Bordeaux 2019: jet-set samples prove the vintage’s potential
Author: Mark Pardoe MW
One of the biggest challenges of this 2019 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign has been being able to get an absolutely clear picture of the quality of each wine from the samples we have received. Being unable to taste with the producers at the châteaux has required samples to be sent by courier to our home addresses, or to our Hampshire warehouse, and there is no control over the temperature under which the wines travel nor how the packages are handled. This poses a dilemma for the producer; do they send an untreated sample drawn straight from the barrel, which will show the wine in its best light, but be in its most fragile state and least able to withstand the challenges of the transport; or add plenty of SO2 which will stabilise the wine, but may dumb the aromas and make the wine taste overly dry?
Given this possibility we have tried to be circumspect in our assessment of the wines that we’ve tasted so far. The wines that have shown well will certainly be good in the future, but we have certainly also not dismissed any wines that didn’t show well in our tastings, as they may have suffered in transit. And even the best wines may not show their true colours under these taxing circumstances.
So we were delighted when, on Tuesday this week (2nd June), we were able to get our clearest impression to date of the 2019 vintage, courtesy of the Rothschild family, of whom different branches own Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild. Selected wine merchants were invited to taste each château’s range of wine at pre-arranged times, all socially distanced, at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, a glorious neo-classical eccentricity, built as a weekend retreat for Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 19th century, bequeathed to the National Trust in 1957 and managed by the Rothschild Trust. It was opened for the day specially for the tastings.
The unique attraction of the event was the fact that the samples were drawn as late as possible on Monday, then flown to the UK by private jet so they would be handled as carefully as possible throughout the journey. As Philippe Dhalluin of Mouton-Rothschild observed in our video link after the tastings, they were the most expensive samples ever provided by the château.
The speed and care of the transfer of the samples has allowed us to see the wines in a condition as close as possible to that we would have seen, had we been able to taste at the châteaux and, as a result, we can now make a more precise observation on the vintage. It is clear that the best wines will have a beautiful purity of fruit and a delightful energy in addition to the power and generosity that we have already observed. The wines are certainly ripe but, as these really fresh samples demonstrate, the vintage also has a lovely definition of fruit, and the tannins play a vital and exciting role in giving the wines greater detail.
The tasting at Waddesdon Manor has further confirmed our view that this is a high-quality vintage.