Bordeaux 2018: Not Back in Black


Left Bank: Saint-Estèphe | Pauillac | Saint-Julien | Margaux | Pessac-Léognan and Graves | Left Bank Satellites | Sauternes

Right Bank: Pomerol | Saint-Émilion | Right Bank Satellites

After an uneven vintage in 2017, Bordeaux was buzzing with anticipation over the 2018s. To be sure, the wines were showy from barrel, but tasting en primeur is always a moving target. The wines are of course very young and sensitive to atmospheric changes as well as other variables. Now that the 2018s have been bottled, do they live up to expectations?

When we first published my en primeur notes for the 2018s, we did so without scores. I hoped readers would look beyond numbers alone and actually read the reviews. I was quite pleased to see how many people did, and enjoyed it. After all, that’s where the real content is. But don’t fret, we didn't do that again in this report.

In short, 2018 is a hot vintage that yielded rich, sumptuous wines. Of course there are more subtleties than that. I will delve into the nuances in a minute. Generally, the most successful 2018s balance elevated ripeness with healthy acids and good structural underpinnings. Location matters. For example, wines from Saint-Émilion's famed limestone plateau handled the rigors of the year exceptionally well. So did many top sites on the Left Bank, where a number of wines are positively thrilling. Two years ago I wrote “…the best 2018s are positively stunning. I don’t see the consistency of 2016, for example, but 2018 offers a tremendous amount of choice for the consumer, from everyday gems to the rarest of collectibles.” That’s exactly how I feel today. It’s a vintage with outstanding wines at all levels. There are a handful of epic wines and an ocean of phenomenal values, but not quite the consistency of a truly legendary vintage. Much of this article focuses on wines that deliver superb quality for the money, as readers will discover in the paragraphs that follow.

Tasting the 2018s in barrel at Canon, a distant memory in our current world. General Director Nicolas Audebert (far right) with Technical Director Stéphane Bonnasse (left) and Export Manager Andréane Gornard (center).

The 2018 Growing Season & Wines

I won’t repeat my entire summary of the growing season here. After all, nothing has changed on that front. Readers who want to revisit the nuances of the year will find plenty of detail in my en primeur report Bordeaux 2018: Back in Black, which breaks down the vintage by appellation, with numerous insights from producers along the way. I also list top-performing wines by appellation. With one or two exceptions, the bottled 2018s have largely turned out as I expected, but I provide a short list of highlights below. Readers will also want to check out Neal Martin’s parallel article The Future’s Not What It Was along with his recently published The Future’s Definitely Not What It Was: 2018 Bordeaux, which looks at the wines in bottle.

Unrelenting rain in the early part of the year created widespread outbreaks of mildew that were especially devastating for organically and biodynamically farmed vineyards that have limited options at their disposal for situations like these. Durfort-Vivens, Palmer and Pontet-Canet are among the châteaux where yields were decimated by downy mildew. Hail was an issue in certain spots in the Côtes de Bourg, Blaye, Entre-deux-Meres and the southern Médoc.

Summer was the hottest and driest in fifty years. That sudden change came as quite a shock to the vines and accelerated ripening for the Merlot, creating the possibility for a widening of sugar and physiological maturity given that canopies were quite verdant. Sustained elevated temperatures and winds further dehydrated grapes as the first part of harvest approached. Conditions moderated somewhat after that, which allowed for a more relaxed harvest of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Several Left Bank wines offer a striking dichotomy of Merlot picked early and Cabernet Sauvignon picked late.

In tasting, the wines are decidedly rich. Most wines are labeled 14.5%, but some on the Right Bank reds come in at 15% or even higher. The wines are big, that is obvious, but they are also remarkably balanced. The topic of alcohols is sensitive. There is no question climate change is here to stay. Thus far, regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont, to name a few, have mostly benefitted from climate change. To be sure, farming and winemaking have improved dramatically, but vintages today are generally more even than in the past, their differences are more about style rather than quality. The truly disastrous vintage is rare. Generally more benign conditions make organic and biodynamic farming a possible choice today. That was hardly the case a generation ago. But fruit is riper and wines are higher in alcohol. There is no way of getting around that. Moreover, many consumers have become much more attentive to alcohol content in wine. Where it goes, I can’t say. I certainly don’t have a crystal ball. But it does seem we are approaching a limit of how rich these wines can be.

Some of the most memorable wines of 2018.

2018 Bordeaux: The Highlights

Readers will find many superb wines in 2018 at all levels. To help make sense of the many hundred reviews in this article I have listed some of the standouts below in three distinct categories.

The Icons

These are some of the most thrilling and memorable 2018s. This is not just a list of the highest-scoring wines, readers can find that by doing a search. Instead, these are the wines that left the deepest impression. To be perfectly honest, this list could have been twice as long….

Ausone (Saint-Émilion) – The 2018 is a riveting, majestic effort from Alain and Pauline Vauthier that delivers on all the potential I sensed when I tasted it from barrel.

Canon (Saint-Émilion) – While the 2018 Canon doesn’t quite reach the heights of the 2015 or 2016, it comes very close and remains exceptionally well-priced given its quality and pedigree. 

Les Carmes Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) – Guillaume Pouthier crafted one of the most riveting, unforgettable wines of the year.

Cos d’Estournel (Saint-Estèphe) – A regal, soaring wine, the 2018 is simply majestic and one of the finest in recent times.

Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac) – Recently-retired Technical Director Philippe Dhalluin and the team at Mouton turned out an extraordinary Grand Vin in 2018.

Palmer (Margaux) – CEO Thomas Duroux and Mother Nature combined to produce one of the most viscerally thrilling wines of the year and one of the all-time great vintages here. Yields are tiny, production was decimated and the 2018 will be hard to find. It’s worth it.

Petrus (Pomerol) – In a vintage full of brilliant wine, Petrus has just a little bit more of everything. It’s an unforgettable wine from the château and Technical Director Olivier Berrouet. 

Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac) – A riveting effort from Pichon Comtesse and the team led by Technical Director Nicolas Glumineau.

Le Pin (Pomerol) – Yeah, I know, it is impossible to find, and expensive, but, wow, what a wine. In 2018, Le Pin is just outrageously beautiful. 

Lafleur (Pomerol) – The 2018 Lafleur is stratospheric. It’s one of those wines in 2018 that left me speechless. What a showing from the Guinaudeau family.

Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) – The challenging growing season decimated yields. In exchange, the Tesseron family and recently departed Technical Director Jean-Michel Comme were given the fruit to make a truly epic Pontet-Canet.

Valandraud (Saint-Émilion Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud crafted a dramatic, statuesque Valandraud that combines opulence with energy.

A sweet spot for Bordeaux: just a few of the wines in this report that seriously overdeliver.

Best Buys of 2018

Bordeaux produces a number of exceptional, age-worthy wines that deliver both superb quality and value. This mid-tier is one of Bordeaux’s real sweet spots for the consumer. Most of these wines sell for less than $70 a bottle (some far less), but taste like they cost twice as much. In other words, all of these wines are undervalued.

Branaire-Ducru (Saint-Julien) – Branaire is one of the real success stories of 2018. It’s a brilliant effort from proprietor François-Xavier Maroteaux and Technical Director Jean-Dominque Videau.

Domaine de L’A (Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux) – Stéphane and Christine Dérenoncourt’s 2018 is quite possibly the most elegant and finessed wine I have tasted from their property.

Domaine de Chevalier (Rouge) (Pessac-Léognan) The Blanc is more famous, but in 2018 Olivier Bernard hit a home run with the Rouge.

Durfort-Vivens (Margaux) – Mother Nature decimated yields in 2018. Gonzague Lurton responded by making a gorgeous, striking Durfort, vinified entirely in amphora.

Fonbadet (Pauillac)  – This gorgeous, under the radar Pauillac has so much to offer in 2018.

La Gaffelière (Saint-Émilion) – This re-born property is making some of the very best wines in their history. The 2018 is off the charts stunning and one of the wines of the vintage.  

Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac) – The 2018 is a wine of striking precision, energy and class. Grand-Puy-Lacoste is a great wine for readers with classically-leaning palates.  

Larcis Ducasse (Saint-Émilion) – Larcis is one of the most over-looked, under the radar gems in all of Bordeaux, with a price to match. The 2018 is magnificent.

Léoville-Poyferré (Saint-Julien) – The 2018 is an unabashedly exotic and opulent. It’s not your parents’ claret that’s for sure. But Sara Lecompte-Cuvelier and her team turned out an unforgettable Léoville-Poyferré in 2018.  

Phélan Ségur (Saint-Estèphe) – Phélan is quite possibly the most under the radar wine in Saint-Estèphe. The 2018 represents another major step forward for the property under direction of General Manager Véronique Dausse.  

Le Prieuré (Saint-Émilion) – Technical Director Penelope Godefroy has done a magnificent job at Le Prieuré since taking over a few years ago. The 2018 is superb, and an incredible value.  

Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux) – The 2018 will likely go down as one of the all-time greats at Rauzan-Segla. It’s a brilliant effort from the team led by General Director Nicolas Audebert.

Sansonnet (Saint-Émilion) – Marie and Christophe Lefévère make one of the most riveting, flamboyant wines in town.

Tour Saint Christophe (Saint-Émilion) – A new level of elegance, precision and finesse.

These wines will make readers do a double-take, as they offer superb quality as well as value.

Value Plays

Wines that will delight readers on a budget, and let’s be honest, that’s most of us most of the time. These are all fabulous by-the-case buys.

La Chenade The Durantou family’s Lalande de Pomerol is seriously beautiful and offers the personality of their top wines.  

Les Charmes-Godard Blanc – Nicolas Thienpont’s dry white from vineyards in the Côtes des Francs is impeccably balanced, especially for the year, and flat-out delicious.

de Francs Les Cerisiers – A fabulous effort from Dominique Hébrard and Hubert de Boüard and a reliably outstanding value.

La Gurgue – Proprietor Claire Villars-Lurton turned out an especially generous and inviting La Gurgue in 2018.

d’Hanteillan – A gorgeous, super-expressive Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois that is a flat-out delicious and a true standout.

Larose Perganson – This juicy, bold Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois has a lot to offer.

Laurence Blanc Sec – A compelling and delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Philippe Nunes.  

Reynon – The Dubourdieu family’s Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux is a gem.

Le Pin Beausoleil – This consistent overachiever is brilliant in 2018 and one of the real gems of the vintage.

Tour Bayard – A stylish, elegant Montagne Saint-Émilion.  

La Vieille Cure – This juicy Fronsac is all pure pleasure in 2018.

Baptiste Guinaudeau and his team presented a fabulous series of 2018s, both en primeur and then in bottle.

How I Tasted The Wines

I tasted all of these wines in my home in New York. I have mentioned this many times in my previous recent articles, but it bears repeating here. There are some distinct advantages to tasting at home. The biggest and most obvious is having the opportunity to follow wines over many hours or days. As much as I love traveling, spending time in vineyards and talking with producers, once you taste a wine at a property and leave, that’s pretty much it, with the exception of some wines that can be tasted in more than one setting. There is no question I spent more time with each wine in this article than I could ever spend when physically in Bordeaux, and that’s a good thing. Still, like everyone, I am eagerly looking forward to the day when we can resume our normal routines even if they will surely look a bit different for the foreseeable future. Tasting at home works for a vintage or two, but it is not truly ideal over the long-term.

Because of the logistics of shipping and receiving thousands of samples during a pandemic, some wines I typically review are missing from this report. Those reviews will be added in the very near future, including Sauternes.

Bordeaux: Coming Soon…

One of our goals at Vinous is to offer readers the most comprehensive coverage of Bordeaux anywhere in the world. Neal and I tasted the wines in our reports completely independently of each other, as we always do. We never discussed the wines or compared notes. What you see are two completely separate views, but in one place. It’s an unrivaled level of coverage. Next up are several comprehensive vintage retrospectives and verticals, plus of course the 2020s en primeur.

Lastly, we have spent quite a bit of time over the last few months updating CellarWatch, our cellar management tool. Through our exclusive partnership with Liv-ex, Vinous readers gain access to an extraordinary suite of cellar management pricing and valuation tools that in the past were available only to those in the wine trade. It’s a great place to track your collection of Bordeaux wines.

You Might Also Enjoy

The Future’s Definitely Not What It Was: Bordeaux 2018, Neal Martin, March 2021

2019 Bordeaux: A Long, Strange Trip, Antonio Galloni, June 2020

2017 Bordeaux – Mirror, Mirror on The Wall…, Antonio Galloni, March 2020

Bordeaux 2018: Back in Black, Antonio Galloni, April 2019

The Future’s Not What It Was: Bordeaux 2018, Neal Martin, November 2019