Look out for our individual appellation reports and wines this week.
For the second year running, this was an unusual en primeur season, where very few external tasters were able to get to Bordeaux.
But unlike last year’s 2019 vintage, which was tasted almost entirely from my kitchen table, I was able to visit a large number of properties for this campaign (with full precautions in place – Ducru-Beaucaillou, for example, was using medical-grade techniques to disinfect between each visitor).
Numbers of wines tasted will be around the same, somewhere between 700 and 800.
Bordeaux 2020 quality
The full notes will begin to be released in mid-May, but to give a taster, unquestionably Bordeaux has been lucky with the past three vintages, and there are plenty of options for drinkers, with each one of these three years performing strongly.
Having said that, they are quite different in style.
I would say 2018 is the most exuberant, 2020 the most structured and concentrated, while 2019 combines both and for me is the strongest of the three – certainly the most consistent.
Let’s breakdown some of the key points of what to expect in 2020, and where the values are:
Bordeaux 2020 is a year of contrasts, so it favoured terroirs that are best able to cope with the changes – and winemakers who were able to follow closely and help their vines adapt.
This was true right from the moment of fruit set, and not just because of the dry summer, although that didn’t help.
This means small berries, thick skins, and lots of concentration; tannin management is key.
Bordeaux 2020 style
You can expect to find either racy, elegant tannins that power forward and give a sense of energy and direction, or tannins that are a little dry and sometimes underripe, particularly if the drought led to blockages.
Alcohols in 2020 are almost invariably lower compared to both 2018 and 2019.
That’s partly because August was dry but not unusually hot, and partly because the drought meant slow ripening, with the vines slowing down their growth cycle and so not building up huge sugar levels in the grapes.
You’ll find this true across both banks but especially in the Médoc.
It was also a year where talk of the death knell for Merlot looked pretty premature, because this was a great year for this grape variety – at least for Merlot on clay-limestone soils. Merlot on sand or gravel had a far harder time.
As clay-limestone soils did brilliantly, look for value in Castillon, Francs and Fronsac.
If you are a fan of classic, concentrated Pauillacs and St-Juliens, you are going to find plenty of brilliant wines.
But tread carefully with second wines in particular, even at the very top, because of the high tannic content that can sometimes stray way too close to the closing the whole thing down.
Quick links for Bordeaux 2020 en primeur ratings
Appellation overviews: Pauillac 2020, St-Estephe 2020, St-Julien 2020, Margaux 2020, Pomerol 2020,St-Emilion 2020, Pessac-Léognan 2020, Sauternes & Barsac 2020 | Médoc & Haut-Médoc, Moulis & Listrac 2020 | Smaller appellations 2020 | White Bordeaux 2020
Key châteaux to look out for:
Canon, Troplong and Belair-Monange 2020 are brilliant examples of the reshaping of the St-Emilion limestone plateau wines into some of the most vibrant bottles you can find.
Rocheyron, Peter Sisseck’s St-Emilion Grand Cru, which is a little further away from these three but still on the limestone plateau, similarly proves the point.
This is the first certified organic vintage for L’Evangile in Pomerol, and there is a new winemaking team with Juliette Couderc (coming over from DBR Lafite’s Chinese estate Long Dai) and Olivier Trégoat.
You see a continued reframing of the wine to help it become a little more sculpted, as has been happening really since Saskia de Rothschild took over from her father Baron Eric at the head of DBR Lafite, and it is very successful.
In the Médoc, Calon Ségur has had a brilliant vintage, with a little more classic balance and St-Estèphe signature than this estate showed in 2018 and 2019. It is worth looking out for.
Montrose and Cos d’Estournel both add to the feeling that St-Estèphe has performed well in the vintage – as has Pauillac, particularly for lovers of deeply concentrated, powerful wines.
And talking of Left Bank signature, you are seeing more and more Cabernet Sauvignon in St-Emilion – it is striking how often you see it in the blend now, at estates including Château de Pressac, Faugères, Fonbel, Troplong Mondot, Clos Fourtet and Figeac, right through to Valandraud, Trottevielle, Fleur Cardinale and Bellefont Belcier.
A clear indicator of how estates are looking to counter increasingly hot dry summers – and one that shows the flexibility of the region’s winemakers while still working with the area’s signature varieties.
Finally, it maybe unusual to say at the start of a new campaign, but Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse 2019 deserves a shout-out, as the final wine that will be entirely made and aged by the Nicolas Thienpont team.
They have made this one of the most consistently exciting properties in St-Emilion over the past decade. Although I have no doubt the new team under Joséphine Duffau-Lagarosse will continue to make incredible wines here, it’s worth noting that this is a big change of personnel. Thienpont also made the 2020, so it’s his sign-off vintage, but he will not see it through ageing.