Tom's Update On Bordeaux 2018

2018 is a fascinating vintage – and it was most instructive going to the GCC tasting last week and trying 2015, 2016, (2017), and 2018 of the following:

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien
Château Canon, Saint-Emilion
Château Canon La Gaffelière, Saint-Emilion
Château Gazin, Pomerol
Château Guiraud, Sauternes
Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint-Julien
Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe
Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan

This not only gives a very useful cross section of the region, but a detailed opportunity to academically taste vertically and horizontally through some top chateaux. Looking back at my notes I was able to draw some very general contrasts and comparisons between 2015, 2016 and 2018. NB - I largely skipped 2017, not because I don't like the vintage - I really do appreciate its freshness and deftness, if only the prices of more wines had been more attractive, but because 2018 Bordeaux is a buy dependent on how it performs - both in terms of quality and value - to 2015 and especially 2016.
Whilst generalisations are not always helpful, I observed some interesting patterns emerging. The suggestion that 2018 (at its best) offers a combination of 2010's structure and 2015's richness is valid. The tannins are broad but smooth. This compares interestingly to many of the 2016s, where the tannins feel longer but grainier, higher-pitched. 2018 shows a similar generosity to 2015 but with a more polished, sophisticated mid-palate. There is also a balancing freshness to the rich, sweet fruit which is very attractive. I'm not sure the wines have quite the same mouthfeel as 2016 - which at this tasting showed more savoury character, and perhaps a touch more grip and elegance. However the best wines are opulent, silken, well-fleshed yet charming, with tension, and a mineral drive and plumbline core of acidity to balance their weight. I liked the freshness, occasional crunchiness and touch of salinity on the finish of many of these 2018s (and others tried previously). With the exception of Gazin, which I found rather beefy and hot, I didn't detect any over-ripeness or excessive extraction and whilst Leoville Poyferré 2018 (described by The Wine Advocate's Lisa Perotti-Brown as "built like a brick house") is not going to appeal as much to lovers of old-school claret, it's an impressive mouthful! Above all, what is pleasing stylistically is that, even in such a solar vintage, which allowed maximum ripeness, there seems to be a conscious move away from making "the best Napa reds in Bordeaux" (to paraphrase Michael Schuster), and to concentrate on letting the fruit express itself and a real sense of place.
We have been very circumspect about offering the released wines (as they need to be attractively-priced compared to 2016 to make them a compelling buy) so have passed on a number. Below are the wines released so far I think are really worth adding to the cellar - and below that some others which (if priced well) should merit consideration. Feel free to add any more that would be of interest to you….
 
Released (in order of release date):
Angelus £1524/6 (99-100 JS, 98 JA)
Branaire Ducru £462/6 (94-97 WS, 95-96 JS)
Clinet £387/6 (96-99 JD, 94-96+ WA)
Haut Marbuzet £348/12 (95-96 JS, 91-94 AG)
Clos du Marquis £234/6 (94-96 JD, 94-95 JS)
Malartic Lagraviere £420/6 (95 WE, 93-94 JS)
Le Dome £744/6 (98-100 CK, 97-99 WA)
Pape Clement £397.20/6 (97-98 JS, 96-98 WA)
Palmer £1,446.00/6 (98 JA, 97-99 LPB, 97 WS)
Gloria £346.80/12 (92-94 LPB, 92-94 JB)
Duhart Milon £336/6 (94-96+ JB, 93-95 LPB)
 
Pending:
Cheval Blanc
Cos d'Estournel
Domaine de Chevalier
Ducru Beaucaillou
Giscours
Grand Puy Lacoste
La Conseillante
La Mission Haut Brion
Lafite Rothschild
Leoville Barton
Leoville Las Cases
Lynch Bages
Margaux
Mondotte
Montrose
Mouton Rothschild
Pichon Baron
Pichon Lalande
Pontet Canet