Bordeaux Left Bank 2018 – A Vintage Report

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2018 bottle samples

Rating wine is a very personal experience, says Ronald Rens. A wine rating is one individual opinion of one individual taster at one specific moment and we should be modest about the outcomes. I use the traditional 20 points scale where I sometimes add some half-points or even the occasional “+” or “–” when I want to add nuance. I have been using this 20-point scale over the last 30 years and it has served me well. 

Château Lafite Rothschild 2018, 1er Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
The big smile on Technical Director Eric Kohler’s face when he welcomed me said it all. The weather conditions at Lafite in 2018 were challenging at first. The summer began very late: on July 16, when conditions changed from “extremely challenging” to “unbelievable” for them in Bordeaux. The vines were saved in that hot August by the reserves of water in the ground. Lafite created beautiful classical wines and Kohler’s secret was, “Not to be overwhelmed by the weather. The terroir combined with the weather and a lot of work gave the concentration, typical for the vintage. But we had to be precise to prevent over-ripeness. A gentle extraction was paramount. This vintage gave us a lot.” 

Carruades de Lafite 2018 (18.5+ points)

Lafite 2018 barrel samples

38% Merlot, 56.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5.5% Cabernet Franc
The Merlot at Lafite was outstanding this year. Kohler thought at first that he would be using up to 15% of Merlot in the blend of Lafite because of the outstanding quality. In the end the and his team found that 8.5% Merlot brought a perfect balance and as a result all the rest of the Merlot was used in the Carruades. “This gave us a quality in the Carruades that we have never seen before at Lafite,” he added, almost apologetically. The parcels from which the Carruades are produced are rather heterogeneous. The new scientific approach, where drones were used to determine which plots of the Carruades needed harvesting, clearly paid off. For the Grand Vin this approach is not needed because of the next to perfect terroir of Lafite. An intense deep colour with a light red-purple rim, reminding me of the 2010 or 2016. Discreet nose that takes a while to open up. Hints of clean and fresh red and black fruit. Tasting the wine I could only write: “This is Super!” All the work and effort paid off. Superb and elegant tannins. Great freshness and an incredible length for “just” a second wine. A precision that is remarkable.

Lafite Rothschild 2018 (20 points, without a doubt)
91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8.5% Merlot and 0.5% Petit Verdot
Like I said before, 2018 is a vintage that that can easily turn into “Parker-style” wines. Kohler hit the brakes at some point and made sure to harvest at exactly the right moment to prevent jammy, flabby wines with too much alcohol. And he did well because the wine is simply brilliant. The colour is even more intense than the Carruades but not by far. A deep concentrated ruby colour with a delicate purple rim. The nose is just stunning with an incredible concentration of perfectly ripe red and black fruit. Not a hint of jamminess. On the palate I found the elegance of a great Lafite intertwined with the power and concentration of the vintage. An exemplary freshness with beautiful ripe velvety tannins and a great structure and a creamy texture. A great wine with outstanding ageing potential that will wow wine lovers for decades to come. I admit to swallowing this wine, it was simply this good. Bravo to Eric Kohler and his team! Definitely my Left Bank wine of the vintage.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2018, 1er Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
The futures tasting at Mouton Rothschild is always a combination of theatrics and a warm family feeling. I entered the tasting room where Philippe de Sereys de Rothschild welcomed me on behalf or the family. Philippe Dhalluin, the ever modest and very talented Estate Manager, had a twinkle in his eye when he presented me with yet another great Mouton. Mouton’s Technical Director, Erick Tourbier, was eager to show me the Mouton 2018 as we discussed the vintage. With Eric I tasted the Mouton 2018 straight from the barrel and then it was already extraordinary.

Great second wine
Philippe Dhalluin explained to me that the Petit Mouton (the second wine) comes from vines that are on a somewhat lesser terroir. In very dry vintages they tend to suffer the most, but not this year. When Dhalluin was creating the blend for the Petit Mouton he thought: “Maybe we have been a bit too strict on our selection. Much of this wine could have entered into the Grand Vin.” As a result they tried using these wines in the Mouton Blend, but “somehow it didn’t work. So we said: well then we are going to make a super Petit Mouton.” “The Merlots have not been as good since 2010,”Dhalluin adds with a smile. “At Mouton we have the means to do what has to be done so the mildew didn’t bother us that much and we managed to reduce the loss to a mere 2%.”

 Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild 2018 (19- points)
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc
A very concentrated colour with some ruby and purple. A rich and expressive nose with loads of fruit, notably raspberry, cherry and red currant. On opening up there are some hints of mint and liquorice. On the palate the full-bodied wine is rich and powerful but with an excellent expression of fruit. Super ripe tannins. Great structure and length for “just” a second wine. The Petit Mouton continues its journey towards excellence within the league of second wines of the First Growths.

Mouton Rothschild 2018 (20- points)
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc
Somewhat deeper color than the Petit Mouton but not by much. A bit more concentration around the rim. Beautiful expressive nose with extraordinary ripe fruit. Like their neighbors at Lafite, Dhalluin chose the right moment for picking at the perfect ripeness and as a result there is not a hint of jammy aromas on the nose. Just great ripe fruit, notably cherry and blackberry. A discreet layer of the typical Mouton spiciness. The silky tannins are simply lovely and perfectly interwoven in a creamy texture. Dhalluin explained that the wine technically resembles the 2016 vintage but the 2018 has even more concentration. Where the 2017 Mouton favoured freshness over opulence the 2018 is the opposite. It has a beautiful balance in the freshness, tannins and the fruit. This is definitely a vintage for the long term. Very good indeed.

Château Latour 2018, 1er Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
I tasted the Latour at the chateau with Hélène Génin, the technical director of the First Growth. Hélène

Ronald Rens tasted Château Latour with Hélène Génin

explained that she had to fight the mildew as well. The vintage started out as a late vintage but the growing cycle caught up with the year and it turned out to be an early harvest at Latour. Small berries with thick skins and a perfect ripeness. Latour doesn’t use the optical sorting machine because Hélène doesn’t believe in this technology. All selection was done by hand. The yield at Latour at 24hl/ha was lower than the usual 33-35 hl/ha as a result of the mildew in the early part of the year and the drought later on. Latour isn’t released on futures anymore. The chateau keeps the wines in bottle in their cellar and releases the wines when they feel that they are entering their drinking window. This year they will release the Pauillac 2014, the Les Forts 2013 and the Latour 2008.

Pauillac de Latour 2018 (16 points)
56.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30.8% Merlot and 12.3% Petit Verdot
A fairly light colour, especially compared to the wines I tasted elsewhere. Some nice purple tinges. Rather shy on the nose with some pleasant black fruit. On the palate the sample was somewhat dominated by the tannins that were a bit dry in the end. Pleasant expression of the fruit. Not very long.

Les Forts de Latour 2018 (18 points)
65.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 0.4% Petit Verdot
Way more colour than the Pauillac and much denser. Rather discreet nose that took some time opening to show pleasant blackcurrant aromas. I loved the expression of the (black) fruit and the good structure. Strong tannins and a good length

Château Latour 2018 (19.5 points)
91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot
As was to be expected, the deepest colour of all three wines, with hints of ruby and some purple in the rim. Rather shy but stylish nose with some (black) fruit and vanilla tones. What power! Superb fruit. Powerful and refined tannins are the hallmark of yet another great Latour. The fruit seems to overpower the tannins somewhat at this stage but the barrel aging will fill those tannins in to bring the fruit and the tannins into perfect balance. No worries here because Latour manages this skill to perfection. Again a great Latour for the long term. Well done, Hélène Génin and team!

Château Margaux 2018, 1er Grand Cru Classé, Margaux

Margaux 2018 barrel samples

Driving up to Château Margaux remains an experience, even after having been there so many times. The purity of the Palladian architecture strikes me every time. And the purity and the elegance seem to be reflected in the wines as well. In spite of the imposing chateau, there is still a family feel to the property. Alexandra Mentzelopoulos is the third generation in charge of this excellent First Growth. I tasted the Chateau Margaux traditionally in the cellars. The aim for better and more precise selections in the vineyards is impressive if you realize that the vineyard was divided into almost a 100 different batches, with a different vinification for each batch. And only the best made it into the Grand Vin. Margaux lost about 10% of its production to mildew. The yield was 31 hl/ha (normally: 35-40 hl/ha). At Margaux the berries were small as well. Normally one grape weighs about 1.15g. This year the grapes weighed between 0.8 and 0.9g.

Pavillion Rouge de Château Margaux 2018 (19- points)
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 9% Petit Verdot
As a result of a strong selection only 30% of the entire harvest made it into the Pavilion Rouge. The colour is fairly deep. The nose is rather discreet, maybe due to the fact that the sample was rather cold (as was the room where we tasted). But swirling helped to open up the nose with some crisp fresh red and black fruit. On the palate it is the fruit that is impressive. And a super freshness, considering this was one of the warmest vintages since the beginning of the 20th Century. The freshness balances the rather high alcohol content (14,5%) and you do not feel this alcohol level at all. Great tannic structure with ripe and elegant silky tannins. At Margaux this Pavilion Rouge keeps on improving to solidly claim its position as one of the best second wines of Bordeaux.

Château Margaux 2018 (20- points)
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot
The Château Margaux represents 36% of the crop, on par with last year (37% for 2017). The colour is somewhat deeper than the Pavilion Rouge, especially with more concentration around the rim. The nose and colour-experience suffered from serving the wine cold in a cold and dimly lit room. I am sure that in different circumstances the nose will show much better but here I didn’t find much. On the palate I was amazed by the beautiful freshness of the wine in this vintage. And what a power and concentration! Super fruit and yet one of the more approachable barrel samples I have ever tasted at Margaux. The wine seems to linger on and on and on. Fruit, tannins, freshness and alcohol in a near perfect balance. A wine that will age for decades to come. Managing director Philippe Bascaules proved with this great wine that he is a worthy successor of the late Paul Pontalier.

Pavillion Blanc of Château Margaux 2018 (18.5 points)
This white wine of Château Margaux is, as always, made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc.
Subtle light in colour with a delicate hint of golden yellow. The superb nose seems to jump out of the glass with an avalanche of fruit: tropical and citrus fruit. On the palate there is a beautiful structure and a refined elegance but I miss a bit of the tension and freshness that I usually appreciate so much in the Pavilion Blanc. Good length and the wine is round and accessible. The wine is good, but simply not as exciting as the red.

Chateau Haut Brion 2018 – La Mission Haut Brion 2018, 1er Grand Cru Classé, Pessac-Léognan
I tasted the Haut Brion wines in the professional tasting room in the tower of the chateau with Jean-Philippe Masclef, the Technical director of Haut Brion. My tasting here included not only Haut Brion, but also La Mission Haut Brion as well as the superb white wines that are produced here. Masclef told me that their tendency was to harvest the Merlots a bit earlier and to let the Cabernet Sauvignon ripen a bit more. It was a great vintage for the Merlots at Haut Brion. The Cabernet Sauvignons were ripe, rich and powerful. The Cabernet Francs were more risky because of the drainage in the fields where they are planted. The risk is that they get too dry. This didn’t happen because there was so much water in the subsoil as a result of the heavy rains in the first half of the year. Jean-Philippe told me that they are planning to plant the Cabernet Franc on different parcels in the future. The Cabernet Franc of the older plots went all into the haut Brion, the younger Cabernet Francs went into the second wine.

Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 2018 (Red wines)

Ronald tasting with Jean-Philippe Masclef of Château Haut Brion

Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion 2018, second wine of La Mission Haut Brion (17,5 points)
51.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40.8% Merlot and 7.6% Cabernet Franc
Deep ruby red colour with an intense purple rim. Expressive nose with red and especially black fruit. On the palate there is liquorice, and elegant fruit with ripe tannins. A great structure, especially for a second wine. Excellent freshness and length for a second wine

La Mission Haut Brion 2018 (19.5 points)
53,5% Merlot, 42,9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3,6% Cabernet Franc
Way more intense colour than the Chapelle. Both clearer and deeper colour with an interesting purple ruby rim. Rather discreet on the nose with some delicate fruit notes. Takes a bit of time to open up but then we have the classic nose of La Mission Haut Brion. In the mouth there is an avalanche of red and black fruit. Extraordinary ripe and strong tannins. This wine combines elegance and power in a way I haven’t seen before in a La Mission. Notes of liquorice and vanilla. Incredible length. Another great La Mission Haut Brion. Well done.

Château Haut Brion 2018 (Red wines)
Le Clarence de Haut Brion 2018 (Second wine of Haut Brion) (18.5 points)
58,2% Merlot, 28,5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9,7% Cabernet Franc and 3,6% Petit Verdot
Even more intense in colour than the Chapelle, going a bit towards purple. The nose shows beautiful crisp red and black fruit. Keeps opening up and showing even more complexity. On the palate there is a superb fresh and precise expression of the fruit. An incredible tannic structure for this second wine. Very good length! Very well done!

Haut Brion 2018 (19.5 points)
49,4% Merlot, 38,7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11,9% Cabernet Franc
Even more intense in colour than the La Mission Haut Brion with a deeper purple in the rim. Incredible ripe and concentrated crisp red and black fruit on the nose. On the palate there is a super fruit in a perfection I haven’t taste many time on futures. The typical tobacco notes. Even more elegant than the La Mission. Super ripe and elegant tannins and a finale lasting minutes on your palate. It seems like this wine may be approachable earlier than the 2014 or the 2016 but the structure, density and incredible tannins will guarantee a long future. The high alcohol (14.6%) is altogether in balance with the tannins and the structure. Simply a superb Haut Brion for the long-term ageing.

Château La Mission Haut Brion 2018 (White Wines)
La Clarté de Haut Brion 2018, serves as the second wine for both Haut Brion Blanc and La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (17+ points)
20,8% Sauvignon Blanc and 79,2% Semillon
Beautiful light golden yellow colour with some green tinges. The sample is not completely clear. True to its style, this wine seems to jump out of the glass with a bouquet of ripe fruit. There is almost a hint of sweetness on the nose. On the palate this wine is very approachable. It lacks a bit of freshness in my opinion that one may miss on the longer term but for now this is drinking very nicely. Decent length.

La Mission Haut Brion Blanc 2018 (18.5points)
76,2% Sauvignon Blanc and 23,8% Sémillon
The colour is somewhat lighter than the Clarté. The nose is a bit more discreet but much more refined that the Clarté. Doesn’t show itself directly but opens up beautifully with a complexity and a refinement true to its pedigree. Give this wine a few years and it will be great. The Sauvignon shows itself in the lime and green apple aromas. Some peach as well. The wine is very rich and opulent. I feel it lacks a bit of freshness for the long-term aging but this wine is simply lovely.

 Château Haut Brion 2018 (White wine)
Haut Brion Blanc 2018 (19.5 points)
70.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon
The colour is a bit more intense than La Mission. A beautiful green-yellow shiny colour, perfectly clear. The nose is really beautiful and more expressive than the La Mission. I feel more freshness and balance in the Haut Brion. For me this is simply the better wine. Remarkably approachable and almost ready to drink. A very good length and the refinement of a good Haut Brion Blanc!

Bordeaux Right Bank 2018 ratings and tasting notes to follow

For more on Bordeaux read Bordeaux Favors the Bold and The Best of Bordeaux – a ranking of wines and vintages.

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