you wish to pre-order. If sufficient stock is available, pre-orders will be invoiced when the price is confirmed and before the wines are released for general sale. If we are not able to fulfil all pre-orders when a wine is released, we will continue to search for stock at the best possible price. If a wine is released above the upper end of our predicted price range we will not automatically invoice pre-orders – each customer will be contacted to see if they still wish to go ahead with the purchase at the new price.

Wishlists are not firm commitments to purchase – when each wine is released, if there is sufficient stock available after pre-order commitments have been honoured, customers with a wishlist will be contacted and given the opportunity to purchase the wine before it goes on general sale. You can add and remove wines from your wishlist as often as you like. Customers with an online BI account can see their pre-orders and wishlists on their My Account page.

Bordeaux 2018: from Hammer House of Horror to Best Picture

Every Bordeaux vintage has its story. 2009 was ‘The Deckchair’, where growers simply waited out the perfect summer until it was time to pick; 2013 was ‘The Triathlon’ where growers swam (wet Spring and Summer), cycled (a beautiful end to Summer) and then ran (to get the harvest in when the foul weather returned).

So what is 2018? It could be defined as ‘The Rare Better Sequel’ vintage; one of those unusual times – think The Godfather Part II or Mission: Impossible II – where the second part is better than the first. And where the whole becomes something with truly extraordinary potential.

‘Rain Man’ (Dir. Barry Levinson, Best Picture 1988)

Unusually homogenous across both sides of the Gironde, 2018 was nonetheless a year split in two. A very wet winter, colder on the Left Bank than the Right, saw double the average rainfall from December to March. Clay and limestone soils saw a considerable build up of water reserves. The rain returned to average volumes in April allowing successful bud-break but returned in earnest in May which, in combination with above average temperatures, created the first, considerable threat of mildew which struck many vineyards with force. This was exacerbated in many places by the seasonal warming-up of heavily-sodden soils, which created evaporation directly under the vines causing serious decisions to be taken regarding canopy management.

Winemakers feared the worst: Christian Seely of Pichon Baron admitted he was “terrified”.

Flowering began between late May and early June (with the Merlots of the Right Bank leading the way) at which point some regions were hit by hail which mercifully for the leading estates of the Medoc and Pomerol/St Emilion travelled almost directly South-North, bisecting the two without impacting dramatically on either.

But the worst was not over as the heavy rainfall returned and whilst not above average, its tandem role with high, and increasing temperatures caused a second bout of drama with both mildew and powdery mildew attacking without prejudice. Those who were able to act quickly or successfully anticipate what might happen (Alexandre Thienpont of VCC said it was like trying to catch the rhythm of a song and predict where the beats would fall) were able to minimize the effects and save their yield; those who failed, or were restricted from chemical treatments by their organic practices, saw their crop decimated. Palmer would eventually crop at just 11 hl/ha.

‘American Beauty’ (Dir. Sam Mendes, Best Picture 1999)

Can it be pure coincidence that on July 15th, as the French football team were lifting the World Cup, that the rain should halt and barely fall again until September? Probably. The reality remains; the second half of the growing season was underway in a positively Californian style.

Everything that came before – the rain which led to plentiful reserves, the reduced yields as a result of mildew – became a strength rather than a weakness. Veraison (the colour change of grapes) took place at the end of July/beginning of August, showing that despite a late start, the vines had caught up and were now in a perfect developmental state.

The sun shone bright and warm in the cloudless sky, generating many hours of usable energy without reaching temperatures which could cause serious damage (as they did in 2003). At Leoville Poyferre, June to September saw the highest value of joules received from the sun in the past 5 years. Subsequently 2018 was one of the hottest and driest summers on record, allowing for moderate vine stress which helped to ripen the tannins and maintain freshness.

The rain which fell in late August/Early September provided the penultimate touch, reviving the vines and softening the grape skins. After this sunny days and cool nights gave the grapes further concentration and allowed the harvesters to pick at will. Indeed many undertook the longest harvest in decades, taking as much as 5 weeks from beginning to end as each plot was gathered in exactly as was desired. The grapes were routinely small, but not always; typically they were light, however, down as much as 25% in weight from a standard 1.1-1.2g per grape to as low as 0.8g per grape. The difference in the weight was primarily juice, meaning the skin to juice ratio was extremely high. It became clear that the sheer ripeness and thickness of the skins and the incredible concentration of the juice – alongside the very welcome freshness (despite relatively high pH levels) and high potential alcohol, that something very special lay in store.

However there was a danger: how long to leave these perfect grapes in order to achieve perfect ripeness? Could freshness be maintained without early picking? What to do when the pips were fully ripe before the skins, as they were at Ducru Beaucaillou? Despite seemingly benevolent conditions, timing, as usual, was everything.

‘Dances with Wolves’ (Dir. Kevin Costner, Best Picture 1990)

Bringing perfect grapes into the winery is the first stage. The second is what you do with them and this is where the danger really lies – the threat of turning perfect grapes into a less-than perfect wine..

Where the ‘less is more’ approach was taken, success was far more likely. Micro-vinification, treating each plot one by one, was vital – especially for those with larger, more diverse holdings - to capture the essence of each combination of grape variety, soil type and specific location in the race to precisely pin-point the true breadth and character of each estate’s vineyards.

Gentle extraction was preferred given the incredible rich colour and sheer weight of tannins, a result of the thick, ripe skins. Shorter macerations (down from as much as 30 days to just 18 in some places) helped preserve the freshness and keep the best wines in balance. At many addresses spending on new oak was down although some chose to reinvest this into clay amphorae, in evidence at La Conseillante and as part of a range of fascinating options at Les Carmes Haut Brion.

If there was a fear it was a sense that given the quality of fruit and the potential impact of the resulting wines, that ‘blockbuster’ status could be achieved – especially given the necessarily restrained, ‘Indie’ nature of the preceding 2017 vintage. Our feeling is that some estates succumbed to this alluring ego-boost and arguably overworked their wines as a result. Those that did not give into this temptation allowed themselves a great chance of creating true Hall of Fame wines and many did just that, creating a vintage which will go down in history.

‘And the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor goes to…’

Robert de Niro… Robin Williams… Juliette Binoche… All massive names who have seen their names writ largest on the billboard, and yet also all have been recipients of Best Supporting Actor/Actress at the Academy Awards. They took certain movies to a new level by adding a little extra magic, a little something that helped make those movies… timeless. Can you imagine The Godfather Part II without Robert de Niro? Or the Constant Gardener without Juliet Binoche? Or Good Will Hunting without Robin Williams? These were performances of such significance that they became the talking point; not the whole story, but arguably the defining factor.

The defining, unavoidable topic surrounding 2018 is tannins – with IPT ratings higher than ever. But as Baptiste Guinaudeau at Lafleur told us: “Tannins are like people. What’s important is quality, not quantity.”

Let us get one thing clear. Tannins are often seen as the bad guy. People talk about ‘tannic wines’ in purely negative terms. This is hugely unfair and often downright nonsense. When tannins are badly handled, and are as a result unbalanced, certainly the wines are more in line for a ‘Razzie’ than an Oscar (if you don’t know what a Razzie is, Google is your friend here – but here’s a clue: Adam Sandler has 11 nominations and 3 wins). But tannins, with their essential partners acidity and alcohol, are not described as ‘structure’ for no reason. They are the rhythm section of a great band, the foundations of a stunning building, the Best Supporting Actor in a great film. Great tannins are the key to ageability and ageability is for most the difference between good wines and great wines.

In 2016 we talked a lot about tannin texture, where long chains of molecules, a result of the long, late growing season with perfect diurnal temperature variation, created a velveteen mouthfeel which was quite unlike anything we had encountered before. The tannins in 2018 are bigger, bolder, more impactful at this early stage which unquestionably made the wines harder to taste from barrel. We should not be fooled by approachability however. Easier rarely means better and 2018 at its best was worth the work. Certainly these are not wines whose leftovers those responsible for drawing off the samples would have drunk with their lunch, as they did in 2015 and 2016; however they are wines which their grandchildren will still enjoy within their peak.

Hollywood Walk of Fame or Straight-to-DVD? In other words… should you buy?

The success or failure of an En Primeur campaign is not just dependent on quality; price is the defining factor (at the right price, any vintage can sell). So: 2018 – box office smash or epic flop?

On quality: overall, very good, if not as homogenous as 2015 or 2016; however given time the best wines have the potential to eclipse both these vintages. They are quite different in style to ’15 and ’16, being wines of massive power and harmony made to go the distance. At their best the closest comparisons would be 2005 (“I have never tasted so many extraordinarily rich, concentrated, massive wines so high in tannin and extract yet with such precision, definition and freshness.” RP), 2010 (“extraordinary concentration of flavour… tannins that are often off the charts in terms of analytical readings… a massively concentrated vintage” RP) or going further back perhaps 1986 – but with the benefits of far more sophisticated vineyard and winery techniques, resulting in vastly increased precision and finesse.

On pricing: we are perhaps in the most complex economic environment for an En Primeur release since the global economic crisis of 2008/09. Not only is it hard to predict where global exchange rates will be when the campaign starts in earnest, but we can never second guess the chateaux’s needs or intentions. It is extremely likely that a price increase will come on top of the 2017 release but where it stands vis-à-vis 2016 only time will tell.

When each wine is released our in-house analysis will point out quickly where it sits in the quality/value scale. That said in a number of cases 2018 has delivered benchmark wines which many serious wine collectors and lovers will not want to be without. There will be some cases where you should say ‘yes’ and worry about the bill later; as with the best 2016s, if you are less price sensitive than some, then you can comfortably buy everything we recommend and we are confident you will never be disappointed to own and drink them. Let us also remember that value is, more often than not, in the eye of the buyer. Those who avoided the negative mood music over pricing in the last several vintages, including the 2016s, will have every reason to feel very smug indeed!

Margaux
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Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillac
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Northern Medoc - St Estephe
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St Emilion and Pomerol
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Graves and Pessac
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Sauternes and Barsac
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