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.
This year a shortage of time only allowed me the opportunity to taste eleven wines from Pomerol that were shown at the Grand Cercle event in April, along with a few others with Jean-Luc Thunevin. In May I had the opportunity to taste Château Gazin, which was wonderfully pure and strong. Overall, it’s been difficult to draw firm conclusions on such a small sample, but the wines I’ve tasted from Pomerol certainly show plenty of joyful, ripe fruit and considerable style. The wines were generally low in acidity. Again, as in St Emilion, to me they didn’t have the delightful tension of the 2015 and 2016 vintages, with 2018 seemingly much more akin to 2009 in style. If there is a flaw, it is that the wines lack acidity. That said, many will provide immediately pleasure and this doesn’t feel like a vintage that will need much time in bottle.
Many delicious wines have been made in St Emilion in 2018. This is a vintage with the most sumptuous, sublime fruit. While the wines do not have the magical balance of 2016 or 2015, with their fresher acidities, on the best terroirs there are a range of wines here that rival 2009 in character for sheer exotic ripeness and joy, but without the evident over-extraction that characterised the appellation a decade ago. Yes, these are wines with plenty of tannin, enviably ripe tannin, and in all but a few cases I would confidently expect the wines to settle by bottling. As in 2009 this will be a vintage that will drink well from the very beginning, but that has the evident structure to last.
I’ve been nursing a dilemma these past few months. Shouldn’t I really be keeping quiet about Château Laroque? This impressive St Emilion property, situated on some of the highest limestone terroir of the appellation, has been run since 2015 by David Suire, the talented winemaker who, with Nicolas Thienpont, crafts the beautiful Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Beauséjour. For me, Château Laroque 2018 was one of the best buys on the Right Bank I tasted this year. The quality was knockout for the price. I nabbed a couple of cases for my own cellar. Just don’t tell anyone. If your experience is anything like mine, increasingly I’m having trouble affording my favourite Bordeaux. Expect Laroque’s prices to rise over the next few years, so if you can find any remaining 2018, I’d nab it quick! If not the 2016 looks good too.
Château Angélus looks very strong in 2018. There is the usual depth and power but the bold tannins suggest a long life. The wine is now made by Hubert de Boüard’s daughter Stephanie. The property is on conversion toward organic growing so the vagaries of the 2018 vintage [the wet start with its threat of mildew] were a challenge. Overall, however, volumes are not down and the considerable [yet ripe] tannin profiles are a testament to the extraordinary sunny and hot weather that defined the second half of the growing season in 2018. Other wines in the de Boüard stable also look impressive in 2018. I’m a great fan of Chateau Bellevue and Chateau Daugay and both are excellent in this vintage. Chateau Roc de Boisseaux also is very good.