BORDEAUX, France – In an annual rite of spring, thousands of wine merchants and dozens, if not hundreds, of wine journalists descend upon this city to take stock of the latest Bordeaux vintage. It matters not that these wines will not be released into the market for almost two years. Interest is driven by the sale now of Bordeaux “futures.”
A futures contract allows a wine merchant to purchase Bordeaux at the opening price for delivery in approximately two years. They’re wagering that after aging in barrel for two years the same wines will cost considerably more, especially after the media spread the (hopefully) good news. In good to great vintages, that bet can pay off handsomely.
Many prominent wine merchants in the United States offer similar “futures” contracts to their retail customers, generally wine collectors who literally worship the ground from which these remarkable wines spring. Bordeaux is prized for its elegance and longevity, with the best vintages still going strong at 20 to 30 years of age.
The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux organizes the official En Primeur week of tastings for media and trade and, in a slight change of format this year, kicked off the week with an overview tasting of the vintage near the Bordeaux city center.
As usual, there was plenty of hype for the vintage prior to En Primeur week. For one thing, the major trade publications scope out the vintage a week or two in advance of the official week, and there is never a dearth of Bordeaux producers willing to go out on a limb and proclaim the latest “vintage of the century.”
For the uninitiated, vintages of the century are as common in Bordeaux as potholes in Pittsburgh, so those claims are best taken with a grain of salt. That said, my first impression of the 2018 vintage is very positive, though “vintage of the century” would be a bridge too far. I tasted several outstanding wines on the first day, including a couple of stunners, and very few duds.
The vintage was not without its problems. It started off with an extremely wet winter that made for a soggy spring (difficult to work in the vineyards) that was followed by a long, hot, dry summer. Mildew was a problem for many, and hail in May and July contributed to crop loss for some top chateaux.
With abundant sunshine, however, and no dirty tricks by the weather at harvest, most chateaux had ripe fruit to work with once the grapes reached the cellar. That’s about all any good winemaker needs. Concerns about unusually high alcohol levels due to the sunny summer seem to me to be overwrought.
The wines I tasted were generally well balanced, with excellent fruit concentration and beautifully managed tannins. In many years there is a clear preference for the wines of the right bank or the left bank, but I found much to like from both sides of the Gironde.
Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, and Pomerol in particular, were very successful. The Left Bank communes performed at a consistently high level as well, with Saint-Julien shining the brightest from my perspective. The white wines of Pessac-Leognan were generally on point, showing excellent intensity with good weight and palate presence and bright aromas of either grapefruit or white peach, and in the best a bit of both.
The whites of Domaine de Chavalier, La Louviere, Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte were brilliant, in some cases overshadowing their very fine red wines.
Any number of reds were impressive, but a few worth highlighting on this first impression include an exceptional Chateau Petit-Village in Pomerol, the stunning Chateau Beychevelle from Saint-Julien and the gorgeous vintage of Chateau Pichon Baron from Pauillac.
More on these wines and others, including tasting notes and ratings, next week. But for now, I can say with confidence that the 2018 vintage is shaping up as the fourth consecutive very good to outstanding vintage from Bordeaux. It’s one of the finest stretches of excellence in memory from a region that is prone to disastrous results when the weather refuses to cooperate.
It also speaks well of the art of modern winemaking and viticulture. Making wine is the easy part. Ginning up another vintage of the century, well, I will leave that to the Bordelaise.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org.