The 2019 En Primeur campaign will go down in history as arguably the region’s most exceptional since its inception. As COVID-19 made UGC tastings and visits impossible, samples were overnighted to tasters instead of shared with within châteaux walls. Virtual meetings over Zoom replaced more intimate face-to-face encounters to understand the vintage. But what remained constant is Bordeaux’s never-ending drive for quality and their passion to share their harvest stories and their wines. Fortunately for all of us, 2019 vintage produced some excellent results.
If the growing season were a children’s game, one might think of it as “Red Light, Green Light”, where a number of early starts, quickly halted, only to then kick off again. Winter was generally short and dry. Following a very cold January, February saw temperatures rise to a balmy 28°C. This stimulated the vines, causing bud burst to occur around 15 days ahead of a normal vintage. April turned cool and wet causing frost to hit in both April and May, but generally not causing much damage. The cooler weather reset the growing calendar to a traditional schedule.
Scorching weather began at the end of the June and continued until early August. This caused drought and some vines to suffer from hydric stress in some areas, though it also produced notably healthy fruit and small, concentrated berries in both sugar, acidity and tannin.
Harvest generally began at the end of August for some whites and then restarted mid-September for Merlot followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in at the end of September-early October. Many producers used a “trie” or selection system during harvest, passing through the vineyards multiple times to pick their grapes due to heterogenous ripening. But all-in-all the châteaux were generally delighted by the fruit quality, health and yields.
It is difficult to say if certain appellations or varieties fared better as a whole than others. Véronique Dausse of Phélan-Ségur in St. Estèphe loved the fruit quality from their hydrating clay soils. Emmanuel Cruse from D’Issan was delighted by Margaux’s vintage as he explained, “For once yields were quite good and this enabled our grapes to retain their freshness and balance in the drier conditions.” A number of châteaux, including Lynch Bages, believe it is a Cabernet Sauvignon vintage on the Left Bank, but Petit Verdot planted on heavier soil also had excellent results. On the Right Bank Stephan Von Neipperg of Canon-la-Gaffelière and La Mondotte stated, “Merlot on St. Emilion’s chalk soil was excellent” while in Sauternes and Barsac, Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne explained that the light September rain had encouraged the development of botrytis for an easy, stress-free harvest of excellent quality.
What can be said, however, is that there are excellent wines in all price categories and sub-regions, so there is truly something for everyone.
In terms of the style, most red wines have darker, upfront fruit profiles with notable concentration but also wonderful delineation, focus and freshness. Many châteaux owners such as Smith Haut Lafitte compared theirs to a blend of 2015 - for its fruit and plushness - and 2016 – for its classically driven, refined core. Some châteaux have produced even slightly more classic wines, such as Domaine de Chevalier who compares their 2019 to 2016, 2010, 2008, and 2001 or Grand Puy Lacoste who views their 2019 as a richer version of 1996. Château Coutet believes their wines delve into the slightly richer realm and compared their Barsac to their 2005 or 2015. The whites have a wide range in style from the fresh and crisp to the richer and fuller, such as Pape Clément Blanc.
One may wonder why to buy En Primeur during this sensitive time? One solid reason is that many wines are looking to be priced notably lower than their 2018 counterparts though the overall quality is not less. It is also good to remember that during En Primeur, many wines can be ordered in different bottle formats - whether it be halves, magnums, jeroboams or larger. One château owner even confirmed the possibility of a 27-liter bottle (a “primat”) that can be tucked away and opened to celebrate more uplifting and festive times. Now that is something to look forward to!
Robin Kick, Master of Wine