As I write this more than 670 samples of 2020 have been tasted from home. An unprecedented amount of wine and logistics to organise and taste and pick up samples while others come to the door. Lots of cardboard and empty bottles. It takes a lot of organising and hopefully the world is normal again next year, so I can actually travel to Bordeaux again. And the big question everyone is asking me is, how is it compared to 2019 and 2018?
For the 2019 primeur campaign I was a little late on the trigger as I thought and hoped travels would be possible again in June last year, (ever optimistic) and realising that would not happen, when I finally accepted samples many thought temperatures were getting risky for samples. So I did not taste many of the benchmark estates, and 2019 is therefore still somewhat elusive for me. I do not really have a feel for that vintage, bit received some stunning samples this spring from Montrose, Pichon Comtesse, Palmer, Brane Cantenac, La Conseillante and Figeac, and those were superb.
And from what I have tasted, I would say 2019 has the edge on 2020, but I have tasted about 280 2019’s compared to 670 plus 2020’s. So my experience of 2020 is far superior. 2018 in barrel was one thousand tasting notes, my largest ever report, and several hundred (not yet published but will follow very shortly) in bottle has been tasted. 2018 is different, very big and rich and fruit driven with high alcohol, sometimes to high. That seems to be very rare thing with 2020. Very few wines lacks balance and many have a fine energy to them.
But some 2020’s still lack a bit of personality, they are fine and well made, but seems to lack just that little something that they seem to have in 2019. I particularly fell in love with Margaux where even fairly easy going estates showed highly scented and charming wines. Palmer Durfort-Vivens and Margaux did not send samples, but nearly everyone else did. And I have to say they are hugely charming.
Rauzan-Ségla, Cantenac-Brown, Ferriere, Lascombes, Dauzac, Giscours, Grand Tayac and Siran may have made one of their greatest efforts ever, but Issan, Malescot St Exupery and Brane Cantenac are also very impressive!
The other commune that blew me away was Saint-Emilion were many have made their most refined expressions to date. Many wines were both fruit driven and deep yet showed floral and scented high notes and minerality. Nearly all have a wonderful energy and brightness that isn’t always that evident while they are young. A fascinating vintage in Saint-Emilion. Even if some top estates did not send samples due to fear of unstable samples and it doesn’t help with quarrelsome Norwegian customs...
One of the greatest ever from Fleur Cardinal, Valandraud, Pressac and Mangot at one end of the plateau, but also at Villemaurine, Clos Fourtet and Canon at the other end, and Figeac closer to Pomerol. Quintus is showing more details and is less opulence and it really suits it, and Angelus may be just behind the stunning 2019, but still an incredible effort. Last three vintages are so much more floral and nuanced than ever before, and that may be because of Cabernet Franc now handled in large fuders rather than barrique. But there are many more stars in Saint-Emilion, that report need a thorough read through!
I have never encountered finesse in Saint-Emilion such as in this vintage. Every wine screams terroir like violins playing the rythm behind the fruit. It is amazing to see how they shine, how detailed they are. Don’t think I have every enjoyed tasting through this appellation as much. They have a proper energy to them and graphite minerals as well as floral high notes on wines I don’t think I have ever described that way before. Almost every single one is of interest, some of much more than interest. Canon-La-Gaffeliere and Mondotte was another two utterly seductive addresses for really fine wines. La Croizille and Tour Baladoz has both found a finesse never ever seen from there before. This is a vintage to really explore Saint-Emilion. My mouth goes watery as I write and think back on these wines...
Pomerol unfortunately lacked so many great names that it is hard to say something clear about the appelation, but that said, Bourgneuf, Petit Village and Gazin may have made one of their finest ever, beautiful Eglise-Clinet and I was spellbound by La Conseillante. The whole room filled with violets as I opened the cork! Some absolutely stunning Pomerol’s but a thin report compared to the ones I do when in Bordeaux.
Fronsac also seems to have had a superb vintage, Dalem, Fontenil, Gaby and more on top of their game again this year. Fronsac is on a roll and excellent value still for the savvy buyer. They age beautifully as well, 30 years will be no problem for many of these.
From the satellite appelations we see ever better wines, and some are outright bargains not to be missed by savvy buyers.
Pessac-Léognan has some stunning reds, no doubt about, but some are getting Amarone levels of alcohol, and all cannot hide it any longer. Haut-Brion clocking in at 15% is getting a bit heavy footed. It is a superb Haut-Brion, but I do wonder how it will age. It will age, superbly, but will it have the Haut-Brion address with this style?
Domaine de Chevalier keeps turning out excellent wines on a new level since 2018 and the red is now one of the most serious in the region. Haut-Bailly is impressive and dense but like Haut-Brion borderline big. Les Carmes Haut-Brion is on a winning streak as well with another super fine vintage. The dry whites were surprisingly fresh in their expression, because the acidity could be higher to retain freshness. They are smooth and a more rounded style.
Sauternes shows very pure fruit and elegance but like the dry whites acidity could be more playful.
Haut-Medoc and Médoc seems to have done well, some Cru Bourgeois has made amongst or even their best effort to date. Another star of the vintage is La Lagune. This could be their finest effort to date.
Saint-Estephe seems to have done very well, Cos d’Estournel is flying these days, stunning wines with such depth and finesse. Calon-Ségur seemed overshadowed by wood, and I am not as sure about the new style from here as some are. It is still fine, but not the classic style many of you will think of with Calon. Phélan Ségur showed beautifully, as did Lafon-Rochet and Haut-Marbuzet.
Pauillac was mixed. Not that the wines are bad, because they really aren’t. But several lacks a bit of energy and lift as well as scented notes, and even if I preffer most 2020 Pauillac’s to their 2018 Napa Valley styled counterparts, I missed a bit of energy in them. A few not tasted, truly loved Mouton, both Pichon’s and Lynch-Bages was a star! More finesse in Pédesclaux was positive. I think we also saw the start of a more fine tuned style for Haut-Batailley.
Saint-Julien also lacked a few samples and a few more are on they’re way as I write this, but seems to be a mix between lacking just a little bit of energy like some Pauillacs and a more lifted expression that Margaux has. Lagrange is best ever from that estate, Beychevelle is superb, and very fine from Langoa Barton, Léoville Barton and St Pierre.
The problem with not tasting everything is that there are gaps in the experience and therefore this is not a complete picture. And some of the wines missing are also some of those one has tasted the most from and therefore know the style and adress of better. Something that also helps with seeing how this vintage sit in the family tree. But from what I have tasted there are some stars this vintage, bit I feel it is just behind 2019. And I can’t wait to taste 2019 from bottle I have to say. That will give much more as I never tasted many of them from barrel.
2019 has many new stars, so many wines many readers have never heard of have made their best wines ever. So take a deep look into everything from AOC Bordeaux to satelite communes, Graves, Médoc and Fronsac. You will find inexpensive stars this vintage. As well as superb stuff from well known addresses.
I absolutely adore 2016, and I have a feeling that 2020 will follow in that category and I so wish that I could have tasted just a few more of the estates I know by heart. Lets see how the world economy will take the prices when more are released. I for one can’t wait to taste these again from bottle!