This article has also been published on JancisRobinson.com and Liv-ex.
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
This report was also published on JancisRobinson.com and on Liv-ex.
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
Bordeaux 2017 was all about location. Most of the top vineyards were hardly touched by the devastating April frost, including almost all those in Pauillac, St-Julien and St-Estèphe. For those that weren’t impacted, it was a good and occasionally very good vintage, though not exceptional. How good was mostly down to how well placed.
All the First Growths on the left bank have made predictably fine wines, as did many of their neighbours, and there are some lovely, tiny-production Pomerols and classy, top flight St-Emilions. The same can be said for Pessac-Léognan and Margaux, and the whites meanwhile, both dry and sweet, can be excellent.
No one is claiming that 2017 is a great vintage. Yet it was a perfectly good one. Here are my top 20, featuring the outstanding wines. Keep reading
Ten days after a hailstorm at Ch Bauduc on 23 May 2009.
Every year on the 23rd May, I take a photo of the Merlot vines outside the château and each picture tells a story. From the hailstorm in May in 2009, to the early harvest in 2011 and 2017, the grotty start to the growing season in 2013 and the normal, good years like 2016. Here are some of those photos.
The earliest growing season – a burst out of the blocks, 23 May 2011.
No two years are the same in Bordeaux but this one, with any luck, was unique. 2017 will no doubt be remembered as the year of the frost but it’s also a vintage in which many of the top châteaux produced some very good wines. It was, for sure, a year when location really mattered.
As well as that, and beyond the spring frost, 2017 was an atypical, early growing season, with an early and successful flowering in late May, sunshine in June then heavy rain at the of the month, followed by a dry and cool summer, some late August heat, and then rather too many damp days just before the red harvest in September. It’s rare for the red harvest to be wrapped up for many estates by the end of September, especially for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon – as at Château Montrose in St-Estèphe above.
Bizarrely, an unusual year all round has conjured up some classically proportioned red Bordeaux – and some excellent whites too, both dry and sweet.
Here are my previous articles on the vintage:
The ghastly frost damage in Bordeaux, 5 May 2017
The frost map of Bordeaux, 30 May 2017
The smallest harvest in France since 1945, 31 August 2017
Bordeaux 2017 – harvest and weather report, 2 Nov 2017
Bordeaux 2017 production figures by Appellation – the haves and have nots, 28 Feb 2018
Frost map of Bordeaux 2017 updated, 30 April 2018
Update: Bordeaux 2017 en primeur buying guide, May 2018
Many readers will be familiar with the original frost map of Bordeaux that I put together after driving around the region a year ago, shouting ‘oh my God’ as I travelled from one valley of vineyards to the next. Since the data was gathered in a somewhat haphazard fashion, here is a new version with some real facts and figures. There’s quite a bit of detail so I recommend downloading the map as a pdf.
Note the contrast in fortunes between the famous appellations at the northern end of the Médoc – Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe – and those on the ‘Right Bank’ of the Gironde estuary, such as Saint-Emilion and its satellites.