I’m very sorry to hear that Sue Glasgow has retired from the wine scene. Sue was synonymous for many in the UK wine trade with fine Bordeaux, doing public relations for the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux [UGCB] in particular and organising their tastings each year. Her swansong event, held in tightly managed, socially distanced conditions at Church House in Westminster last October was a superbly organised tasting. It worked like clockwork. Tasters occupied pretty much every corner of the entire building, each escorted to their individual tables, where waiters in masks and visors poured samples at arms-length. Usually these events are a bit more of a bun fight, but this year it all felt very refined if a little solemn. My only issue was a lack of time. During Primeurs 2018 I’d majored on right bank properties in St Emilion, Pomerol and the Bordeaux Côtes. I did dip in to see some of the stars of the left bank [notably Calon Ségur, Cos, Latour and Palmer] but I’d missed out on tasting St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe in detail. So, with only a few hours to taste at this year’s UGCB event this autumn, I decided to focus on these appellations. First up, St Julien.
Twenty-eighteen was the vintage, if you remember, that was nearly wiped out entirely in the first half of the growing season. A combination of wet and humid conditions led to the widespread growth of rot that threatened many vineyards. Then, in July, just in the nick of time for most properties [but not all], the clouds vanished, the sun came out and the temperatures rose. These conditions continued until September, resulting in some of the most exotic and exuberant young red Bordeaux that I’ve tasted. The wines didn’t have the delicacy or the freshness of the 2016s or the sheer concentration of 2019 that followed, but it was certainly an utterly stunning vintage early on. So how have the top wines faired?
Overall the wines have definitely retreated a little in bottle, but this is to be expected and it is probably something for the better. It has given them a little more restraint than I remember. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of layered fruit evident in the wines, and the tannins are fleshy and marvellously ripe. If you bought this vintage en primeur then I doubt you will be disappointed. A few lacked character, but none looked to me like they might repeat the experience I had with several 2003s I bought, which a decade later felt hollow and had never really developed.
In St Julien, the Léovilles led the pack on the day, with Château Léoville Barton and Château Léoville Poyferré impressing in different ways. Château Branaire-Ducru also continues its good run of form too. It has produced a lovely St Julien. And Château Lagrange has produced a stunning wine, which will surely rival the 2000. For me is the best wine I’ve had from this property since then. Siblings Château St Pierre and Château Gloria also looked good. St Pierre was a little more reticent than usual given the fine reputation here and Gloria packed in a lot of fruit but showed fractionally less finesse than the best. Château Langoa Barton was its usual fresh, blackcurrant self and Château Beychevelle was elegant and fleshy with a soft texture. Château Talbot impressed the least, partly as it felt looser and more forward than the rest, and was ready to drink in my opinion. Château Gruaud Larose wasn’t shown.Here are my detailed notes from the October tasting. Hope you find then useful.
Château Beychevelle, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Deep; layered; blackcurrant; some stone fruit; stylish; fresh; little fatter and plumper on the nose; little liquorice; less overt than Lagrange; has elegance; nice texture; mid weight; soft tannins; easy style; has some length on the finish. Elegant styled St Julien. Sweet finish. Drink 2022-2040. 92
Château Branaire-Ducru, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Mid depth; healthy looking; fresh but also ripe; more Cabernet on the aromatics; has that stalky Branaire thing; pure cab; finesse; bolder on the nose; has depth; lots to this; great palate; attractive old cabernet comes through; has real purity as ever; nice tannins and well composed. Excellent stuff. Good tension on the finish confirms a good wine. Genuine length. Drink 2024-2045. 94
Château Gloria, St Julien, 2018
Deep looking; menthol; blackcurrant; plump; deep; lots of fruit here; spices; pretty ripe and thick; menthol and ink; sweet entry; quite fat and full; little chunky; less refined side by side with the Branaire; lots of extract and some grip; lacks the finesse of the best but a good mouthful. Drink 2022-2040. 91
Château Lagrange, St Julien, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Deep core; saturated look; bold aromatics; lots of fruit; stone; some schist; some new oak; integrated but close to the surface; liquorice; really opens up; very focused and layered; blackcurrants; sweet oak; bold entry; some wood to integrate but there is plenty of fruit here; jam packed. This is the best Lagrange in a while. Reminds me of the 2000. Some tobacco on the finish. Superb effort. Classy and intense. Drink 2026-2045. 95
Château Langoa Barton, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Deeply coloured; earthy purple rim; stone fruits; blackcurrants; some spice; has finesse; wine gum note has developed; fresh attack; plenty of fresh blackcurrant fruit; structure evident but this has life and depth; nicely balanced wine; summer fruit compote on the finish with a really refreshing twist. Drink 2027-2045. 93+
Château Léoville Barton, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Deep; earthy purple at rim; quite tight initially; creamy blackcurrants open up in the glass; depth here and class; quite inky blackcurrants so classic Léoville Barton in that respect; very precise and focused; love the aromatic purity here; opened up terrifically in the glass; fresh attack; pure; saline; blackcurrants; like this style. Bravo. Some tannins here but soft and round. Lovely texture on the finish. Showing really well. Drink 2028-2050. 95+
Château Léoville Poyferré, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Deep and saturated look; full; has spice; black fruits; oak; menthol; some tar; plenty here; opens up slowly on the palate; full; lots of extract; terrific palate; sweet, ripe black fruits; soft tannins; feels ready to drink already in a Napa-esque profile almost; sweet finish. Ripe tannins has plenty of extract. This is full and ripe Léoville Poyferré. Reminds me a little of ’09. Drink 2025-2045. 95+
Château St Pierre, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Mid depth; schist and stones; some rose petal; blackcurrant cassis beneath; has power; some eau de vie; has good chew and depth; lots of extract; bit more extracted on the palate than Léoville Poyferré at this stage; needs to settle; nice length and has fresh acidity to balance. Length here good. I think this will settle further as this property usually delivers even more than this. Drink 2028-2042. 93+
Château Château Talbot, Grand Cru Classé, St Julien, 2018
Mid depth; quite developed; little feral animal whiff at the start; less purity than the others; forward blackcurrants; soft entry; spices; olives; undergrowth; this will be an early maturing Talbot; sweet and quite silky tannins. Feels the least impressive of the St Julien’s in this line up to me. Drink 2021-2037. 89
Tags: 2018, Bdx18, Bordeaux, Chateau Beychevelle, Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Château Château Talbot, Chateau Gloria, Chateau Lagrange, Chateau Langoa Barton, Chateau Léoville Barton, Chateau Léoville Poyferré, Chateau St Pierre, Grand Cru Classé, St Estèphe, St Julien, Sue Glasgow, UGCB, Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, vin, wine