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Posted: Monday, 21 January 2019 07:45

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First Look at the 2018 Vintage in Bordeaux

Jan 21: It is a bit early for someone to report about the 2018 vintage since the daddy of all top Bordeaux producers, Union des Grands Crus does not allow its members to show their wines before En Primeur which is in April but our Bordeaux Correspondent Count John Salvi MW lives in Bordeaux and knows how to sniff around and has written the Article as a congratulatory message for the 800th issue of delWine and will give a detailed report at the appropriate time

It is much too early to make an in-depth assessment of the 2018 vintage.  After all it was only completed just over 2 months ago, and thewines are still totally primary.  The famous En Primeurs tasting are not for almost another 3 months and the Union des Grands Crus does not allow its members to show their wines before then. 

However, I live in Margaux and most of the producers of the Great Wines are my friends and colleagues so a little tasting of a few vats and barrels among friends is in order.  This short appraisal therefore is especially for my dear friend Subhash Arora and the 800th issue of his World Famous newsletter delWine from Indian Wine Academy.

It was a difficult vintage for several reasons.  The first was two serious hailstorms early in the Spring.  The first one destroyed some 10,000 hectares of vines and the second rather less. Parempuyre, Macau and Ludon, all close to Margaux where I live, were particularly hit badly.  It was a terrible sight next morning to see the vines bare and the ground littered with chopped-up leaves.  The tiny grapes had deep cuts in them and of course would shrivel up and die. 

The second was the worst attacks of mildew for many years.  With highly efficient modern treatments mildew rarely gets as far as attacking the grapes and is usually stopped while still attacking the leaves.  This year however it was so virulent that it attacked the baby grapes with a vengeance and many growers lost a percentage of their crop to it.  The very hot dry summer that followed dried the mildew out completely.

This hot, dry summer as mentioned had another result.  Due to the lack of rain there was not enough water to swell the grapes and they remained small and thick skinned, thereby reducing the volume of juice inside them.  Fortunately, there was a large crop on the vine, so producers did less green pruning and left more bunches on the vine.  Thus, for most people the final crop was more or less an average one.

Paradoxically good things can sometimes have less good results!  After the hot dry summer vintage conditions were ideal; this is rare in Bordeaux.  It was dry, warm and sunny almost to the last grape.  It was also an extremely early vintage.  The grapes for the dry white wines were picked late August and during the first half of September under beautiful, warm, dry conditions.  Château d’Yquem started picking for “Y” on 24th and Château Haut-Brion started on their Sauvignon on 27th. 

Early picking ensured optimum acidities and freshness.  This fine weather continued for the red wine vintage, which allowed vignerons to pick each plot at the optimum moment without haste.  However, my good friend Philippe Dhalluin who is in-charge of Château Mouton Rothschild has a maxim with which I totally concur, “when the grapes are ripe – pick them.  Do NOT wait”.  He did so this year and started his vintage as early as 10thsaying to me “if I wait, I will make jam!”. 

Château Haut-Brion started even earlier – on 5th!  This is the paradox.  A number of growers were so happy with the fine weather that they waited too long before vintaging.  Consequently, the acidity dropped below optimum and the grapes were fractionally over-ripe.  The Michel-Rolland school of thought encourages this late picking philosophy, but the Berrouet (Château Petrus) very much does not. 

I fear, and this is only a prediction that I should be delighted to find wrong, is that we may discover during the En Primeur that some of the red wines are a little weak in acidity and therefore will lack crispness and freshness.  I devoutly hope that this will not be the case.

It was interesting to see that there has been a resurgence of cold soaking (pre-fermentation maceration).  This of course, breaks down the skins of the grapes and releases colour.  The colours this year are deep, vivid, purple and attractive. The tannins are not soluble until the fermentation begins, and alcohol is present, but growers today are fully aware of the need for gentle extraction in order not to extract too much tannin from the pips even if they are ripe. This knowledge and application results in smooth and silky tannins which give the wine elegance.

Sweet wines of Bordeaux

It is too early to make any useful statement about the sweet, botrytized wines.  Because of the dry conditions, producers had to wait for the botrytis cinereal to develop and were worried.  However, when it came, it came copiously.  Weather by now was not so perfect and unlike 2017, it was a stop-start vintage with multiple “tris”. 

Because of their density these sweet wines ferment and develop much more slowly than the dry white wines and they are still at a stage where I do not have a sufficiently profound understanding to make a judgement.  My friend Sandrine Garbay, oenologist and wine-maker at Château d’Yquem, assures me that her wine will be good this year if not great!

To try and sum-up briefly, growers who escaped hail and did not suffer damage from mildew, and who picked at the optimum moment would have made superb dry white wines.  With the same criteria there will be some magnificent red wines, but here it was very much more difficult for all these criteria to be fully respected and/or fulfilled.  For the sweet white wines, I reserve judgement until April.

May this brief article be my personal congratulations to Subhash Arora on a website to which I am truly proud to be a contributor.

Jai Ho!                               

Count John Umberto Salvi MW


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