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James Suckling BORDEAUX 2018: A VINTAGE OF SUPERLATIVES & TOP 100

James discusses the 2018 vintage at the start of the recent masterclass in James Suckling Wine Central in Hong Kong.
Jean Philippe Delmas, deputy managing director of Chateau Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, calls the 2018 vintage a “miracle” and “bizarre.” However, he’s more than happy with the quality of the wines he made in 2018 like most others in Bordeaux.

“I have to say it’s very bizarre,” said Delmas in a Tasting Interview I did with him a few weeks ago. “Even if the wines are very concentrated, very high in IPT [tannins] and very high in alcohol, they remain very Bordeaux – balanced and fresh. It’s almost a miracle.”

He added that he and his colleagues in Bordeaux are very attuned to the effects of global warming, as scary as it may be, and that they are harvesting earlier, leaving more leaves on the vine in the summer and doing everything possible to retain freshness in the grapes. “Everybody in Bordeaux is more focused on balance,” he said.

See how Philippe Sereys De Rothschild described the 2018 Bordeaux vintage in a single word, and why Jean Philippe Delmas said it was a ‘miracle’, in these short 60-second snippets from Tasting Interviews with James.
His points certainly show in the new releases of 2018 Bordeaux in bottle from first growths to simple Bordeaux. I tasted more than 1,200 2018 Bordeaux in my office in Hong Kong and so many of the wines were exciting and vibrant. They were rich and intense from the hot and dry growing season in the summer that assured extremely ripe grapes. But at the same time they remained fresh and framed with relatively fine tannins, if winemakers didn’t over extract during the fermentations and macerations of the new wines.

Even the dry whites came out fresh and energetic. Delmas’s Haut-Brion Blanc 2018 and La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc 2018 were opulent and perfumed with compressed palates and admirable structure. They were vivid and clear. The 2017 was a much more acid driven vintage for dry whites in Bordeaux but in many instances I preferred the 2018 from numerous estates. The sweet wines in Bordeaux were very good quality in 2018 but lack some intensity and depth. Few exceptional wines were made.

The owner of the famous first growth estate of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, says the word that comes to mind for him to describe the 2018 is “density.” He said in a Tasting Interview that “it’s always interesting to try to describe a vintage with one word. 2009 is velvet. 2010 is square. And 2018 is dense. The density is there. It’s a vintage that you want to follow – how is this thing going to age?”

I am sure his wine is going to age wonderfully. The Mouton 2018 is one of the wines of the vintage. It is full bodied but not overly so, certainly not more than the very ripe 2003. But the seamless tannins coat your palate and provide framework to the rich and luxurious red. It remains refined and harmonious despite the density. It has an endless finish.

Rothschild said that the 2018 reminded him of the legendary 1959 Mouton, which is still deep and seamless with an almost endless finish. Apparently it was great to drink when it was young. I was three years old when it was released on the market! Some of the wine trade in the 1960s said it would not age well. But the wine today is still phenomenal. I tasted it in December 2019 at a Farr Vintners event in Bordeaux and it was near perfect still with incredible depth and finesse. ‘The only thing that I can pray for now is that the 2018 [Mouton] will open up as well as the 1959,” added Sereys de Rothschild.

Hubert De Bouard De Laforest of the revered estate of Chateau Angelus in St.-Emilion is slightly less esoteric in his assessment of the vintage. He simple calls the 2018 “sexy.” He said in a Tasting Interview: “It’s a great wine with concentration but something very sexy. It really wakes you up when you taste the wine.”

Of course, the above estates represent the upper echelon of fine wine in Bordeaux and the world. Plenty of other outstanding wines are available in 2018. Many are priced between $20 and $50 a bottle. Some are even $15, or so. The reasonably priced wines are in the 90 to 92 point range and from appellations such as Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superior and Cotes de Bordeaux. Many of these are drinkable now and for the next three to five years.

In our tastings, the zone of Francs Cotes de Bordeaux seems to really excel in 2018 at the above level of quality wines with estates such as Chateau de Francs, Chateau Puygueraud and Chateau Marsau making fantastic wines. They are now meeting the quality of many grand cru wines from St. Emilion.

“The vintage has a very specific weather pattern,” said Francois Thienpont, a Bordeaux wine merchant whose family owns wine estates in the Francs Cotes de Bordeaux including Puygueraud. His family are also shareholders of the great Pomerol estate of Vieux Chateau Certan, “The first half it was so rainy. And then after mid-July it was dry. That means that we didn’t have any vines, even in Pomerol, that suffered hydric-stress. They weren’t affected by the drought and the vines were able to do the job for the grapes. It was easy. It was absolutely awesome!

Check out the video of our tasting trip in Bordeaux in Spring 2019, when travel was still possible!
“That gives the wines a special balance that makes the wines powerful, but not overly powerful,” he added. “They are very integrated. I am amazed by the quality of the mid-palate in general, from A to Z you say ‘wow’ on the palate.”

The obvious question is just how good these wines are? How does the vintage compare to recent greats like 2019, 2016 and 2015 as well as 2009 and 2010, not to mention other top vintages of the past?

My impression after tasting the wines in Spring 2019 from barrel was that 2018 could turn out to be an all-time great similar to 2010, 2009 and 1989 or even such classics as 1982 or 1959. I think it compares favorably to recent excellent years like 2015 and 2016 but in an all-together more exuberant style.

“The 2018 is between the 2009 and 2010,” said Oliver Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, who made one of his greatest red wines ever. “It is a wine with incredible potential because of the high level of tannins but remains balanced. There is this incredible structure and power that give this wine the possibility to age forever.”

My team ran some numbers on the tasting results of our ratings and the average score for 2018 wines in our report is 91.8 points. That is the same as 2015 and 2016 and more than 2010, which was 91.7. We rated nearly 1,300 wines from 2018 this year, compared to 1,400 from 2016 and 1,300 from 2015 when we rated those in previous years. So we have rated similar numbers of wines from the last top vintages for Bordeaux.

The big difference comes with the 100-point wines. We rated four wines 100 points in 2018 compared to 14 in 2015 and nine in 2016. Thirteen were rated 100 in the 2010 vintage. The wines rated 95 points or more were also more numerous in 2016 (157) and 2015 (159) compared to 2018 (139).

Numbers aside, it’s safe to say that 2018 is a top vintage. I am certainly going to buy and drink some in the future. And I am sure you will too. The plush fruit and ripe tannins make so many of the wines attractive to drink young but they have the structure to age for a long time. It’s typical for a hot and dry year like 2009, 1989, 1982 and so on.

The problem for some people with 2018 Bordeaux may be the price. The top wines are significantly less expensive in 2019 (en primeur) and other vintages. For example, one of the wines of the vintage, the Mouton Rothschild, is almost $700 a bottle according to Wine-Searcher, while the 2019 is about $500. The price difference is not as obvious with slightly lesser ranked estates. Ducru-Beaucaillou made a top wine in 2018 and it sells for about $190 a bottle compared to $170 for the 2019. Lesser ranked estates have little or no difference in price.

Regardless of price, the 2018 vintage is certainly a year to remember with one of the most extreme grape growing seasons in memory. Adversity in vintages is something that historically makes outstanding, even great wines, and 2018 certainly has many exceptional bottles to consider if you are a Bordeaux wine lover or collector. The vintage is even more of a triumph for the wine producers themselves.

“We like to say we have the taste of victory in 2018,” said Nicolas Audebert, director of Chateau Canon and Chateau Rauzan-Segla in 2019 after tasting his wine from barrel. “It was a tough year and we really had to fight all the time with nature but we won.”

– James Suckling, editor

TOP 100

CHÂTEAU LAFLEUR POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU MARGAUX MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU TROTANOY POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU ANGÉLUS ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU AUSONE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU BEAUSÉJOUR DUFFAU-LAGARROSSE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU BÉLAIR-MONANGE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU CHEVAL BLANC ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU DUCRU-BEAUCAILLOU ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU HAUT-BAILLY PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU L'ÉGLISE CLINET POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LA FLEUR-PÉTRUS POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE LAS CASES ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU PAVIE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU RAUZAN-SÉGLA MARGAUX 2018
DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
L’IF ST.-EMILION 2018
VIEUX CHÂTEAU CERTAN POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU CANON ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU COS D'ESTOURNEL ST.-ESTÈPHE 2018
CHÂTEAU FIGEAC ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU L'EVANGILE POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LA MISSION HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU LA MISSION HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU MONTROSE ST.-ESTÈPHE 2018
CHÂTEAU PALMER MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU PAPE CLÉMENT PESSAC-LÉOGNAN BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU PAVIE DECESSE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU PONTET-CANET PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU SMITH-HAUT-LAFITTE PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU SMITH-HAUT-LAFITTE PESSAC-LEOGNAN BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU TROPLONG MONDOT ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU TROTTEVIEILLE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU VALANDRAUD ST.-EMILION 2018
DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER PESSAC-LÉOGNAN BLANC 2018
LA MONDOTTE ST.-EMILION 2018
LE PETIT CHEVAL BORDEAUX BLANC 2018
PAVILLON BLANC DU CHÂTEAU MARGAUX BORDEAUX BLANC 2018
CARRUADES DE LAFITE ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU BELLEVUE MONDOTTE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE-DUCRU ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU CALON-SÉGUR ST.-ESTÈPHE 2018
CHÂTEAU COS D'ESTOURNEL BORDEAUX BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU CROIX DE LABRIE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU D'YQUEM SAUTERNES 2018
CHÂTEAU FAUGÈRES ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU GISCOURS MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU HAUT-BAGES-LIBÉRAL PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU HOSANNA POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LA CONSEILLANTE POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LARCIS DUCASSE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU LE GAY POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE BARTON ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU LES CARMES-HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU LYNCH-BAGES PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU MALESCOT-ST.-EXUPERY MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU NENIN POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU PAPE CLÉMENT PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
CHÂTEAU PAVIE-MACQUIN ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU PÉBY-FAUGÈRES ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE LALANDE PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU PICHON-LONGUEVILLE BARON PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU QUINTUS ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU ROCHEYRON ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU ROUGET POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU TOUR SAINT CHRISTOPHE ST.-EMILION 2018
LE CLARENCE DE HAUT-BRION PESSAC-LÉOGNAN 2018
LE PETIT MOUTON DE MOUTON ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2018
CALICEM ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU BEAU-SÉJOUR BÉCOT ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU CANON-LA GAFFELIÈRE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU CERTAN DE MAY POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU CLINET POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU CLOS DE SARPE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU D'ISSAN MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU DUHART-MILON ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2018
CHÂTEAU DURFORT-VIVENS MARGAUX 2018
CHÂTEAU HAUT-MARBUZET ST.-ESTÈPHE 2018
CHÂTEAU LA VIOLETTE POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU LAFAURIE-PEYRAGUEY SAUTERNES 2018
CHÂTEAU LE BON PASTEUR POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU MAGREZ FOMBRAUGE ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU MALARTIC-LAGRAVIÈRE PESSAC-LÉOGNAN BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU PETIT-VILLAGE POMEROL 2018
CHÂTEAU SANSONNET ST.-EMILION 2018
CHÂTEAU TALBOT ST.-JULIEN 2018
CHÂTEAU VALANDRAUD BORDEAUX BLANC 2018
CHÂTEAU VILLEMAURINE ST.-EMILION 2018
CLOS DU MARQUIS ST.-JULIEN 2018
CLOS FOURTET ST.-EMILION 2018
CLOS L'ÉGLISE POMEROL 2018
ENCLOS TOURMALINE POMEROL 2018
PENSÉES DE LAFLEUR POMEROL 2018
ARÔMES DE PAVIE ST.-EMILION 2018
CARILLON DE L'ANGÉLUS ST.-EMILION 2018