Like much of Bordeaux in 2018, the Graves and Pessac-Léognan had plenty of stress, with hail followed by mildew and then drought.
Yields are correspondingly small for some, although the average yield for reds is 45 hectolitres per hectare.
Small crops didn’t necessarily impact quality. Haut-Bailly, one of my top scorers in 2018, had a yield of 21 hl/ha and managed conditions well to combine the enjoyable, structured fruit of 2015 with the serious finish of its 2016 wine.
Pessac-Léognan fruit ripens relatively early, which helped to lessen the gap between technical and phenolic ripeness that was an issue for some Bordeaux estates in this vintage.
This was a natural advantage for Pessac in 2018, as long as vines didn’t block from the heat.
I found that the en primeur wines were not as consistent as in 2016, but were more enjoyable in many instances.
Generally speaking, I have been amazed by how welcoming the tannins are.
I expected the wines would be unapproachable, or 2010-like in their construction, but that has not been the case.
There is clear architecture on display, but of the graceful kind. Many wines show lots of depth and concentration but have good balance. Top wines have lots of layers, with great fruit and potential for ageing; Haut-Brion 2018, for example, combines generosity and elegance.
There are some alcohol spikes, although most wines are well-controlled with great tannins.
There is likely to be some brilliant value in both Graves and Pessac.
As I’ve said for some other major appellations, it’s important to track individual estates in 2018, because there are clear differences between châteaux.
Alongside the issues cited above, excellent summer and autumn weather meant that estates could time their harvests according to individual preferences, which means you see stylistic differences coming into play.
One to watch would be Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2018, which saw a high proportion of Cabernet Franc and 53% whole bunch fermentation pay off hugely in terms of balance.
Reds potentially offering great value in 2018: Rouillac, Domaine de la Solitude, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Le Pape.
Top Scoring reds: Haut-Brion, Haut-Bailly, Smith Haut Lafitte, Carmes Haut-Brion.
The reds are more reliable than the whites overall. Yet the whites were much better than I expected, especially in Pessac.
Most white grapes were safely in the cellars as drought intensified in September and October, which no doubt helped.
However, only a very few dry whites were exceptional enough to best the brilliant 2017s.
Copy editing by Chris Mercer
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