15 unmissable wines

15 unmissable wines
This fascinating and at times frustrating campaign is reaching its conclusion. We loved tasting these wines in April and there has been strong demand from clients, however, at times it has been impossible to fulfil orders due to smaller yields and consequently smaller releases from the chateaux. That said, 2018 still represents the third largest primeurs sales in J&B history, after the 2009 and 2010 vintages. And with Neal Martin’s scores to look forward to in a few months’ time, it may only be a brief hiatus out of the spotlight. Before we wrap things up, we have highlighted some of our favourite wines of the vintage below (all still available at the opening prices).

For the entry level we have a quartet of quite brilliant wines made by some of the most respected wine-making teams in Bordeaux. Where better to start than the exceptional Grand Village (£67.50/6), the sister property to the mighty Chateau Lafleur. Julie, Baptiste and team have upped the ante again with this astounding 2018. Next, we have the surprise package of Chateau Laroque (£211.20/12) with 95-97 points from The Wine Advocate. We tasted this at the Moueix tasting in London and had to agree, it’s a stunner! Back to more recognisable territory, and the sensational Capbern (£190/12). Laurent Duffau and co have surpassed themselves again – this is Calon Segur winemaking and precision at a fraction of the price. Our final value selection is the handywork of Pierre-Olivier Clouet of Cheval Blanc fame. Quinault L’Enclos (£145/6) has shown a steady improvement over the last decade. 2018 is certainly the pinnacle – this is a proper, grown up, serious and very seductive St Emilion. Although it hails from the suburbs of Libourne and has a very different terroir, there is a Cheval Blanc finesse and elegance that really impressed us. At £145 per six, it is an absolute bargain.

There are rich pickings in the next level up. Many of these chateaux have made their greatest wines we have ever tasted from their cellars. Let’s start with Olivier Bernard’s magnificent Domaine de Chevalier (£325/6). This received a staggering 99-100 score from James Suckling. Olivier himself believes this is the greatest wine he has made during his tenure and we concur – it’s absolutely ravishing. Our other selections are all notable classified growths from the Medoc. Lynch Bages (£534/6) is an old favourite that never seems to have an off vintage. 2018 is a heady achievement even by their high standards. We love the gravelly, mineral infused character to this dark fruited, masculine Lynch. It’s a really serious, vin de garde, which we will be talking about for many decades to come. Then we have the story of two Milons. Clerc Milon (£366/6) has been on the up and up and continues that trajectory. This meteoric effort from the Mouton team is as seductive as it gets – a truly glorious wine. Duhart Milon (£335/6) by contrast has not been firing on all cylinders, but under the new management of Jean-Guillaume Prats, and possibly a little bit of First Growth rivalry, Duhart is back to its very best. In fact, some would say this is as good or even better than the fabulous 2009. Another vin de garde that caught our eye was the stunning Leoville Barton (£380/6). This ever popular Second Growth represents exceptional value for money. A grand scale effort even by Leoville Barton’s standards – we couldn’t help but be impressed by those mighty tannins – a wine for the ages… And last, but by no means least in this section, we have another Second Growth on top form, Brane Cantenac (£311/6). The 2018 was a revelation, the most sumptuous and engaging Brane Cantenac we can ever remember tasting. It perhaps isn’t as concentrated as the epic Rauzan Segla, but what it lacks in power, it more than makes up for in charm. This is everything you could possibly want from a Margaux.

And to round off our summary, we will review the money no object, best of the best. For most of the team, Chateau Lafite (£3000/6) was the top First Growth in 2018 and the wine of the Left Bank, perhaps the whole vintage. Jean-Guillaume and his team have produced a stupendous Lafite, full of nobility and class. It was fully deserving of the rapturous praise bestowed upon it by the leading critics. This is a 100 point Lafite if ever we saw one… Mouton Rothschild (£2556/6) continues its tremendous form under the watchful eye of Philippe Dhalluin. 2018 is a worthy successor to the immaculate 2016. At this stage it is perhaps a little more massive, but with élevage we fully expect this develop into one of the greats from this Chateau. To complete our synopsis, we have three quite exceptional ‘Super Seconds’. In fact, these three Chateaux (along with the spectacular Leoville Las Cases) have elevated themselves above the rest. Montrose (£782/6) is a hugely ambitious wine, perhaps the most concentrated and profound wine we tasted all week. The tannins are a thing of beauty and wonder, staining the palate with complex nuances that linger for what seems like an age. It is a truly astonishing wine. Cos d’Estournel (£888/6) may not appear to be so overtly impressive as its neighbour, but this is none the less absolutely enchanting. The new style implemented by Aymeric de Gironde is gaining many admirers. The press and the trade are fully enthused by the brightness, delicacy and charm of these wines. For us, 2018 represents a new high point for Cos. And last but by no means least, no list of recommendations would be complete without a mention for Pichon Comtesse (£828/6). Under the guidance of Nicolas Glumineau, this chateau has gone from strength to strength. Precision, poise, elegance and fragrance have become bywords for recent vintages. Now we can add power. This is a muscular, concentrated effort that reflects the extreme drought of the growing season, yet there is still a wonderfully sumptuous, feminine quality that is unmistakeably Comtesse – sheer joy in a glass.