Bordeaux 2018 Vintage: A great vintage in the making

Monday, November 5
Bordeaux 2018: A great vintage in the making

 

Yesterday the Institute of Masters of Wine held their annual tasting of 2014 Clarets.  A highlight of the tasting year, this is a rare chance to taste wines side by side, with a little time in bottle.  It's hard to overstate how much the identity of a year shines through, which is why we follow the weather in each growing season so carefully.  In 2018, the hot summer here in the UK was also felt in Bordeaux.  Winemakers have been posting photos on social media of beautifully ripe fruit and vats of fermenting grapes, making the vintage feel more immediate than ever.  Bordeaux winemaker and wine writer Gavin Quinney helpfully releases a report at the end of each harvest, and this year the initial prognosis is very good:

 

"Bordeaux 2018 will be remembered as an exceptional year, with no shortage of outstanding

wines from this extraordinary vintage."

 

The synopsis is steady rain through spring, leading to problems with mildew, which in turn reduced the potential size of the harvest; happily followed by a blazing summer, extending well into the harvest season, creating the conditions for very high quality wines. The picture is complicated by extreme hail damage in May and July affecting very specific locations.  Mildew, according to Quinney, was present in around a third of vineyards, creating special problems for organic and biodynamic growers, unable to spray with conventional treatments. 

Controversially, Lafon-Rochet in St Estephe gave up on their organic approach.  Many others stuck to their guns and will have reduced yields as a consequence (albeit of high quality wines).  The overall size of the harvest is likely to be roughly 'average', based on production figures for the last decade.  The May hailstorm cut a swathe through the centre of the region, leaving some untouched and others suffering almost complete destruction of the crop, with Quinney's map giving a vivid impression of how localized were the effects.

 

 

   

(Reproduced by permission Gavinquinney.com)

 

The winter and spring rainfall levels were needed, to see the vines through a long, hot summer, but this rainfall was uneven, hence some areas subsequently experienced more water stress than others.  Vine age becomes important here, with the deeper root systems of older vines more able to seek out reserves of water.  Above average summer temperatures and excellent physiological and phenolic ripeness mean high potential alcohol levels.  Quinney describes 2018 as '2016 plus plus', a vintage with the structure of 2016 but potentially with more fleshy fruit and alcohol. 

 

2018 Merlot at Calon-Segur

 

If yesterday's tasting of the 2014s and our recent experience of the '15 ands '16 vintages is anything to go by, winemakers in Bordeaux are increasingly focused on making wines with beautiful balance, even when the raw materials offer potential to make more heavily extracted wines.  We look forward tasting the wines in April.

 

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