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- Bordeaux Chronicles
Follow our trip through Bordeaux during this year’s En Primeur barrel tastings. ARVI’s team will be touring, tasting, and exploring the greatest producers to get a first-hand look at the 2018 vintage. Throughout the first week of April, 2019 we will be updating our webpage each day to give you an inside-look at the most chaotic, but nonetheless celebratory time for this fine-wine capital.
Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion
Château Pape Clément
Domaine de Chevalier
Château Smith Haut Lafitte
Château La Mission Haut-Brion
Our fourth day of tasting was dedicated to the Pessac-Léognan appellation which lies the closest to the Bordeaux city center. We started our day at the only château with a Bordeaux city address - Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion - we were pleased to meet with Guillaume Pouthier, who is the estate’s General Manager and Head Winemaker. The always charismatic Guillaume described this vintage as a year that started as a nightmare and ended as a dream. Unique to Bordeaux, Les Carmes Haut-Brion is a wine like no other, using particular whole-bunch vinification and various aging methods. The 2018 vintage is an exceptional wine. Partially aged in amphora, this 2018 brings a great purity of ripe fruit. The wine possesses well-integrated oak and spectacularly soft tannins. Our Head Sommelier concludes, “This 2018 speaks for itself.”
As one of the oldest Grand Cru Classé vineyards in Bordeaux, our next stop was at the magnificent Château Pape Clément. Owned by wine enthusiast extraordinaire, Bernard Magrez, this year’s line-up follows the trend of the 2018 vintage. Next, the remaining Bordeaux tasting team visited a true Graves Cru Classé - Château Haut-Bailly. Welcomed by Véronique Sanders, the estate’s General Manager, we were more than happy to speak about the 2018 vintage first hand throughout the tasting and over a magnificent lunch. Ranking amongst the best in the appellation every year, this year’s collection is no different. The wines are fresh, neat with an impressive concentration that will need a bit of time to develop. The estate’s second wine (Pessac-Léognan) was renamed this year to reflect the quality of the Grand Vin, it now goes by the name of “Haut-Bailly II”. This new label represents the second generation of the Wilmers family at Haut-Bailly, as well as the renovation work that began last summer.
Our team had the chance to taste through a large selection of wines at the leading Domaine de Chevalier estate. Speaking with the owner, Olivier Bernard and his son Adrien, Davide was floored by both the Grand Vin Domaine de Chevalier and Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. The Grand Vin is powerful and extremely fruity, with a freshness and balance ideal for aging. The Blanc explodes on the nose, it’s so aromatic yet complex and generous on the palate.
Our last tasting of the day was at the most characteristic estate in the appellation – Château Smith Haut Lafitte. After an impromptu tour of their incredible cellar, we met with the brilliant owners, Daniel Cathiard and his wife, Florence, as well as the estate’s General Director, Ludovic Fradin, to discuss this year’s wines. Coming from the ‘haute couture’ terroir of Pessac-Léognan, the Grand Vin is “very close to perfection” our Head Sommelier comments. This 2018 is a classy Smith, with velvety tannins, an elegant concentration of fruit and a long, smooth finish. Fradin comments that the 2018 vintage is “deeper, stronger, longer” which makes this wine one to cellar. The Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is juicy, complex and has a great energy that is controlled by a good structure.
Friday morning, our final visit in Pessac-Léognan was of Château Haut-Brion at the similarly owned La Mission Haut-Brion. As a couple of the leading producers in the region, both Haut-Brion and La Mission had a challenging growing season. It is thanks to the outstanding technical team and hardworking wine growers that their wines have the potential to be great 2018s.
After tasting through the greatest châteaux in Pessac-Lèognan, one thing is clear, it is very heterogenous in terms in quality and style. The producers that managed to retain the freshness of the vintage produced elegant wines, however, those who did not ended up with bold, concentrated warm-vintage wines.
2018 produced good white wines and outstanding reds throughout the region. Overall, it is definitely a red wine vintage, while the white and sweet wines proved a bit more challenging. 2018 was a year of extremes with an unprecedented wet start to the year followed by a significant onset of mildew drastically reducing yields, particularly in vineyards managed organically. It was due to the wet weather and some hail, as well as some ongoing unfortunate consequences of the frost in 2017, the yields were quite low for lots of producers. While these factors greatly impacted the quantity, they did not affect the quality. Despite the challenges, all the châteaux that we visited have declared it an outstanding vintage. And after a full week of tasting and touring, 2018 is looking like an exceptional year. The current trends we have seen move away from over-extraction, these ripe, warm wines when handled carefully will bring decades of drinking pleasure.