A table with six wine bottles and a glass of red wine being poured into

Bordeaux 2019: Southwold-on-Thames

26 January 2023

Tom Jenkins

Unlike the Donald Fagen song, I found myself on very much the same wavelength as these 19s. This was the best Southwold tasting I’ve been involved with, even trumping the outstanding 2009s and 2016s.

If we cast our minds back to a time before Covid, lockdowns and zoom tastings, Bordeaux enjoyed a perfect growing season with ample sunshine, hot days and rains that always arrived in the nick of time. Few vintages could have been so easy. Even the harvest was a breeze. As Omri Ram from Lafleur explained later, they thought they had a big, “solaire” vintage on their hands, but as vinifications evolved they realised 2019 was something special. These wines have a real core and middle, a sense of line and precision, energy and latent power. There’s charm in abundance but look below the surface and you’ll find something very serious, even profound.

And this isn’t just a vintage for the great estates; there are quality reds from all appellations and at all price levels. Notable overachievers on the Right Bank included Fonbel and Moulin St Georges from Alain and Pauline Vauthier, the Guinaudeau’s Grand Village and Les Perrieres (not that this was a big surprise…) and beauties from Laroque, Montlandie and Berliquet. Most of these have a dash of Cabernet, which adds a bit of energy to the voluptuous Merlot. In the Medoc, there were stunners from Capbern, Gloria, Meyney, Tronquoy Lalande and many more. There really weren’t any bad wines, just less good wines, a testament to the consistency of the vintage.

As one would expect, the Merlots grown on the top terroirs, the limestone Cote of St Emilion and the plateau of Pomerol take the vintage to another level. Here you find complexity, intensity and verve. Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Lafleur and Petrus are worthy of their elevated status, with the likes of L’Eglise Clinet, VCC, Figeac, Canon, Angelus and Belair Monange just behind the big four. Special mention should go to Aymeric de Gironde whose transformation at Troplong Mondot is bearing fruit – a really impressive and vibrant effort here. Marielle Cazaux from La Conseillante also deserves a “bon job” for a truly excellent 2019; voluptuous, silky and wonderfully refined.

A row of seven wine bottles from Bordeaux 2019

Haut Brion and Mission Haut Brion lead the way in Pessac Leognan with two gargantuan efforts. Domaine de Chevalier made up the podium with a very strong showing by Les Carmes Haut Brion as a close runner up. This unique Graves with a high percentage of Cabernet Franc and whole bunch fermentations is really bearing fruit under the leadership if Guillaume Pouthier.

The final flights hailed from the appellations of the Medoc, and it was here that temperatures raised. There was lots of swooning over the Cabernets, and it’s not hard to see why. Cabernet Sauvignon aromas abound, and the fruit feels taut and full of energy. Chateau Margaux is exceptional, in fact, the whole Margaux commune excelled, far better in my opinion than the great 2015 vintage. There’s depth, intensity and lots of charm, even amongst chateaux we normally condemn. For me, the trio of Rauzan Segla, Palmer and Brane Cantenac took top billing, but there were excellent efforts from Alter Ego, Pavillon Rouge, Kirwan and many others.

St Julien was full of showstoppers. Las Cases, Barton, Poyferre and Ducru Beaucaillou are special wines. They boast grace and power in abundance. There were also wonderful showings from Beychevelle, Branaire Ducru and Gloria, the latter offering particularly good value for money.

There were so many high points, it became one very elevated plateau. The St Estephes displayed real breed. Montrose continues to be the leading light – a First Growth in all but name: grand scale, yet so refined, a wine for the ages. Developments at Calon Segur continue to impress, there’s a real sense of purity and finesse here. As ever, Meyney provided one of the surprises of the tasting – in truth, it would be a shock if it didn’t… This is another remarkable St Estephe packed with blackberry fruit and surprisingly sophisticated tannins. Normally it would have stolen the show on this performance, but yet another St Estephe rivalled our champion, Tronquoy Lalande. Owned by the same group that manages Montrose and Clos Rougeard; we’ve witnessed a steady progression over the years, culminating with a magnificent 2018, and now a ravishing 2019. Bravo!

A row of twelve red wine bottles from Bordeaux 2019

And as is customary, we have saved the best to last. Pauillac has produced some thrilling examples. Latour is a tour de force, a massive wine, yet so pixilated and detailed. Mouton and Lafite also excelled. However, the trio of Lynch Bages, Pichon Comtesse and Pichon Baron stole the limelight with outstanding efforts, which ranked amongst my highest scores of the vintage (along with Montrose) and are still relatively affordable (if you can find them). These are bottles with long and distinguished futures ahead. One could argue that even better value can been found with our perennial favourite, GPL and the Cazes family’s new acquisition, Haut Batailley – two wonderfully floral, elegant Pauillacs, which ooze class. Batailley, Duhart Milon, Clerc Milon and Pichon Comtesse Reserve are also worthy of mentions.

In conclusion, there are an embarrassment of riches in 2019. Everywhere you look there are sensational wines. 2019s expresses their varietals and terroirs clearly, the fruit is crisp and well delineated with a bit more flesh than the 2016s, but less bombastic than the 2010s and a bit more controlled than the voluptuous 2009s. I thought 2016 was the perfect modern vintage, but on this evidence, 2019 becomes my new benchmark. It’s a vintage that will appeal to classicists and those with a sweeter palate. Alas, most of the top labels have sold out or are much more expensive to buy now, but there are still many good buys to be found. My top picks for those who missed the boat, or want to top up would include:

Tom Jenkins, Bordeaux Buyer