Bordeaux 2018: rich, ripe and absolutely fabulous


Château Léoville Poyferré, one of the properties visited by the team on their first day tasting Bordeaux 2018 en primeur. Photograph: Jason Lowe
This week our team is out in Bordeaux, visiting the region’s most famous châteaux to taste the 2018 wines en primeur. Our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW reports on a day of tasting that has proven the vintage’s potential

Monday’s weather forecast for Bordeaux promised clear skies and bright sunshine – but, after a glorious sunrise, high cloud and spots of rain were the order of the day. Our mood and enthusiasm, however, proved to be the opposite, with early uncertainty being replaced by a growing appreciation for a unique and increasingly impressive vintage.

We arrived in Bordeaux on Sunday night with an open mind and, given the early signals, an expectation for rich and assertive wines. The start of every buying season requires a degree of calibration, an embedding of reference points to understand each year’s personality, but our first morning found us all slightly adrift.

Bordeaux’s vine-growing problems for the start of 2018 have been previously documented, but our first immersion left us nonplussed. At our first appointment, a bench tasting across all Bordeaux’s appellations, we found wines with generosity and lots of ripe, succulent fruit, but we were surprised by the intensity of the tannins and the fruit’s lack of precision. But, dear reader, read on…

I cannot recall a greater volte-face during a buying trip than that experienced during today’s afternoon tastings. The sequence was Châteaux Léoville Barton, Gruaud Larose, Talbot, Léoville Poyferré, Pontet-Canet, Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. The fact that each wine was so much more articulate in situ is probably a pointer to 2018’s complexity.

Yes, this a ripe year, statistically akin to 2003, but each wine’s success is bound to the nuanced decisions taken at each address, both at harvest and during fermentation. When levels of sugar and tannin are so high at harvest, freshness (acidity) is the vital balancing component and, through a crescendo of visits, we found unique and individual expressions that delivered both hedonistic and intellectual satisfaction.

At Léoville Barton, Damien Sartorius declared himself thrilled with the quality. A fabulous ripeness encouraged a lighter extraction of colour and tannin, so the wine is energetic, intense and still typically muscular. At Gruaud-Larose, the vintage’s fleshy tendencies had been well tempered and at Talbot, newly installed Jean-Michel Laporte (previously of the stellar Château la Conseillante in Pomerol) has delivered the château’s most nuanced yet heady wine for a generation. There is a changing of the guard at Léoville Poyferré as well: Sarah Lecompte has inherited the Cuvelier mantle from her cousin Didier Cuvelier and, on her organically inspired mission, has delivered an exceptional wine of lush irresistibility.

And then… Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite-Rothschild: of course we expect the First Growths to always deliver but here, at the end of a day that began with such uncertainty, was confirmation of 2018’s potentially fabulous quality. The wines do not conform to normal paradigms; they are exceptionally rich but, against expectation, also retain their intrinsic personalities. Mouton a peacock’s tail of extravagance and Lafite (with an impressive new team) more aesthetic and architectural, with both also passing their genes to their respective smaller siblings Clerc Milon and Duhart-Milon.

We finish day one reassured about many aspects of Bordeaux 2018, on a wave of positivity, but it is still early days. Tomorrow we explore St Emilion and Pomerol. Merlot was often today’s unsung star, supporting and encouraging Cabernet Sauvignon; how will it perform tomorrow, centre stage?

Find all our coverage of Bordeaux 2018 here, including Mark’s expectations ahead of the week’s tasting.