Bordeaux 2018- One city, two river banks. Very different estates, very different wines…

This is the Left Bank

The famous classification of Bordeaux that was created in 1855 and is still used today, only comprises the left bank - from the tip of the northern Médoc to south of the city of Bordeaux to Sauternes. It also includes Chateau Haut Brion, originally part of the Graves appellation, now known as Pessac-Léognan.

The Médoc peninsula sits above a cold Atlantic ocean to the west and the mighty Gironde estuary to the east. Both bodies of water having a large impact on the climate and therefore the varieties planted and vintage personality. Because it’s more temperate, Cabernet Sauvignon is king, making up the majority of the blends. In fact, when people hear the term “Bordeaux wine" most assume a Cabernet Sauvignon dominance, and it’s not difficult to see why. Some of the world most famous names - Lafite, Mouton, Margaux, and their reputations - based on price, as much as quality - are the benchmark expressions of the variety and a showcase of the region.

The Left Bank in 2018

As we know, a swath of hail stormed across the left bank in May & July, practically paving an autoroute between Pessac and Margaux. Had such veracity arrived last week, it would have certainly wiped out thousands of professional buyers and wine critics on the Quai de Chartrons for the Union de Grands Cru (UGC) primeurs tasting.

Luckily that wasn’t the case and the conditions improved… vastly. Thus inspiring Decanter’s Gavin Quinney to state that this vintage “will be remembered with dismay by some châteaux but as one of the greatest by others.” The concluding word by James Suckling this week sufficiently anoints it "an exceptional vintage".

Our Left Bank picks for 2018

Smart buyers will spread nets wide with so many great wines to choose from, but the blue ribbon for 2018 goes to Saint-Estèphe. Harmonious, balanced and homogeneous as a region. They created some of their best ever wines and with the highest yields of the 2018 vintage. Beating strongest was at the appellations red heart, Calon-Segur, where director Laurent Dufau has steadfastly improved quality in his 6 years at the helm. It remains at an envied price. For now.

As we head south down the Médoc’s route D2, Cos d’Estournel excels, as does Mouton owned d’Armailhac and both Pichon chateaux in Pauillac. Then in Saint-Julien, Leoville Lascases (again), Ducru Beaucaillou, and Beychevelle inspire. Palmer, which did not produce a second wine this year (Alter Ego) with lilliputian yields of 11 hl / ha, still explodes with fresh fruit and a texture that is both powerful and velvety. The first growths in this exceptional vintage will be exactly that, so make your intentions clear now, and take our advice - Magnum’s taste, age and look better.

In Pessac-Leogan, the elegance of Veronique Sanders once again strikes at the core of Haut-Bailly (her steal of a second wine has a new name this year - Haut Bailly II). While UGC president Olivier Bernard has produced, perhaps the greatest Domaine de Chevalier rouge ever.

“Freshness and tension are here to balance great richness… powerful but fresh, full-bodied but delicate - paradox are the cornerstone of the greatest achievements” Olivier Bernard, Domaine de Chevalier

Expect more commentary like this over the next few weeks, with the term ‘Balance’ at the heart of it all. After all, it's what we all strive for in life and wine, making everything complete, whole... or in the case of these wines and the critics alike, an ability to give us everything.

This is the Right Bank

The right bank classification was comprised exactly 100 years after the more ‘famous’ 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, but only includes, Saint-Émilion. The commune of Pomerol is home to some of the greatest estates on the planet, yet refuses to be classified. Also, the Saint-Émilion classification is updated every ten years - a great way to justify relevance, yet some argue that politics has a part in the decision making process as well.

If that opens things up to conjecture, then perhaps it’s worth considering the objective of the primeurs itself - assessing the newest available vintage at six months. Quoting Richard Hemming MW “it's a bit like the vinous version of astrology: it only works if everyone involved is delusional in one way or another. It's like reviewing the new Star Wars movie from its trailer alone.”

While we agree that tasting unfinished wines is somewhat trivial, the system itself truly succeeds and it’s likely (but not impossible) that these wines will never be cheaper than during the upcoming campaign. They are built for decades and it may be more suitable, and reliable, to buy direct from the chateaux. You can certainly get in touch with Sebastien Zotti if something older and mature piques your interest.

This is the Right Bank in 2018

With hail, mildew and overcropping leading the potential to failure, it was the icons on limestone and clay that could weather the long, dry period from summer to harvest. They would reign supreme. The vision of the white limestone hills surrounding the town of Saint-Émilion are pointers to this superb moderator in the arid warmth of this vintage.

Record sunshine through the growing season delivered a ripe style in line with 2009, 06, and 05 in terms of barrel tasting promise, but tempered without the extreme days of 2003. Big, bright, with plenty of tannin, and dialled up new oak that’s tuned in to alcohols. These are the conditions and adjectives for perfect scores…

Our Right Bank picks for 2018

 Peering west from Saint-Émilion's cathedral tower, the success of Chanel-owned Chateau Canon is clear, a tightly focused wine that delivers seductive plum and minerality. Next door, moving south and squeezed by Chateau Ausone, Edouard Mouiex’s Belair-Monage has delivered an extraordinary vintage from this newly consolidated estate. His father, Christian remarked “18 is a vintage most like the great ’90 for me, and of course we are technically so much better today.” It does make for excitement when an experienced head is equally cheerful about the wines.

In Pomerol, and let’s include Saint-Émilion outliers Cheval Blanc and Figeac, there is more gravel than limestone in clay soils. It allowed Cabernet Franc to triumph and wave its violet perfume flag, adding freshness and lift in wines where natural ripeness was never in doubt. The likes of Cheval Blanc and nearby Lafleur will, for many, be the wines of vintage or perhaps it’s the ripe fruit and freshness in both Vieux Chateau Certan and Figeac - all are fantastic and likely to receive perfect scores from critics here and there. They are all in the pantheon of greats, so request them now or forever hold your peace.

The huge variation in soil types across the Right Bank has lead to unmistakable quality differences just yards apart, and while the estates here are less flamboyant than those on the Left Bank, the wines are full of personality. And although it’s always easy to pick sides and have a preference in one style over the next, we think this difference is what makes Bordeaux and it’s wines so exciting. And in vintages like 2018, it really is a case of Vive La Différence!