2018 is not quite a black and white vintage. The hype will tell you that it’s the greatest vintage since 1961, but not all the wines are uniformly brilliant as per 2010 or 2016. But where the wines are good, they are seriously good indeed. The problem the Bordelais faced in 2018 was the heat. The vines produced small berries, with thick skins. So where vigneron picked early and were gentle with their grapes during pressing and maceration - the wines are structured and fresh with lots of forward fruit, elegance and purity.
My aim in this report is to point you in the direction of who has done well this year, there is a lot of wine that merits some serious consideration. The old guard have predictably made some phenomenal wines, but what is also clear is that there are a number of Chateau entering into a new era of superlative quality. Cos d’estournel, Montrose and Leoville Las Cases from the Left Bank are making wines of first growth calibre and from the Right Bank; Vieux Chateau Certain and Figeac are doing the same thing. I expect there will be high demand for these wines.
Starting with St Estephe, the appellation on the whole has produced some beautiful wine. Calon Segur has been on the lips of everyone who tasted the 2018s as ‘one of the wines of the vintage’ and rightly so, it is brilliant. It is structured, built to last and impossibly pure. The wine is always released in small batches, so please register your interest now so I can start fighting for an allocation for you. Capbern, owned by Calon is superb if you don’t want to part with Calon dosh. Cos d’Estournel is for my money, one of the greatest wines of the vintage. It’s a far cry from what it used to be 10 years ago - they have ditched the ‘Parkerisation’, and the new style Cos is one of freshness and balance. Do yourself a favour and pick up some their second wine - Pagodes de Cos, it is not a million miles away in quality from the Grand Vin, but it will be a fraction of the price and it is absolutely delicious this year. Montrose is an incredibly elegant, intellectual and polished wine, following in the foot-steps of the majestic 2016. I dare say this will score very highly as well. I have fears that the already considerable price tag will get higher over the coming decade (à la VCC et al) - so buy this this year before it starts to leap-frog up. Lafon-Rochet was a total joy to taste, it is a restrained wine for the vintage with great texture. If the price is right you will have yourself a very good drinking claret for the next 30-40 years.
“The old guard have predictably made some phenomenal wines, but what is also clear is that there are a number of Chateau entering into a new era of superlative quality.”
The wine I always love from Pessac-Leognan is Domaine de Chevalier Rouge. In fact, I have never had a bad bottle of either colour from Domaine de Chevalier. I have also never balked at the price tag. Both the red and the white this year are top notch – I would go as far as to say that the Rouge may be the best ever from this estate. Pile in. The white is the only white worth buying this year. Working up the food chain, it’s pretty evident that it’s a Haut-Brion year this year vs La Mission. Haut-Brion shines with freshness and purity whereas Mission was a little bit too chewy for my liking. I’ll be coveting my customers who add this stellar beauty to their cellars. This really is top drawer wine. Les Carmes Haut-Brion has been on fire for the last few years and the ’18 is unbelievable. Production though is tiny. Get it whilst you can.
It would be fair to say that Pauillacs in 2018 are pretty damn good. The First Growths are predictably monumental. Latour we don’t have to worry about for now, so for my bucks I’d be buying Lafite, which is the best I can remember tasting En Primeur. It is extraordinarily beautiful with effortless grace and poise. But then again it should be for the price you have to pay. 2018 Mouton is superb as well, but if I had to choose between the two. I would be buying Lafite any day of the week. The name on everybody’s lips this year is Pichon Lalande: Hype aside, it is almost certainly ‘the wine of the vintage’. There will be a serious run on it, so start registering your interest now. Baron not so much sadly. Pontet Canet is a dreamy wine, but they are 60% down this vintage because of the dreaded powdery mildew and because they are certified biodynamic they couldn’t do anything about it. The price could be high, but if you can get it; buy it. Grand Puy Lacoste is a totally genius showing. I adored the juicy freshness and fine sweet tannins. Clear evidence of another chateau in a new era of quality. Batailley will be a very good proposition if the price is keen.
Moving to St Julien. Leoville Las Cases is scarily good. I dare say it will bag itself a few 100 points in its tenure. It hasn’t been cheap for a while but now they have found their feet I see the pricing going sky high over the next 10 years. Buy it whilst you can. This may be one to pass to the children in your will. Leoville Poyferre is Delicious with a capital D. I cannot remember liking it more En Primeur. It’s velveteen in texture - it has beautiful sweet tannin and lots of plummy cherry fruit over some more serious minerality. I’m a huge fan! This is one for your cellar to love and cherish in 20 years + time - very impressive kit. Leoville Barton, I have on authority, will be well priced this campaign. Buy this wine by the cartload! Damien Barton is now rules the roost at this chateau - and has pared back the blackness somewhat. It still has that Leoville Barton structure and everything we love about Leoville Barton, but you won’t have to wait 40 years to enjoy it. If the price is right buy as much as you can. Bravo Leoville Barton. Beychevelle, Saint Pierre and Gloria are very much worth considering from the value camp.
“Palmer is up there for me in ‘the wine of the vintage’ category, but like Pontet Canet, they are significantly down in production. If you can find a case - please buy one as the wine is otherworldly and easily the most beautiful Palmer I have ever come across.”
There is some very good wine in Margaux in 2018. Chateau Margaux is divine and nearly as brilliant as Lafite. It’ll take a long time to come round - it is in a very closed state, but the quality is very clear! Bravo. Palmer is up there for me in ‘the wine of the vintage’ category, but like Pontet Canet, they are significantly down in production. If you can find a case - please buy one as the wine is otherworldly and easily the most beautiful Palmer I have ever come across. I respect the decision to uphold biodynamic principals at the cost of production even though the price may be eye wateringly high. Another ‘wine of the vintage’ is Rauzan Segla. For bang for your buck, this may well play out to be one of the best buys of the whole of 2018! The wine is sensational and the price never too high - let’s hope they haven’t got greedy. I’ll be keenly watching Rauzan and whatever the price a case or two will be winding its way into my storage. The other bargain from this appellation is Malescot St Exupery, who have produced a thought provoking, monolithic wine. Always good value - keep your eyes on the price. In 2016 I sung the praises of Brane-Cantenac from the high heavens. I’d slightly viewed it as an underachiever in years before that. 2017 was a little bit disappointing, but 2018 marks a return to brilliance. You won’t have to fight to secure this one - and the price will be good - buy a few cases here, and you’ll thank yourself in years to come. Marquis D’Alesme is great value as ever, there have been some recent changes at the Chateau and the wine is delicious and affordable. They’ve dropped ‘Becker’ from the label. I like Lascombes a lot too – which is a wine I’ve never paid much heed to before. If the price is good this will be a sensible buy for those who like a more feminine style.
Other wines of note from the Left Bank: Sociando Mallet is a very reliable and always affordable drop that performs well above its price tag. I buy it every year for this very reason. It is simply very good value in a very expensive wine region. Poujeaux is the best wine in Moulis and the 2018 is cracking and will no doubt be very affordable. It will be a long lived Poujeaux. I’ve never said this before; but Potensac is great this year and has overtaken Cantemerle for me as a steady left bank drinker. Haut-Potensac is none too bad either. I dare you to give them a shot.
Be sure to check out the sequel to this piece focussing on the magnificent wines of the Right Bank here