Late spring frosts in May are extremely rare in Bordeaux but there were some icy mornings on the weekend of the 5th to 7th May. Some friends here lost the crop from a parcel or two of vines, and although the damage was bad in some spots it was not nearly as widespread as the devastating frost at the end of April 2017. We were spared, fortunately. Keep reading
We’ve taken a picture of the Merlot vines in front of the Château on the 23rd May each year. This one was taken on the 22nd because it was so grey and rainy the following day, but it shows how it compares to previous years. (23 May pic below.)
The odd thing is how some vintages are completely different to others. The early budding and growing season of 2011, compared to the late one of 2013, and the hail damaged crop of 2009. Touch wood, so far so good for 2019.
I do think 2018 is a Bordeaux vintage to consider buying into – given the right wines at the right price. Here are my ‘en primeur’ scores out of 100 for most of the leading wines, with scores close to 90 or above, from the top appellations. The rating for 2018 is on the left, 2016 on the right. Although the vintages are not the same in style, the wines are often not far apart, quality-wise, and the châteaux will price their new 2018 wines with 2016 in mind.
The first EP price is the opening en primeur price of the wine in the UK in May or June 2017, and the ‘£ now’ is the average list price you’d find, according to Liv-ex. Prices are per case of 12 ‘in bond’ (excl duty and VAT).
These tables are a simple guide to relative values: if my score for the 2018 is the same or higher than the 2016, and the price is the same or cheaper, then it’s worth a look. (And vice versa.) You can compare my 2018 ratings with other critics’ scores on the Livex page here.
The 2016s were bottled in 2018 and are physically available. Many have a long life ahead of them but some are already approachable, such is the purity and freshness of the fruit, and silkiness of the tannins.
In general, the 2018s will require patience, despite the opulence and hedonistic appeal of the wines. I’d reckon on drinking windows of 2028-2043 (10-25+ years) and beyond for many of the top estates.
Some personal favourites in their class in 2018, and for which we hope pricing is reasonable, are in highlighted in bold/italics.
At the foot, there’s also 50+ ‘Bordeaux on a budget’ 2018 reds en primeur. Keep reading
2018 is an exceptional vintage for Bordeaux. One of the most challenging starts to the growing season in living memory was followed by three glorious months, with record levels of sunshine, precious little rain and an unflustered harvest, resulting in red wines – at the top end – of extraordinary depth, opulence and intensity.
On show around Bordeaux during the en primeur tastings in late March and early April were hundreds of rich, lush and powerful barrel samples that fully expressed the overt ripeness of the vintage. It was far from plain sailing, however, with many leading châteaux having much lower yields than their neighbours, and there’s a fine line in 2018 between getting the balance just right in such a ripe vintage, with its naturally high alcohol and forceful tannins, and stepping a little too far towards the dark side. And, to be fair, such a full-on vintage might not be to every Bordeaux lover’s taste.
In this report, I’ll try and cover the ups and downs of an extraordinary year. This was my 20th harvest in Bordeaux and my 19th consecutive vintage of tasting the top wines from the region en primeur. A version of this article appears in the May 2019 issue of Harpers Wine & Spirit, the UK trade magazine, for whom I’ve written the Bordeaux en primeur report and complied a list of my Top 100 Wines each year since the 2005 vintage.
My scores for 100 of the best known wines are listed on the handy Critic Scores page for Bordeaux 2018 on Liv-ex insights.
18 things to know about Bordeaux 2018
- Three warm and dry months from early July through to the September and October harvest, with record hours of sunshine, made for a very ripe vintage.
- The first half of the year was one of the most challenging, with a wet winter and a wet, humid spring leading to mildew being a huge threat.
- (It was always going to be a ‘game of two halves’ once France won the football World Cup in July.)
- Production overall in 2018 was the same as the average of the previous 10 years, following on from the small, frost-affected crop in 2017.
- 2018 is an excellent vintage for red Bordeaux, with powerful, rich and opulent wines across most appellations.
- 2018 was a good to very good year for dry whites, with some soft and attractive sweet whites from a prolonged, dry harvest that didn’t lend itself to noble rot.
- Alcohol levels for reds are relatively high, with 14% the norm for the Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot based wines of the Left Bank, and often higher still for Merlots and the Merlot-Cabernet Francs of the Right Bank.
- Although the red wines are deep, lush and seductive, this can mask the tannic core and many of the top wines are built for the long haul. Think 10+ to 30+ years for the best wines.
- 2018 is the fifth fine vintage in a row for the important northern Médoc appellations of Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe.
- 2018 is not as consistently excellent a year as 2016, but it is right up there alongside 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2016 for quality – and, for Margaux and Saint Emilion, with 2015.
- Eric Boissenot, the consultant oenologist for many of the leading châteaux in the Médoc, including the First Growths, told me that 2018 is like a blend of 2009 and 2016. Few château owners on the Left Bank are going to argue with Eric.
- 2018 is unique among the top vintages this century for having such a huge variation of yields among the top châteaux. This is mostly down to the impact of mildew up until mid-July.
- To bio or not to bio. 2018 is the vintage that really asked the question of growers following an organic (‘bio’ in French) or biodynamic approach in the humid climate of Bordeaux.
- An untroubled harvest, with the opportunity to pick and choose dates, gave winemakers a range of options. On the whole, we’re seeing a move to more refined styles, rather than blockbusters.
- 2018 might have been an easy harvest but it wasn’t a straightforward vintage for winemakers. Three months of sun and drought meant less juice, higher alcohol, powerful tannins, concentration, lower acidity – and therefore careful extraction.
- The extraordinary investment in new cellars, new wineries and new kit continues unabated. Hundreds of châteaux have been transformed this century – many in the last decade alone – and we’re seeing this in the wines, with greater selection and far more precision.
- Good terroir has a huge impact with a drought. Coupled with the full-on nature of the vintage, and the huge threat of mildew earlier on, high quality wine is not a given further down the price pyramid.
- There are, though, hundreds of great wines from dedicated growers at all price points in 2018. But I would say that.
Links to previous updates on Bordeaux 2018
My previous reports on Bordeaux 2018 can be seen here – as published on Jancis Robinson’s website and on Liv-ex, the fine wine trading platform:
Hail in Bordeaux 31 May 2018
Bordeaux 2018 – a game of two halves 30 July 2018
Bordeaux 2018 weather and harvest report 31 October 2018
As a backdrop to the en primeur tastings that take place at the end of March and the first week of April, here’s a look at the production figures and a few statistics for the 2018 vintage in Bordeaux. More than that, it’s a fairly in-depth breakdown of how the different appellations contribute to the enormous amount of wine that’s made here, and how recent vintages compare.
On the face of it, a year that produced the same amount of wine as the average of the previous 10 years wouldn’t appear to warrant a great deal of scrutiny: the overall figure suggests it’s just an average year, volume wise. As with any vintage, however, the devil’s in the detail and none more so than with Bordeaux 2018, when the equivalent of 666 million bottles were made. (Sorry.) And while it was a glorious year for some growers, and this will be borne out by the tastings, for others the size of their crop was indeed the stuff of nightmares.
Ten highlights of Bordeaux 2018 production
- Bordeaux produced a fraction under 500 million litres in 2018, the equivalent of 666 million bottles. Keep reading
Bordeaux 2018 will be remembered as an exceptional year, with no shortage of outstanding wines from this extraordinary vintage. The weather too has been exceptional, with a glorious summer extending long into the September and early October harvest, but the vintage had begun with a bizarrely challenging first half of the growing season. It has ended up, not for the first time, as a year of mixed fortunes.
I’ll try to explain the impact of the weather on yields and quality using – as ever in these vintage reports – a few graphs and statistics.
A dozen highlights of the out-of-the-ordinary 2018 vintage
- A wet winter, followed by a seriously soggy spring.
- The threat of mildew, from spring onwards, was the strongest for decades.
- Hailstorms in May and July caused damage in some unlucky areas.
- The flowering in May and June was largely successful.
- A glorious summer, preceded by just enough rain in late June and early July.
- To have three complete months of sunny, dry weather from early July through to early October is rare.
- Optimal harvest conditions, stress free, with no risk of rot.
- A vintage of great potential, with outstanding reds and some very good whites.
- Balance will be key as alcohol levels are generally quite high.
- The fourth very good to excellent vintage in a row for 75% of the leading châteaux.
- Plentiful yields for most growers but low for those hit by mildew or hail.
- Overall Bordeaux volumes, at a guess, are close to the 10-year average.
The growing season
Here then is the story of the vintage, using daily statistics that I’ve compiled from six different weather stations around Bordeaux.
The amount of rain can differ considerably from one area to another, and even from one commune to another, but this gives a pretty good impression of how the growing season panned out. For a comparison of 2018 with the last two vintages – and they are quite different – see the appendix below.
‘A game of two halves’
At the end of July – the month in which France won the football World Cup – I wrote that Bordeaux 2018 was ‘a game of two halves’. I have to admit I was taking a punt on the weather staying fine for August and September and even, as it happened, for early October, yet it’s extraordinary how the weather stayed so sunny and dry after such a wet start.
The stark contrast in the amount of rain for the period from March to June, compared to July, August and September, and how this compares to other vintages, can also be seen in this grid showing rainfall each month over the last ten vintages.
This post also appears on JancisRobinson.com and on Liv-ex, the fine wine market website.
I’ll keep the football analogies to a minimum but the end of the month in which France won the World Cup seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the pluses and minuses of the season so far. For wine growers, or viticulteurs, the business end of the season will soon be upon us.
Following on from a wet winter and a thoroughly damp spring, the start of the summer has been dry and hot. In fact, of the last 44 days, 22 have seen temperatures over 30°C around Bordeaux, with another 14 days over 28°C. July itself has been the third hottest in France since 1947, still behind 2006 and 1983 but knocking 2015 into fourth spot. Keep reading
Now that all the leading Châteaux have released the opening prices, the 2017 en primeur campaign is all but done. Disappointingly though, the year of the frost has ended up as ‘a damp squib’.
There are many good to very good wines at the top end, but a sub-premium vintage won’t sell at premium prices. The châteaux can charge whatever they like, of course, and no one is forced to buy (as far as I know). I agree though with the many UK merchants who reckon that the prices should be viewed alongside the 2014 vintage, as I said last month.
I’d also rather have 3 bottles of 2016 than 4 bottles of 2017 at this level, in most cases. My tables below, showing my en primeur scores for the leading wines from 2017, 2016 and 2014 and the opening and current market prices for each vintage, demonstrate, wine by wine, why the 2017s have failed to sell. Keep reading
Many thanks for all the concerned messages. We’re fine thanks, as on this occasion the hailstorms passed us by. To the north of us, primarily in Bourg and Blaye, and the southern Haut-Médoc, they were not so lucky, and we send our best wishes to our fellow viticulteurs whose vineyards have been damaged.
The hailstorm struck on Saturday morning, 26 May, and we had an early warning from friends in the city of Bordeaux with texts and tweets, mostly accompanied by images and videos of hailstones and flooded streets. The hailstorm then moved up towards the Gironde estuary, damaging vines on the left bank around Macau and at the southern end of the Haut-Médoc, before causing huge damage to vineyards on the other side of the river in the picturesque, hilly areas of Bourg and Blaye. (Closer to home, the picture above of her neighbour’s vines is from Dawn Jones-Cooper of Château de Monfaucon near Genissac on the Dordogne river, less than 10 miles from us.) The storm then shifted north to Cognac. Keep reading
The Bordeaux 2017 en primeur wagon is trundling on, with prices from many of the leading châteaux still to be released. (Update 21 June 2018: En primeur prices for the 2017s have now almost all been included below.)
It’s a long and fairly tortuous journey, as ever, given that the tastings from barrel of the latest vintage, for the trade and the press, took place back in early April. Here I take a look at how the top wines stack up against the 2016s – a great but fairly expensive vintage – and the more reasonably priced 2014s.
For those vineyards that weren’t hit by the April frost, 2017 is generally closer to 2014 in quality than to 2016 (even if different in style), so it’s potentially a useful comparison. Both are good, sometimes very good vintages.
The list includes my ‘en primeur’ score out of 100 for all the leading wines in 2017, 2016 and 2014, plus the en primeur prices for all three years, and current market prices of the two earlier vintages. Simply compare the scores and the prices and you’ll see if there’s value to be had. (It’s not as simple as that, in truth, because some names are worth so much more than others.)
Note that these are for the top 180 wines from Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, Pomerol, St-Emilion and Sauternes, which are sold by the châteaux to Bordeaux négociants now (a year before bottling) and then offered to wine merchants around the world, and on to consumers. Cheaper wines from less famous appellations are not included in my list: these are sometimes offered ‘en primeur’, of course, but for a vintage like 2017 the finished product, I’d suggest, can be re-tasted and purchased after bottling. You could argue that the same applies for the vast majority of the wines on the list – but that’s the game. Keep reading