Warm years are no longer the exception. Bordeaux vintage reports could be used as an example of the increasing annual temperatures created by global warming. Gone are the days of 12 to 12.5% abv, now 14 is the average with more above than below this figure in 2018. All or nothing seems to be the current stream with rainfall: 2018 saw record amounts fall in the spring and early summer with desert conditions emerging from July onwards. Hail has become the scourge of the Bordeaux vigneron. ‘Classic’ vintages are few and far between. Even the Bordelais are in uncharted waters. When asked about this vintage a number stated it was like no other before, tannin levels are the highest recorded thanks to the thick skins of near desiccated grapes affected by the dry hot days from July to October. There were no welcome September rains to refresh the grapes like in 2017, the harvest comprised rugged, sun dried grapes with great concentration and in perfect condition. On tasting, some wines show a high degree of tannin and restrained fruit suggesting that a supple extraction  was more difficult with these stressed out grapes.

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Harriet, Nigel and Jeff in Bordeaux for this year’s Primeurs

The vintage year: 2018 started off slowly, with a wet winter and very damp spring. March saw 126 mm of rainfall almost double the 30 year average of 64 mm for this month. April, May and June were around average with July, August and September way below average. September had just 24 mm compared with 93 mm in 2017, 62 mm in 2016 and an average of 83 mm over the last 30 years. The early season rain brought with it mildew. 30% of the vineyards were affected by this. Standout examples were those practicing biodynamic or organic principles. Pontet Canet harvested just 10% of it’s average crop thanks to the decimating activities of rot. When the sun came, it really shone. 2018 is the second hottest July and August since 1947. 2003 being the hottest. 1,136 hours of sunshine were recorded between June and September, a record for the last 50 years.

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The precocious buds of 2019, an early start to this year.

If you are reading this report you have most probably read others. Some merchants are claiming this vintage is on a par with 2010, others are exhaulting the tannic grip and defining the closed character of many wines as a sleeping beauty style vintage. We are more cautious in our considerations. It is a vintage unlike those before, there is a great deal of concentration, but the succulent fruit of 2016 is not there, the supple finesse of 2015 isn’t there either, nor is the freshness of 2017. If we had to compare this vintage to those before you could consider it a cross between 2010 and 2003. It is, in our view more of a right bank vintage. Merlot loved the warm, dry days, giving an exceptional expression with fantastic ripeness and outstanding depth of character.

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What is interesting about this vintage, is that there was no clearly defined path for the winemakers. Decisions right from the start were case by case. Leaf picking in the cool early summer months was detrimental for some when the hot sun arrived in July. Harvest dates were important, those holding out for some rain played a dangerous game with berries losing moisture and acid by the minute come late September. In the winery, tannin extraction was vitally important, with higher alcohol levels naturally creating more tannins during fermentation. Acids are integrated and modest, it’s a difficult vintage to judge. The tannins are perfectly formed and some of the highest levels recorded for recent vintages adding weight to suggestions that this could be a vintage of great ageing potential. 2018 has sparked much discussion, with industry experts at odds as to whether it’s another ‘great’ or not. As we have highlighted, there are some fantastic wines, but there are also some ‘howlers’. It looks to be a case of ‘wait and see’. Isn’t this what we love about wine? The uncertainty, the discovery, the unexpected surprises? You may have to wait, but 2018 certainly shows promise with some exceptional wines in the mix.