Some very nice wines (see my favorites below) made with even increased precision of winemaking but generally not the finesse of 2016s.
It was a hot summer so alcohol levels can be high and some wines are tannic and lack freshness. But there are some real success stories as we understand better and better with greater precision how to make great wine in Bordeaux’s unique climate and terroir. For my coup de coeurs and notes on pricing etc see below article on Figeac.
Weather during 2018; Following a very wet Spring and early summer, a heatwave and drought conditions followed with a heavy rain storm during the weekend over the bank holiday of 14th July (and the World Cup football). Afterwards it rained only twice only before harvest.
Here is a Focus on one of my favorite Château which is undergoing a chiseling down to reveal what makes it so special.
Focus on Chäteau Figeac, Premier Grand Cru Classé St Emilion – “le Choix du Roi”
- Contender in the next St Emilion reclassification in 2022 to become A. It is uncomparable though due to its unique terroir of deep gravels in the St Emilion climate giving it its unique blend in the vineyards of one third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and its subsequent freedom of choice of blend in the wine each year.
Gone are the days when tasting young Figeac was hard work. I used to have to explain to my clients (as a private wine guide http://www.wineguidebordeaux.com) that they had to imagine the wine in a few years time when the dominant spicey oakiness had died down a little to expose the fruit and elegance of this exceptional wine.
Today tasting the 2018 ‘en primeur’ on site at the château (undergoing massive renovations to be completed before 2020), there was so much ripe but fresh cherry fruit and mineral, graphite tones that I quite without hesitation wanted to finish the glass (spitting of course).
I would say there was a newfound ‘softness’ to the wine, not an adjective that normally first comes to mind when tasting this powerful wine (and with its 100% new oak too) or when tasting any future wines fresh out of the barrel as very young samples. The knack is to see through the wood and young tannins and predict the future.
In a big year like 2018 it needs a gentle touch to bring out the aromatics, its freshness and ultimate harmony. In the Figeac 2018 there is what the French call ‘matière’ but also a purity and it is harmonious, even at this early stage. Its phenolic ripeness (skins and pips) was extracted gently using low temperatures, with no ‘piégage’ (push down) this year and pumping overs took place early in the process – perhaps they learnt from the extremes of what had to do in 2017 when precision took on another extreme definition (with the double harvest due to fertilisation of the grapes in two times).
The harvest took place for the young plants from 17 sept to 12th October – always one of the first to start due to its gravel warm soils (next to Pomerol also an early starter).
At Figeac has developed a minimal inputs strategy with biological control where possible and the use of Phosphonates which helps penetration. There are now no sulphites added into the vats at harvest.
Figeac is a big estate for St Emilion with a myriad of terroirs and temperature differences plot to plot. There are 40,4 ha (planted vineyards make up 33ha (the rest are woods, gardens and hedge-rows historically protected to promote biodiversity) which is large due to the average in the St Emilion appellation of 8 ha). They have found in some cases there can be a difference of an average of 4°C between plots. Figeac, with its three hills of deep gravels, clayey and sandy soils has a complex range of ‘climats’ as they are called in Burgundy. That is why Thierry Manoncourt (being a scientist and agronomist engineer) took the pioneering decision to match the three main different terroir with the three main varieties of Bordeaux’s grape varieties in equal amounts (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot). Today there is a micro plot analysis so treatments of these plots can be adapted and they can match the clone and root stock to the particular soil type and climate.
There have been many recent changes all part of the philosophy of precision (they have been using drones since 2017 to see the foliar colour difference and adapt inputs). Newer smaller stainless vats are used to match the inter plot by plot treatment of the grapes. Each terroir is represented in the choice of barrel (still 100% new – so around 500 are bought each year) with 6 major and 2 to 3 smaller ones.
During the hot and dry summer, luckily for Figeac its reserve hydric helped supply the vines with a steady though minimal stream of water. It is quite clear to see from the digging down from the construction works during the renovation, there is clay 7 to 8 metres down and the vine roots go down that far to find water. This is particularly important for Merlot and Cabernet Franc to a lesser degree but not for Cabernet Sauvignon which needs very little water.
The dry wind and hot temperatures from the south at the end of the summer – concentrated and reduced yields across the board (particularly of Cabernet Sauvignon by 20%).
Prices are already coming out and will be early as Vinexpo has been brought forward to mid May this year for the first time.
Regarding the pricing with wine merchant’s well stocked cellars with 2015 and 2016, prices will not reflect the last most expensive vintage of 2016 but more like 2015.
The futures system works when it is cheaper bought in barrel than in bottle. Over the last ten years this has not been the case in over half of the vintages (apart from – not supposed to be 12, 14, 15).
Bordeaux has been since 2010 losing its fine wine market share to Burgundy and Champagne.
My Coup de Coeur’s
St Emilion; Figeac 37% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Cabernet Franc
Beausejour Duffau lagarrosse (80 Merlot, 20 CF), 6,8ha (6,18 in production) 27,(hl/ha yield (64% grand vin) Thienpont winemaker since 2009
Larcis Ducasse (89 M 11 CF) – 11, 5 ha with 9,27 ha in production, yield 2018 33 hl/ha (72% grand vin)
Other wines impressed with ; pavie maquin (78, 20, 2 CS) 15 ha with 14,6 in production with 47hl/ha yield in 2018 (90% grand vin)
villemaurine (80%M, 20%CF) , Balestard la Tonelle,
Larmande and Soutard – much better than when I last tasted it
New style Beausejour Bécot, more minerally, less plumpness
Pomerol; Beauregard, Rouget
Siran, Lascombes, Kirwan, Ferriere, Monbrison
Beychevelle (41 CS, M 50, CF 3, PV 6) – star
Gruaud Larose (67 CS, 24 M, 9 CF) – less full
Langoa and Leoville Barton
Leoville Poyferre (64CS, 30 M, 3 CF, 3 PV)
Talbot – my favorite (bought it for 45€ per bottle in 2016 primeur…wonder what price this year with Beychevelle
Pauillac; (less homogenous)
Pichon Baron and Lynch Bages (72 CS, 19 M, 6 CF, 3 PV) my favorites
The star of the show;entire Pontet Canet.
Cos Labory (46 CS, 44 M, 10 PV) Lafon Rochet (64 CS, 26 M, 4 CF, 6 PV) and Phelan Segur (57 CS and 43M) my favorites and Ormes de Pez still more rustic but much better than in the past
Others I really liked more SIP (small independent producers) – many from the Grand Cercle des vins de Bordeaux (grandcercle.fr);
Moulin Haut Laroque (Fronsac)
Puygueraud Cotes de Franc (Thienpont) red 85 Merlot, 12 Cabernet Franc, 3 Malbec
Le Moulin Pomerol
Petit Bocq St Estephe
Du Glana St Julien
Charmes Godard white Côtes de Franc Semillon 63% Sauvignon Gris 16%
Sauvignon Blanc 21 – fermentation in barrel 500 litres and on lees for 6 months
Haut Bertinerie Blaye white
Not a great sweet wine year but loved the elegance as usual of Sigalas Rabaud 2018 and a new discovery Château Romer du Hayot