18 again

18 again

Friday 4th February 2022
by Tom Jenkins

18 again 

This year, the venerable tasters of Southwold-upon-Thames convened to re-sample the ever so slightly controversial 2018s. By my recollection, there was a small transatlantic split of opinion as to the success of the vintage: American critics loved the ripeness and opulence, declaring it an immediate hit; the British press was more circumspect. A vintage of two halves: initially humid, with huge mildew pressure, particularly for the advocates of biodynamic farming, then dry and hot with an unhurried harvest yielding small, concentrated berries. The merits are far easier to evaluate in bottle, and it seems on reflection that neither assessment was entirely accurate. It’s not another vintage of the century, as some might have suggested. 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2019 are clearly a notch above. However, amongst the top crus, it’s a very strong range, probably on a par with 2015 – or maybe marginally better. One feels the “solaire” character with the richness and concentration, yet the wines retain a classical charm and elegance. They are unmistakably Bordeaux

In my opinion, there were no exceptional wines, nothing that came close to a 20/20, although, as one learned colleague pointed out, you can’t give a wine 20/20 from a bottle, as a magnum will always taste better. (Perhaps Southwold should request magnums in future!) The consistency of the flights was striking. There were very few disappointments; nearly everything had a sense of balance, harmony and expertly managed tannins. Continuing the theme of recent years, some of the most outstanding wines of the tasting came from the “Super Second and honorary Super Second” category. Lynch Bages deserves a special mention, a doppelgänger for Chateau Latour: this was one of my highest scoring wines along with superb examples from Pichon Comtesse, Pichon Longueville, Grand Puy Lacoste, Rauzan Segla, Leoville Poyferre, Montrose and Calon Segur. These chateaux all rival their more illustrious neighbours at a fraction of the cost.

On the Right Bank, Ausone and Petrus were absolutely exquisite (both 19/20), whilst the magnificent Lafleur displayed a slightly more reserved character at this early stage of development. There were also notable successes from many of the usual high performers: Canon, Figeac, Vieux Chateau Certan, Angelus, La Fleur-Petrus and Belair Monange.

As for the best value selections, my two top picks came from St Estephe, a commune which adapts well to heat and drought. Les Ormes de Pez (from the Lynch Bages/Cazes team) and Meyney both excelled, producing wines of real class and longevity.

2018 was a fascinating growing season. Some may consider it less a vintage of two halves and more a case of two vintages rolled into one. It has both the influence of the sun and the Atlantic. Initially, the vegetal cycle went into overdrive, then vines were starved of water. Vignerons needed to be meticulous and bold in the vineyard. Those who navigated the climatic conditions successfully, have been rewarded with a brilliant, new style of Bordeaux. Whilst unique by current standards, this could well signal the future for the region.