Bordeaux 2018 – the Vintage of the Century yet Again!
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
It’s that time again!
Bordeaux en primeur is upon us once more and there hasn’t been a vintage like this since, well, 2016, or was it 2015…
The Vintage of Two Halves
The overwhelming consensus is that Bordeaux 2018 is a vintage of two halves.
The First Half – Problematic Growing Conditions
The season started well, with warm conditions, but that didn’t last. Shortly after, the rain arrived, which meant wet and humid conditions that brought disease pressure in the form of mildew.
As mildew can impact yield quantity over quality, there was a threat of yields being reduced if the mildew wasn’t kept in check. As a result, many had to work long hours and over weekends just to stay on top of the situation.
Unfortunately, many organic and biodynamic vineyards were badly hit, and conventionally farmed vineyards that missed vital sprayings also suffered considerable losses. Spraying a day or two late was an expensive mistake, as mildew can affect bunches as well as canopies.
It is estimated that as much as a third of Bordeaux vineyards were affected by mildew. Chateau Durfort Vivans suffered severely from it and as a result their yields were severely restricted, but what little they did produce was of an epic quality.
Hail also reared its ugly head again this year. The majority of those who were lucky enough to be on the left bank managed to avoid it, as it trailed over the southern parts of the Médoc northward up into the appellations of Blaye and Bourg, causing catastrophic amounts of damage.
What a disaster!
The famous Chateau La Lagune did not make a wine this year. While some are laughing all the way to the bank, La Lagune will be picking up the pieces and eagerly looking forward to 2019.
The Second Half – the Return of the Sun
The second half of the season brought much drier, sunnier, and warmer conditions from July through to October. August to October saw the second hottest summer on record (after the vintage of 2003) but there was little concern over ripening due to the rainfall from early in the season.
As Bordeaux is not allowed by law to irrigate, many properties had to hope their vines had deep rooting systems, as these systems would have ample supply from their subsoils without suffering hydric stress from the warm, dry, drought-like conditions.
To put the summer heat in context, Pomerol recorded its highest amount of sunlight hours in 50 years – the highest since records have been kept - and St Emilion recorded average temperatures in August, September, and October of 1.5 degrees above average!
So, this means that 2018 will be a vintage in which alcohol levels are a concern, and in which freshness was always going to be more difficult to find. As a result, we reckon a little Right Bank Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon will be crucial to add that all-important freshness.
Variance in Alcohol Levels
Alcohols will be higher on many cooler soils that needed a longer time to ripen fully, so cooler parts of St Emilion should have alcohols at 14.5-15% abv or higher.
In earlier-ripening areas, such as Pessac-Léognan and Pomerol, alcohols are likely to be more balanced at 13.5% or 14% abv, as they will have reached full ripeness earlier. Chateau Troplong started harvesting at the beginning of September, so hopefully, we are looking at a more elegant style of wine, no longer the big 15.5-16% blockbusters we have seen recently.
Pessac-Léognan tends to be an early-ripening area, so you may find good value here, as the grapes came in before the over-concentration of flavours and higher alcohols.
What to Expect
All in all, this was one of the most spread out, relaxed harvests, with the grapes coming in from early September right through to late October.
As the weather didn’t really throw up a harvest deadline, terroir, variety, and decision making will be more instrumental in determining the final style of the wine.
Perhaps this will give many Chateaux a chance to change their style and move away from the bigger, bolder and more heavily extracted reds that we have seen in the past… Troplong, I’m looking at you again!
So, this year we’ll be looking for balance and that all important refreshment factor in our wines, and of course, they must have longevity as they sit in our cellars!
Overall, it seems that there is great variation in fruit quality across both the Right and Left Banks. Where 2015 was pretty clearly a Merlot vintage, and 2016 was pretty clearly a Cabernet Sauvignon one, 2018 is less clear cut. I will follow my en primeur subscriptions with great enthusiasm and look forward to drinking these wines in the future!