Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2019

Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2019

Wednesday 27th May 2020
by Tom Jenkins

"Tout est Grand en 2019!"

These are the words of our dear friend, Denis Durantou, who passed away on the 14th of May this year. 2019 will be remembered by us as his last vintage in a spectacular career spanning four decades. Denis was always succinct because he had so much to do! Reviving the great L’Eglise Clinet, starting new projects, planting new vineyards, running a négociant business. He was a force of nature. It seems fitting to quote his analysis – it captures everything one needs to know using the absolute minimum number of characters… “There was water when it was needed from July to September, a rapid flowering, cool nights, colour change which varied according to the grape varieties but which was homogeneous overall, and a harvest in fine dry conditions. Everything is great in 2019!”

Right from the off, we knew 2019 was another excellent vintage. Our friends in Bordeaux wore an air of casual confidence as soon as the long and uneventful harvest was completed. Grand hyperbole is now a thing of the past; the new wave of Bordeaux winemakers and Technical Directors like to play their cards closer to their chests. However, we wouldn't suggest they swap their roles for a place at the poker table; they're not very good at concealing a royal flush... And that's what we have here, a sequence stretching back to 2015. For top châteaux, 2019 is yet another ace in what is already becoming an unprecedented run. Gavin Quinney, the winemaker and writer, describes it as "an embarrassment of riches".      

The winter of 2018/2019 wasn’t really a winter at all. Mild weather, with average rainfall in November, December and January, was followed by dry months in February and March, leaving the region with water deficit of 100 mm (compared to the average for this period). The phase between budbreak and flowering (April-June) was uneventful with average rainfall and near average temperatures. There was some localised frost and hail, but of no real significance. Then everything changed. Anticyclonic conditions ensued, which resulted in a long period of warm and dry weather from mid-June to the 21st of September. There were two notable heatwaves in late June and late July when the mercury surpassed 40°C. As with all great vintages, there was plenty of hydric stress during the summer; however, heavy downpours at key moments kept the vines revitalised and helped maturation.

Harvest, normally a time of anxiety, was serene and unhurried. There was a period of prolonged rainfall between the 22nd and 29th of September, yet there was no panic to pick. If anything, the rains were welcomed, they allowed the grapes to ripen at a slower, more even pace. The long harvest yielded tiny, highly concentrated berries of exceptional quality.

Omri Ram from Château Lafleur said "initially it looked like a solaire vintage, resembling 2015 or 2017 with its easy, voluptuous texture, but the more we taste, the more it moves towards 2016 and 2018. At the centre, there is something deeply mineral and complex; it’s serious, the aromatics, the freshness and the tannic spine speak of a great, long-term Lafleur”. The freshness is a paradox that can’t be easily explained. “We harvested with low malic acid, yet the pH is lower than 2018".

Francois Mitjavile echoed these thoughts when we met with him in January. “My analysis tells me this is a profound vintage with big tannins and lots of alcohol, yet when I taste it, I don’t get that sense; the wine is supple, delicate, charming”. We had to concur, this was the most attractive and beguiling young Tertre Roteboeuf we have ever tasted, with a combination of exuberance, delicacy and freshness. Some commentators may be deceived – it could appear to be too luxurious and perhaps lack gravitas. In some cases that may be the truth; however, there will likely be scores of truly profound wines. The Châteaux we follow and the most respected decision makers in the region are clearly delighted with the results. Alexandre Thienpont describes Vieux Château Certan as “aromatic and dynamic”, with “very good acidity levels. This was a real feature in the VCC 2019”. He believes the “cool nights we had during the ripening phase” helped to retain acidities. “2019 compares closely with the 2010, yes, and also the 1998. Two wonderful vintages”.

Thomas Duclos, the superstar oenologist and consultant to the likes of Château Canon and Troplong Mondot, also sees similarities with 2010. “I prefer 2019 to 2018 as the wines have this depth and density of the 2018 or 2010 (maybe a little less power) with the sensuality and sexiness that you really liked in 2015”.

Normally our report is written after a week of intensive tasting and re-tastings, dissection and analysis. We pool upon the resources and experience of our team and our friends in Bordeaux. Alas, this year, that has not been possible. A brief trip in January was enlightening. We were fortunate to taste several tanks with Nicolas Glumineau from Pichon Comtesse, as well as barrel tastings with Francois Mitjavile and Denis Durantou. This was more than enough to pique our interest. In these extraordinary times, Châteaux have been forced to think outside the box, with tastings being arranged in the UK and samples being sent to our homes. What we have tasted is very impressive. Our hope is that Châteaux will release this exciting vintage at genuinely enticing prices in June and July. Please watch this space in the coming weeks…

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