2018 Vintage - En Primeur Report
- A great but heterogeneous vintage for reds.
- Great wines throughout the region, but more consistent in the northern Médoc.
- Deeply coloured, rich wines with opulent fruit and ripe, integrated tannins.
The 11-strong Farr Vintners team made the annual trip to taste the latest vintage of Bordeaux from barrel in the first week of April. After assessing hundreds of samples, tasting several wines multiple times and speaking directly to producers and winemakers in every appellation, we now have a firm grip on the style and potential of the wines in the 2018 vintage.
Many proprietors are clearly proud of the great wines that they have made in 2018, but this is not a homogeneous vintage. There are wines of the highest quality throughout the region, but generally speaking the northern Médoc was most consistent – with the higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon better suited to the sunny and warm summer conditions. Pichon Lalande, Lynch Bages, Montrose and Calon Ségur all shone, whilst on the right bank L'Église Clinet, Vieux Château Certan and Figeac were outstanding. There are truly great wines to be bought in 2018 – as long as the price does not exceed that of the 2016s, which are of equal if not higher quality.
The hot summer has allowed for wines with ripe tannins, opulent fruit, deep colour and, at times, high alcohol. The most successful châteaux managed the ripeness with bright acidity, and chose to pick at a time when fruit, tannin and alcohol could find perfect balance. The samples were easy to taste from barrel, with remarkably supple tannin and dark fruit that was almost universally ripe. The less successful wines were picked too late and had excessive alcohol and raisined fruit.
The 2018s have a unique balance, but there are elements of fruit ripeness similar to the 2009s, with a finesse of tannins akin to the 2016s. Many wines are forward and succulent, suggesting they should have long and open drinking windows.
Many growers compared their 2018s to previous great vintages, with more than one suggesting that this vintage could be their best ever. Whilst that remains to be seen, there is certainly great potential in what we tasted.
The dry whites are good but, due to the dry heat, lack the freshness and drive of recent vintages. The sweet wines of Sauternes are well-balanced with good ripeness, though often the flavours are more of dried fruits than savoury botrytic complexity. This was due to the dry weather which meant that noble rot took hold later and less fully than normal.
The 2018 growing season can be split roughly in two; before and after mid-July.
The winter was cold and wet, delaying the start of the growing season. This was a blessing for many; the later bud-burst meant that early spring frosts did not damage the early growth of the vines. Unfortunately, the weather that followed was no improvement. Record rains put substantial stress on the vines with the threat of mildew a significant problem for many. Those who follow the principles of organics and biodynamics found that they had to intervene with chemical sprays to save their crop – those who are certified and did not have such freedom lost significant proportions of their potential fruit. Production levels at Pontet Canet and Palmer are significantly down, and the latter will not be making an Alter Ego this year as a result. May and June brought more inclement weather with heavy rain and occasional, localised hail storms.
The turn came on July 15th – coincidentally the day that the French won the World Cup. There was a storm that turned out to be the last heavy rain and hail of the growing season. From this point on the weather was dry and hot, allowing the fruit, vines and soils to dry out and mature in optimal conditions. This continued late into autumn, giving the châteaux the luxury to pick varieties and plots slowly and at optimal ripeness. Many chose to harvest over a prolonged period, with grapes picked anywhere between early September and late October. The grapes were ripe and unaffected by any disease pressure, with small berries reducing yields slightly but giving deep colours and succulent, ripe tannin structure. Sugar levels could be high, and led to some wines with alcohol above 15% abv.
For a full report of the conditions, the annual Lynch Bages weather report from the Cazes Family can be found here.
As we write, the first report from a critic has been published by James Suckling. He has given 14 wines a potential 100 point score and believes “it could turn out to be an all-time great, similar to 2010, 2009 and 1989 or even such classics as 1982 or 1959.” His top wines of the vintage can be found here.
James Molesworth from The Wine Spectator has also released some initial impressions, with several wines receiving a potential 100 point score. We will be adding the scores and tasting notes of other critics as they become available, but it is worth noting that Neal Martin will not taste the wines until later in the year, and Jancis Robinson MW did not travel to taste the wines, sending the more-than-capable Julia Harding MW in her place.
The Farr Vintners’ UK team were all in Bordeaux for this year’s tastings. As well as visits to individual châteaux across the region, we also participated in huge comparative tastings where we were able to try hundreds of samples against their peers. This meant that there were several wines that we tasted two or three times during the week. Apart from a handful of wines that we were unable to try, all the wines that we will be offering for sale have been tasted by the whole UK team. You can read our tasting notes (with a score out of 20) by clicking on the wine in question in the En Primeur section of our website. Our top wines of the vintage and best value recommendations can be found here.
We hope that all the wines we are listing will be released en primeur between late April and early July 2018 - though Vinexpo in Bordeaux and numerous French bank holidays in May might slow it down. Yquem will be released in September 2020 and the three wines from Château Latour will not be released for several years, until such time as they consider them ready to drink.
Also in the en primeur section is our “What’s New” page which will list all the recent releases, a “Latest News” page that we will update daily with our thoughts on each release and a photo gallery from our trip. If this is your first time buying en primeur, there is also an explanation as to how the system works and how to order using our “Pre-order” and “Wish-list” system.