I love Château Latour. It has to be one of the most remarkable wines in the world. It is the gold standard to which other ambitious producers of [predominantly] Cabernet Sauvignon all aspire to emulate, if not in style, certainly in substance. That legendary California winemaker Paul Draper spoke frequently of Latour when working on Ridge’s own super Cab, Ridge Monte Bello in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as the Bordeaux he most admired and took inspiration from. The no expense spared approach, financed by billionaire entrepreneur François Pinault, is beyond the pockets of many producers, of course. The same affordability question is true of the grand vin itself. A single bottle of Latour, even in an average year, is still typically more expensive than a top-label washer dryer or fridge freezer. Remarkably, there are even more expensive Cabernets in the world than Latour, but rarely any better. I’ve pulled together notes taken over the last two years at the property – a baker’s dozen of wines from the estate, spanning a number of vintages between 2018-2006.
Finally notes taken on wines tasted at the Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tasting in London last year. While the majority of these were 2018s that I’d missed during primeurs week, it was also a good opportunity to look at other recent vintages. In Margaux, Château Rauzan Ségla had made a sublime wine in 2018, so too Château Branaire-Ducru and Château Léoville Poyferré in St Julien. In Pauillac, Château Pontet Canet was astonishing, paralleled in different ways by extraordinary wines at Château Montrose in St Estèphe and Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan.
Château Cos d’Estournel has been making wine of first growth quality for years, but the period of ownership under Michel Reybier has coincided with a dramatic shift in ambition and overall quality. And not just in the main wine. Pagodes de Cos, the second label, in recent years is now better than many vintages of the grand vin itself in the 1990s. Yet, while there has been a string of impressive wines here in the last few vintages – 2014, 2015 and 2016 are all exciting editions of Cos – 2018 is a real marvel. I reckon it is possibly the finest wine made in the last decade at the estate. And, in what is a truly remarkable vintage for St Estèphe, Cos might actually just pip the extraordinary wines also made in this year at Château Calon-Ségur and Château Montrose.
Bordeaux 2018 reaches its hedonistic heights in the northern Haut-Médoc, and no more so than in St Estèphe. At Château Calon Ségur one of the most remarkable wines has been made. This property has had a very impressive run here over the last decade. That said, the 2018 is a legend in the making. The fruit is spectacular, the style is sublime and the wine is voluptuous. For me it was the most memorable wine [amongst many] during primeurs back in April. Not surprisingly word quickly got out. The wine was the most expensive Calon released en primeur and it is now offered at a price higher than any other vintage in the past decade. I guess for a Bordeaux that has first growth unambiguously stamped all over it, and considering the world’s screaming eagles, maybe £1000 a case could still be considered a snip.
In one sense Thomas Duroux hasn’t much to show from the 2018 vintage. The effects of rot that tore through Château Palmer’s vineyards in early July led to two-thirds of the crop being entirely lost. The biodynamics practiced here left the vineyards even more exposed to the vagaries of a growing season that was biblically wet in its first half. Yet the remainder of the harvest, a meagre 11 hectolitres per hectare, produced an elixir. It is what Thomas describes analytically, but also qualitatively, as Palmer’s “most powerful wine ever.” If the entire growing season was a “a terrifying experience” for Duroux, Palmer has certainly ended up making one of its most remarkable wines ever.
A dozen wines from Lalande de Pomerol tasted earlier in the year certainly show how the appellation has captured the lush fruit qualities of the vintage. Once again, plenty of sweet, ripe and unctuously styled fruit is on display here. There was a little overextraction evident in some cases, but you would imagine that most of the wines will settle during elévage. The missing ingredient here is really acidity. 2018 will give a lot of pleasure for sure, but, as in St Emilion and Pomerol, the vintage lacks the appetizing vibrancy of 2015 and 2016 with their emphasis on freshness and texture. That said there is a lot to enjoy in these wines. Undoubtedly they will give plenty of pleasure at comparatively modest prices.