by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-05-13
This time of year in the wine trade is always dominated by the Bordeaux en primeur circus. Please see our 2018 ‘In a nutshell' report here. It’s strange really, as en primeur has not made commercial sense for the legions of the swirling and spitting wine trade, let alone the man on the street, for very nearly a decade. En primeur business has shrivelled like a drought savaged grape over the years and there are only a handful of opportunities each year that really make sense. At the time of writing only a few releases have made sense according to our ‘proto-pricing’ (please see jancisrobinson.com), Branaire Ducru, Duhart Milon and Quinault L’Enclos. Palmer sold out quickly (at 2,880 per 12), partly due its rarity (see blog), but also because they have built their brand so brilliantly under the guidance of Thomas Duroux. As a result, Palmer has a strong en primeur following.
In general, the Chateaux are releasing less than ever this year which makes this game ever more senseless. According to one highly experienced trade legend EP is all about building the client base for merchants and clearly the avalanche of similarly persuasive e-mails work to some extent. Experienced wine players are highly selective in the EP arena and returns in the short to medium term are very far and few between. Real scarcity is where it’s at, if you’re hoping for rising prices, and that doesn’t come from en primeur.
| || Level || Month || YTD || 1 Year || 5 Year || 10 Year |
| WO 150 Index || 303 || -0.6% || -2.0% || 6.4% || 57.4% || 83.3% |
| WO Champagne 60 Index || 462.61 || 0.9% || -1.3% || 5.0% || 68.4% || 154.9% |
| WO Burgundy 80 Index || 691.36 || 3.7% || -2.0% || 25.7% || 142.1% || 233.2% |
| WO First Growth Index 75 Index || 276.71 || -0.5% || -2.0% || 2.6% || 45.5% || 71.2% |
| WO Bordeaux 750 Index || 340.71 || 1.0% || 1.7% || 6.3% || 57.5% || 100.3% |
| WO California 85 index || 669.86 || -0.1% || -0.4% || 15.4% || 106.4% || 309.9% |
| WO Piedmont 60 Index || 318.83 || -0.3% || 0.9% || 9.2% || 75.6% || 126.4% |
There were no new themes detected over the month and scarcity is still the biggest driver. Interest in Piedmont is still firm although the monthly movement of the index would suggest otherwise. The same can be said of Burgundy, which is still active but is trading below advertised offer levels, with buyers negotiating harder.
Brexit concerns seem to have been put on hold for now, more through ennui than anything else, which led to some increased activity from U.K. private clients but overall the market trundles along rather than powering up. It’s a time for gentle accumulation on the bid side of the market.
As an aside; several collectors have approached us about reviewing their cellars, mainly to consider what holdings are investment grade and which are not. This has led to most people making the realisation their collections lack structure. The combination of our expertise and the technological support from the platform is proving to be very valuable.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-30
Research does not come any easier than looking at Krug 2004. Vintage Krug is an investment stalwart and the long-term numbers tell us it is a consistent performer. So, you key in the various available vintages into Wine Owners ‘Relative Value Analysis’ and ’04 comes out as THE pick of the bunch:
Then you read the tasting note from Antoni Galloni:
Krug's 2004 Vintage is absolutely mesmerizing. Layers of bright, chiseled fruit open up effortlessly as the wine fleshes out with time in the glass. Persistent and beautifully focused, with a translucent sense of energy, the 2004 captures all the best qualities of the year. Moreover, the 2004 is clearly superior to the consistently underwhelming 2002 and the best Krug Vintage since 1996. Readers who can find it should not hesitate, as it is a magical bottle. 97+
Simples! But, as ever, it is not quite as simple as that; if we compare the returns over the last twelve months, performance across the vintages is far from consistent:
It is difficult to explain the variances, especially the ‘98 but I take heart that the 2004 is yet to perform positively. It was a decent size crop and clearly there are plenty of merchants still holding their allocation but this means there is still time to accumulate before it starts appreciating – and it most certainly will! This is a buy on a long term basis.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-29
FRIDAY 24th MAY
Pontet Canet ’18 is released today at £86.50 per bottle. It is a HUGE wine. With a proto price of £84.39 and with a 2/3 reduction in crop thanks to mildew, Pontet Canet could be accused of being generous – not something we’re accustomed to! The relative value score is also strong and the critics are mad about it. Monsieur Tesseron opened conversation when we were there with “clearly this is the best modern day vintage of Pontet Canet”. Buy some if you can.
Score: 96-98, Jeb Dunnuck
Score: 97-99, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Score: 94-96+, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Wine Advocate
The 2018 vintage has probably produced Phelan Segur’s highest ever scores; LP-B 93-5, JS 95-6 and AG 91-4. There is no doubt this is a Chateau on the up, with a new owner and under the beautiful directorship of Veronique Dausse this is one to watch. The Relative Value Score is good, the price is a not too taxing £35.41.
THURSDAY 23rd MAY
If you believe in the gospel according to Suckling, one must buy Domaine de Chevalier (rouge) at £65: "Wow. I can’t get over the pureness of fruit in this wine with so much currant, tar and wet-earth character. Flowers, too. So aromatic. Full body, yet pureness and brightness of fruit. Layered. Incredible depth and beauty. 65 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 30 per cent merlot and 5 per cent petit verdot. Greatest ever?" Score: 99-100
Scores from other critics are also very high and it was certainly one of the best wines this taster tasted in the primeur tastings. Is this a break out moment for this famous Domaine? Like the man from Del Monte, the price and the scores say YES!
Score: 94-96+, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Wine Advocate
Score: 94-97, Antonio Galloni
Score: 96-98, Jeb Dunnuck
It’s the big blast – the Canon! One of the most fashionable Chateaux of Bordeaux have released at £87 a bottle, representing a 11.5% premium to our proto price of £78.04. It looks like relative value to recent vintages at current market levels and people will be fighting for allocation. Will it power up from here like the 2015 and ’16? Maybe not that much but it looks good nonetheless. BUY.
Huge points from the major critics:
97-99 Points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate
94-97 Points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
96-98+ Points, Jeb Dunnuck
98-99 Points, James Suckling
Another jewel in the Chanel crown and today as equally as fashionable as Canon, Rauzan Segla is out at £75. There will be equally as much bun fight over allocations for this one as well. The proto price is £63.80, so a premium of 17%, but one which will easily be achieved. Good relative value and with a slightly higher average score than Canon, it is a BUY.
Gruaud Larose has been released at £55.83 today. Our proto price is £45.31, nearly 19% lower. The wine split the critics with exuberance from Perrotti-Brown (95-7) and Suckling (95-6) and reservation from Julia Harding (JR.com) (16) and 89-92 from Galloni “For my taste, Gruaud is on the edge of being too much”. All vintages since 2010 are available today at less than this release price and 2014-2017 inclusive all have higher relative value scores.
WEDNESDAY 22nd MAY
Leoville Barton is released today at £66.16 per bottle. There is no question the wine is of a very high quality and the Chateau, quite rightly, has a devoted following based on its strong rapport qualité/prix. Our proto price is £58.51. Here is the relative value analysis.
Julia Harding (Jancisrobinson.com): 16.5
Lisa Perrotti-Brown (Wine Advocate): 94-96
Antonio Galloni (Vinous): 93-96
Also known for its excellent rapport qualité/prix, the popular Grand Puy Lacoste released today at £56 a bottle, a tiny premium to our proto price of £54.15. It is also a tiny premium to today’s market price of their ’09 vintage.
Julia Harding (Jancisrobinson.com): 17.5
Lisa Perrotti-Brown (Wine Advocate): 92-94+
Antonio Galloni (Vinous): 93-96
It’s rapport qualité/prix day from Bordeaux! Chateau Talbot is always commercial and is priced to sell well at en primeur when the vast majority of their wine is released. At £43.16 it looks decent value, especially looking at the Relative Value Score.
TUESDAY 21st MAY
At £35 per bottle Lagrange is a little over our proto price of £31.76 but follows a completely barren ’17 - most Chateaux would have been far more demanding price wise. We continue to recommend Lagrange as a good value wine for consumers.
Julia Harding (Jancisrobinson.com): 16.5
Lisa Perrotti-Brown (Wine Advocate): 93-95+
Antonio Galloni (Vinous): 92-95
Buy Lagrange 2018
FRIDAY 10th MAY
Duhart Milon has released at £54.66 per bottle, a very modest 11% premium to our proto-price of £48.46. The Wine Owners team were very impressed by it and many of the critics have asked the question of it being the best Duhart ever. Certainly the Rothschild family have been investing here and it’s bearing good fruit! A ‘modest’ 14% alcohol too! 17.5 (95) from Julia Harding and a lovely note. This is a Chateau on the up.
Lafite’s Technical Director, Eric Kohler commented, 'The Merlot performed very well—Duhart-Milon might just have better terroir for Merlot than Lafite'.
And the Relative Value Analysis screams BUY:
Clerc Milon was released at £61.65 per bottle, awarded 93-95 points by Lisa Perrotti-Brown (WA).
The bio-dynamic, certified organic estate that is Chateau Palmer released their 2018 wine today at £241. Our proto-price was £221.67. Following a heavy dose of mildew and the long hot summer the yield was a miserly 11 hectolitres per hectare, translating into 6,000 cases and no Alter Ego was made at all. This could turn out to be a unicorn wine it’s so rare and deserves to be treated as a special case. It receives amazing and interesting reviews, 18.5 (97) from Julia Harding, 98-100 from Jane Anson, 97-100 from James Molesworth (notoriously tight!) but, by his standards, a paltry 94-5 from James Suckling – I was expecting something in four figures! Like most 2018s, it comes with the usual 2018 caveat that it is strong in alcohol – 14.3%.
Market Price versus Score here:
Relative Value Analysis here:
Other releases include:
Chateau Gloria at £29
Chateau Lafon-Rochet at £32
Chateau Saint Pierre at £42
THURSDAY 9th MAY
Today sees an attractive release price from Bernard Magrez’s Pape Clement (red) at £66.16 ex London merchant. Our ‘proto-price’ is £75.13, so very nearly a 12% discount to that.
There are a wide range of scores for Pape Clement with Julia Harding of Jancis.Robinson.com scoring it 16.5 (converting to 91 on the 100 point scale), whilst Lisa Perotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate awards a much more optimistic 96-98, James Suckiling 98-99 but a more modest 93-96 from Antonio Galloni.
Using a generous 97 points, it’s looks like very good value:
But at 91 points, it’s a different story:
Our very own Fabian Cobb really liked the wine and gave it 95 but he’s notoriously mean with his scores. Elegance was his take, so clearly a different experience to that of Julia Harding who wrote a bit “a bit monolithic”.
Pape Clément Blanc was released at £98.66 (London price) - 16.5 from Julia Harding.
TUESDAY 7th MAY
Today's releases included:
Calon Ségur released at £72 per bottle.
A record release price for Calon Ségur at £864 per 12 in the London market. Significantly above our proto-price of £63.57 but the wine was very well received by most critics. The WO house view was a bit too full and sweet to be a masterpiece but undeniably impressive. Its high scores relative to previous vintages leads to an attractive Relative Value Score.
Pavie Macquin released at £52.7 (£632 per 12), the same as last year. Our proto price is £47.36, so 11% below the release. The RVS below uses a Julia Harding's score of 16.5 (equivalent to 91), significantly lower than some of the other critics, one of which went as high as 97-99. The jury is out.
Beychevelle released at £60 per bottle and Cantemerle out at £20.50.
Carmes Haut Brion was released at £69 per bottle.
THURSDAY 2nd MAY
Lafleur 2018 released at £483 per bottle, 10% above our proto price but it will sell out with Julia Harding’s big score and is still only half the price of the secondary market average of 09, 10, 15 16. The closest thing to a dead cert a wealthy collector can buy this year.
Fair price from Clinet - £64 per bottle. They are pricing 12.5% below current market for 2016 (£73). Just £2 per bottle above our suggested proto price. Are they listening?!
Gazin out - £62 per bottle EST (with negociants as we speak). No price advantage over the chasing pack of back vintages.
They are very pleased with it this year they say, but it doesn’t make sense as an EP buy on this basis, and it didn’t wow us.
TUESDAY 30th APRIL
Batailley 2018 released at £408 per 12 (London Merchant Price).
Relative Value Score, using a WO aggregated score of 93:
MONDAY 29th APRIL
Today saw the release of Branaire Ducru 2018 at £462 per 12 (London merchant price).
A higher release price than the last three vintages and 12.4% higher than last year. Our proto-price was £44.48 per bottle, so at £38.50 it looks interesting. Relative Value Analysis, however, indicates the 2016 being better value, a trend that we think is likely to continue.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-24
Sotheby’s had announced it would auction 75 limited edition Versailles Celebration Cases which house 5 vintages of Chateau Mouton Rothschild to be given towards the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. Each beautifully crafted case honours the rich cultural history of the domain and the Palace of Versailles.
However, as a result of the terrible fire at Notre Dame on 15 April, 2019, yesterday Château Mouton Rothschild and the Palace of Versailles jointly announced that the sale proceeds of the 25 cases sold in London for in excess of £750,000 would be donated to efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral.
The cases offered in London realised £752,620 / US$983,148 / HK$7.7 million, bringing the combined total for the 50 cases sold in London and Hong Kong to £1.4 million / US$1.9 million / HK$14.8 million.
Proceeds from the final tranche of 25 cases to be offered by Sotheby’s in New York on 4 May will still go towards funding restoration projects at Versailles, as will funds raised from the first tranche of 25 cases sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on 1 April.
Each case presents five Château Mouton Rothschild vintages with labels by outstanding contemporary artists who have also exhibited at the Palace of Versailles:
Château Mouton Rothschild 2005 - Giuseppe Penone: Palace of Versailles, 2013
Château Mouton Rothschild 2007 - Bernar Venet: Palace of Versailles, 2011
Château Mouton Rothschild 2009 - Anish Kapoor : Palace of Versailles, 2015
Château Mouton Rothschild 2010 - Jeff Koons: Palace of Versailles, 2008-9
Château Mouton Rothschild 2013 - Lee Ufan: Palace of Versailles, 2014
The cases offered across a trio of international auctions at Sotheby’s throughout the Spring 2019, begun in Hong Kong on 1 April, followed by London on 17 April and concluding in New York on 4 May. Successful bidders will also receive an invitation for them and a guest to attend a private visit and tasting at Château Mouton Rothschild and an exclusive event, the Versailles Celebration Gala Dinner, at the Palace of Versailles on 21 September 2019, during which historic ex-cellar vintages will be served including Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 - one of the great vintages of the last century.
For a full list of the artists and labels visit: https://www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com/label-art/discover- the-artwork
www.chateau-mouton-rothschild.com | Instagram: @moutonnechange
www.chateauversailles.fr | Instagram: @chateauversailles
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-17
A secret of the greatest wines of the world is their balance of glucose and juicy fruit, offset with a certain amount of balancing natural acidity. Perception of sweetness is affected by additional factors beyond fruit acidity, such as oak barrels and amino acids.
The French have a word for a sweet-fruited, succulent mid-palate – sucrosité.
Even the most classic palates enjoy wines that show a crunchy sucrosité. Cross the line in a hot vintage though, and that perfect pitch sweetness turns sugary.
So what are the challenges behind trying to preserve the all-important mid palate character and aromatic profile in a vintage that’s the hottest in more than 50 years?
Feel vs numbers
Extreme climatic conditions challenged the current winemaking playbook by numbers. We suspect looking at the numbers alone to decide perfect phenolic maturity this year will not have worked as well as trusting in human judgement based on daily tasting of berries from across the myriad plots that make up a typical Château’s vineyard holdings.
In 2016 Figeac’s stunning success was in part down to an ultra-gentle infusion to minimise extraction. It was a year, like 2018, where polyphenals (tannins and colorants referred to as 'IPT' for short) were huge and needed gentle handling. Combine high IPT numbers with high alcohols and the potential to create an out-of-balance wine increases.
High sugar levels in super-ripe fruit can be a worry in a vintage like 2018. Fermentations are prone to stall where high sugar levels feed rapidly rising alcohol levels. In many instances stuck fermentations can be kick-started by tipping in musts from other vats where the fermentation has already successfully completed. But there’s no getting away from the atypical character of the resulting wine. Of course extra sweetness can be offset with acidification in the cellar - permitted in Bordeaux as elsewhere.
To the manor born
It’s a year where terroir appears to have played a significant part in cutting the grade. However unfair this may seem, the best soils and expositions tended to deliver the best wines. A bit like a heat sink regulates and dissipates excessive temperatures, somehow so do the greatest vineyards.
As reported by Jane Anson in Decanter, Eric Kohler put it like this: 'even after 25 years of working at Lafite I continue to be full of admiration for this terroir. Other plots that we own reacted to the heat at times, but Lafite just kept sailing on as usual'.
One lump please
Away from top terroir, there were a lot of sugary mid-palates in 2018. You either enjoy the extra sweetness or you don’t. We’ll be avoiding the wines with more than one lump.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-16
Italia! From the the country that has given us espresso and cappuccino, ciabatta and focaccia, minestrone and spaghetti, Maldini and Rossi, Pavarotti and Verdi, Canaletto and Leonardo da Vinci, Ferraris and Maseratis, Bunga Bunga, the Mafia and the Pope, we now have… un'opportunità di investimento – nel mondo del vino!!
The Italians are not only the largest wine producing country in the world, they have been making wine for over four thousand years and cultivate over two thousand grape varieties on a multitude of different soils in twenty different regions! They are not bad at food either. Their climate seems to suit most of the finer things in life.
Italian wine being recommended is nothing new, but having it recommended as a collectable asset bearing an investment case is another matter. Ten years or so ago, a few canny collectors realised some of the ‘Super Tuscans’ (red wines typically made of a Bordeaux blend in Tuscany) such as Masseto, Ornellaia, Sassicaia (see recent blog post) and Solaia were ripe for decent returns. Traditionalists were a bit put out by these glossy new pretenders turning up on the Italian wine scene with their fancy French grape varieties and lots of marketing but it is fair to say they have helped the overall attention given to Italy and, as a result, the ‘Bs’ are blossoming – namely, Barolo, Barbaresco and, to a lesser extent, Brunello.
Wines from the best producers of Italy’s most venerable regions have been collected by the cognoscenti for years but now their appeal is becoming more widespread. The problems of Bordeaux, following an explosive China-driven period, have been well documented in the last decade and although we are quietly confident on a comeback from the sleeping giant, the smaller top-quality regions have been profiting. The indices for cult Californian (+98%) and beautiful Burgundy (+135%) have both gone berserk in the last five years, whilst Piedmont has gained a more modest 78%, with Tuscany posting +50%.
The reason for Burgundy and California’s performance is that old tried and tested wine world fundamental of demand outstripping supply - who knew!?? Both these regions produce tiny quantities in comparison to the number of people looking to access these markets and gain exposure. The complex nature of these regions with tiny vineyards, often co-owned by different families and winemakers, has added to the gloss and mystery, spurring on newcomers to learn more and invest time and money accordingly. More of the written word is more easily accessible to interested folk, and with platforms such as Wine Owners to trade on, the visibility of the product and the liquidity of the commodity has increased.
Grand Nebbiolo from Piedmont is yet to hit the big time, apart from a few, but there are more than rumblings in other names; dedicated collectors and the inquisitive are homing in. It is a Burgundian-like network of vineyards, producers, families and reputations and you need to know what you are doing. Famous names like Conterno, for example, have six listings in my favourite reference book: Aldo, Diego, Fantino, Franco, Giacomo (the big one) and Paolo.
Some of the bigger names like Giacomo Conterno famed for his Montfortino vineyard, Giuseppe Rinaldi, famed for Brunate and Tre Tine, Bartolo Mascarello and Gaja are already highly sought after superstars with prices to match but there are a host of others with reputations and demand beginning to swell; Brovia, Cappellano, Fratelli Alessandria, Sandrone, Voerzio and Vietti to name a few.
The ‘Super Tuscans’ of Bolgheri are much simpler to understand, like Bordeaux versus Burgundy, and are produced in larger numbers. The names mentioned earlier are virtually household names (in wine terms!) and are less exciting right now overall. Brunello di Montalcino, made from Sangiovese, is also comparatively easy to piece together in relation to Piedmont. Biondi Santi, Poggio di Sotto, Salvioni and Soldera are the big names with the fancy price tags. The secondary market for Brunello has not yet developed so, for now at least, it is a case of keeping a watchful eye.
There have been some excellent vintages in the last decade or so, attracting fantastic media coverage and battle-weary Bordeaux buyers. Another reason for favouring Italian wines in the current climate is that the U.S. and Germany are the biggest export markets, so unlikely to be affected by any potential fallout from Brexit. Most of all, however, these wines are barely scratching the Asian surface as yet and we all know what happens when that changes!
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
Much has been said of the hot, drought conditions of 2018 from July onwards and the consequent high alcohols, higher than normal pHs and high polyphenols (colorants and tannins) that resulted in dense, rich, darkly coloured wines.
A warming planet we are told is likely to get warmer and wetter – in which case the sort of challenges posed by the weather in 2018 are likely to become a more common occurrence. Might whole bunch fermentation be a rational response to these increasingly extreme conditions?
Whole bunch fermentation is a bit of a nouveauté in Bordeaux, practised by producers with a leaning towards Burgundy style and weight.
There are a number of arguments in favour of whole bunch:
Stems act as a sponge in fermentation and leach colour out of the wine by absorbing some of the colorants. In a really hot Bordeaux vintage such as 2018 this helps make the wine’s robe less black and more attractive.
Stems in a very hot vintage are more likely to be fully lignified and a higher percentage can be used without imparting unripe flavours into the wine.
Stems give a perception of greater freshness, apparently because of additional molecules that have ‘attractively astringent properties’. In reality they don’t actually lower the pH; they tend to do the opposite since the pH of stems is higher than in grapes.
Stems marginally lower alcohol levels in the finished wine.
Two estates in Bordeaux stand out for their practise of vendanges entières:
Chateau Rouget in Pomerol is owned by Domaines Labruyère who famously own Jacques Prieur in Burgundy. The wine was exceptional, very rich yet beautifully balanced, a gorgeously controlled mid-palate and with alcohols of 14 degrees (low for 2018 given a 85% merlot dominant blend) and with a pH score of 3.62. That’s low for the vintage, where other Chateaux were boasting about how low their pHs were at 3.65-3.69. Small differences in pH can make a very significant perceived difference.
Chateau Carmes Haut Brion appears to also be a fan of Burgundian weight and style, and have used whole bunch for the last few vintages very successfully, having produced a shockingly good 2017. In a much hotter year than any of the preceding 4 vintages how would it fare? Very well, with a perfumed nose, croquant fruit, stacked for sure, yet with real presence and poise fin de bouche.
In our view both these Chateaux produced wonderful wines in 2018, and insomuch make an argument for how whole bunch can work well in a hot vintage where balance and constraint are the watchwords, and where finesse and focus are much harder to achieve than in a more normal, temperate year.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
Given the climatic conditions of the Bordeaux 2018 vintage described in an earlier post here – what impact did this have on the wines produced?
The new chai in Beychevelle which was used for the first time in 2016 and which helped to manage the 2018 vintage.
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
The generic statistics fail to reveal the arduous nature of the vintage for the vine growers and whilst the widespread difficulties left their imprint on the wines the essentially dry and hot summer which lasted through to the autumn brought a phenolic ripeness to the fruit and permitted the chateaux to harvest in conditions almost unseen for decades.
The three main issues in the Bordeaux 2018 vintage:
Devastating phenomena such as hail which continued late into the year
Mildew – a threat which persisted until early summer
Drought-like conditions in the summer and autumn
Hail, as large as tennis balls, arrived in Bordeaux in May. The devastation it wrought on some vineyards was total and some estates will produce no wine from this vintage. Others were luckier although it reduced their crop. Some vines, incredibly, although struck by hail, managed to repair themselves. For one estate this was only the third time in 30 years hail had struck the vineyards – not an easy phenomenon to manage.
Given the persistent rain the mildew was extensive in Bordeaux in 2018. The warm almost tropical weather in June followed by further outbreaks in July brought huge casualties across Bordeaux. This was a year of firsts. Managers had rarely if ever seen such extensive ground rot and one estate in Margaux lost two-thirds of their crop overnight. This reduced the remaining crop to one bunch per vine. A common way for estates to deal with the threat of mildew is to de-leaf the vine permitting air to circulate and dry out the plant. However, the canopy might be needed later (as it turned out) and if this effeuillage was too drastic the consequences would be felt later on. Maintaining a canopy might also help to maintain the freshness and fruit. As it turned out, the second half of the year needed to use the resources (water) of the first part. Without this water it would have been a very different vintage.
Once the anti-cyclone established itself over the region the grapes matured with a richness unseen before. This in itself meant additional care at harvest time. One estate manager commented that the change in conditions from the end of July to when people returned from their holidays in August was ‘spectacular’. Something he ‘had never witnessed in the 25 years or working on the estate’. Not only that but the meteorological forecast was ‘extraordinary’ – and was fulfilled.
Given the replenishment of the water table the remaining harvestable crop was of outstanding quality. Merlot berries were normal size because their growth cycle coincided more with the presence of water in the soil but the Cabernet Sauvignon were small and concentrated – but not ‘cooked’ nor ‘confit’.
Some estates might produce normal or near-normal yields but 20-30% less was common, 50% not uncommon, with some reduced to 10hl/ha - a volume not seen since the 60s.
Judging maturity is probably the most important factor to produce a good wine. Undoubtedly, given the richness of the grapes this was going to be another area of distinction for the various estates – when to harvest? Ironically, some estates decided to harvest early to preserve acidity (one source of freshness). But it’s not clear this was a functional objective. As one technical manager told us, ‘some estates near them were harvesting 10 days earlier than them, when normally they would be harvesting a week later. Clearly, a disparity in vision. When the harvest did come in, there were still summer conditions and, if they could, estates cooled the fruit down before it was processed. Realising the grapes were rich, extraction would need to be managed ‘almost by itself’. Reducing the temperature of fermentation was a more common technique along with less pigeage or remontage, for example, and other techniques often employed to extract more. This helped to preserve the fruit and freshness. Tannins dissolve more in higher alcohol solutions - extracting the polyphenols wasn’t going to be a problem in 2018. Some estates had the highest IPT (Indice de Polyphénols Totaux) of any year on record.
The successful red wines from the Bordeaux 2018 vintage (and there are a lot less of those than expected) are dense, deep coloured almost opaque in cases. The benchmark 2018 nose is red fruit driven with some chocolate and coffee aromas. The pallet is full and round, and the tannins have the potential to be silky. Surprisingly, the wines have maintained a degree of freshness. The wines are structured with unusual body. It is a good year for the dry whites which have preserved good acidity and are perfectly ripe. The sweet whites are concentrated and rich but lack the complexity of really good years due to the late arrival of botrytis – it was simply too dry.
A model of the new chais currently underway at Chateau Figeac
©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-08
To compare with the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux visit our post 2016 vintage conditions
Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron – 2eme cru classe ©Fabian Cobb / Wine Owners
Looking over the weather stats for the Bordeaux 2018 vintage one is struck by several positive features and, unfortunately, a couple which are likely to cause some difficulties for winemakers. There are certain key weather conditions which the vine needs to perform well. Bearing in mind, always, that generic weather data does not focus on an individual terroir and the way it might cope with the weather nor does it reveal winemakers’ attitudes and decisions.
Bearing in mind the chart above, there are 5 essential conditions for a good vintage:
A calm, warm and relatively dry period in the Spring to permit healthy flowering and
similar conditions for fruit set a little later;
Gradual introduction of dry summer conditions to induce hydric stress no later than veraison (when the grapes change colour)
Warm weather for even maturation with adequately dry (but not too dry) conditions in August and September, and
Optimum harvest conditions in September and October without rain.
Looking at the chart above one can see that many of these conditions appear to have been met except that although cumulative precipitation was beneficial in the first few months, the wet conditions in June and July plus the warm weather encouraged the onset of aggressive mildiou which provided very difficult conditions for many and particularly estates managed on biodynamic principles. It was an unusually sunny and dry summer fulfilling the criteria for a good vintage although a hail storm in late May affected a few properties in the Medoc. The resulting long period of hot and dry conditions might be referred to as a ‘drought’ – it hardly rained at all for 4 months. The year which had started late for vine development reversed itself and it became an ‘early’ vintage – a rare enough occurrence in Bordeaux.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-04-05
Weather-wise the 2018 growing season was a game of two halves; the first half was excessively wet and was followed by a hot drought through to harvest.
As well as the drought, mildew pressure affected the left bank and Graves, in some cases wiping out 60-80% of the potential crop. The right bank fared better on this front as the clay soils had the upper hand on fighting the drought due to higher levels of water retention.
Merlot was always most likely to be affected by the vintage’s heat, with some properties seeing alcohols rise quickly through fermentation, topping out at 15-16 degrees. Because of this it is assumed that this is a left bank vintage. But merlot came in with the highest alcohols off warmer gravel beds of the left bank than it did on the predominantly cooler clay soils of the right bank.
2018 has produced a singular vintage and one of the most heterogeneous we have tasted en primeur. Estates that tamed the heat, sugar, pHs and tannins resulted in bold expressive wines with massive aging potential, the very best of which may well become legends. Concentration was the word most employed by scribes.
Maybe more than ever, it’s a year where terroir appears to have played a significant part in cutting the grade. However unfair this may seem, the best soils and expositions tended to deliver the best wines and the 1855 classification played out well. As such it’s a year in which Petrus, the First Growths and the best bit of the St. Emilion plateau (Canon, Cheval Blanc, Clos Fourtet) all excelled.
As usual, there were plenty of superlatives being thrown around; Monsieur Tesseron of Pontet Canet claimed “this is clearly the best modern day vintage we have produced, better than ’16 which was better than ’10”. There is little doubt there will be some huge scores from the naturally ebullient.
There are also great disappointments and plenty to avoid. Margaux, Graves and St. Estephe were probably the most inconsistent appellations whilst the others all had their ups and downs.
It’s a hot vintage with big, bold and powerful wines: an absolute joy for some palates but maybe just too much for others. We look forward to the in-bottle tastings but in the meantime let us wait, with bated breath, for the prices!
Top picks by appellation followed by the ‘ones for the notebook’ wines:
St. Estephe: Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Lafon Rochet
Pauillac: Grand Puy Lacoste, Lafite, Latour, Pedesclaux, Pichon Baron
St. Julien: Branaire Ducru, Gruaud Larose, Lagrange, Leoville Barton, Leoville Las Cases, Talbot
Margaux: Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux, Pavilion Rouge, Rauzan Segla
Graves: Carmes Haut Brion, Clarence de Haut Brion, Domaine de Chevalier, Haut Bailly
St. Emilion: Canon, Cheval Blanc, Clos Fourtet, Petit Cheval, Quinault L’Enclos, Villemaurine
Pomerol: Gazin, Rouget, Petrus, Vieux Chateau Certan
And ‘ones for the notebook’ (good value and/or under the radar): Chantegrive, Chateau de Pez, Croizet-Bages, La Dominique, Lagrange, Langoa Barton, Monbrison, Segla