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St Emilion Grands Crus Classés 2018 – Part 1

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

Way back in early September the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion put on a tasting high up above London at Landing Forty Two in the remarkable Leadenhall Building. The views were impressive. So were many of the wines. Ostensibly it was an opportunity to taste the joyful 2018 vintage, but each producer also offered an additional, older vintage. This was fascinating. For me it also confirmed the superlative quality of the 2016 vintage in St Emilion, but also the quality of some of the rather unsung 2017s. In fact, there were quite a few properties to my mind that performed better in ’17 than they did in ’18 – and that was no mean feat given the challenges of the frost that so badly affected the former vintage. Given that some 45 different chateau were represented at the tasting, I’m dividing my report into two parts. This one contains notes and thoughts on some twenty-four properties [and forty-seven wines], starting with Château Barde-Haut and ending with Château Franc-Mayne [essentially half of them alphabetically].

The tasting at Landing 42, high above London

The 2018 vintage was the proverbial game of two halves. The first half was wet with the widespread threat of rot in June. Then from July until the harvest, the weather was warm and pretty dry with a few helpful passages of rain. The resulting wines were a joy to taste during primeurs in March 2019. It was a vintage that reminded me a lot of 2009, with less extraction than was the norm back then. So how have the faired now with a year or so in bottle?

Château Barde-Haut has a terrific amphitheatre-like terroir that surrounds the property. It has made impressive, rich St-Emilion in St Christophe-des-Bardes for well over a decade. The 2018 here is impressive, with freshness and nicely textured tannins. The 2014 showed beside was mature and ready to drink, even if the tannins were a bit rustic. Château Bellefont-Belcier lies on the Côte de Pavie, down the road from the highly regarded Château Larcis Ducasse and Château Pavie. I rate this property really highly. It produces wines of great purity. Recently it was purchased by the businessman Peter Kwok. The 2018 here is a silky, soft low acid wine. Attractive, but their 2016, showed alongside, is better and has more longer-term potential I reckon.

Château Bellevue is part of the portfolio of the Pradel de Lavaux and Boüard-de-Laforest families [them behind Château Angélus and others]. Bellevue is an unfailingly coquettish St Emilion, usually full to the brim with vibrant black cherry and violet tinged fruit. This appears to be a 2018 that has closed down a bit since bottling, though it eventually unfurled to show plummy Merlot fruit tones and a savoury finish. The 2013 showed beside was a strange choice. It showed mature notes of tea and spices, a success perhaps in what was one of the most dismal Bordeaux vintages in years, but this is a light, unassuming wine and seemed only more so surrounded by 2018s. Maybe they were trying to get rid of it.

Château Chauvin’s 2018 was impressive with plenty of heft and nicely handled extract. The 2015 was even better and showed very well indeed. Creamy and pure, you can tuck into this now whilst the fruit is ascendant. Château Corbin impressed too. They have made a good 2018 with lots of fruit, but it was left slightly in the shade of a very impressive 2019 they also showed, which displayed delicious fruit and texture.

Château Côte de Baleau, Château Les Grands Murailles and Clos Saint-Martin, come as a group by virtue that the winemaking and élevage being undertaken by the Cuveliers of Clos Fourtet [though the Clos St Martin property is owned by Sophie Fourcade]. These are quite different wines, but all impressed. Château Côte de Baleau 2018 was silky and voluptuous and the 2016 intense and impressive. Château Les Grands Murailles 2018 had beautifully plummy aromatics and the 2012 showed maturity but also freshness. It reminded me that 2012 was very good on the right bank, far superior than on the left, in a vintage that favoured Merlot [and compared by some in St Emilion to 1985]. Clos St Martin 2018 was opulent and attractive with plum tones and pain grillé notes. The 2017 was well made but lacked the depth by comparison.

Clos de l’Oratoire, part of the Stephan von Neipperg stable of wines, is usually wonderfully lush. Neither the 2018 or 2016 disappoint at all. The primeurs flamboyance of the ’18 [tasted first from barrel] has calmed but this bodes well in a vintage where many are maturing quite quickly. The 2016 is on song now – lots of creamy and caressing black fruits.

Clos de Jacobins impressed with both its 2018 and 2016 vintages shown. Plenty of meaty, sweet fruit was on display, with the ’16 having a little more tension and finesse. I always look forward to tasting the wines of Château de Pressac [alphabetically here on account of the ‘de’]. The 2018 was bold and intense, with freshness in the vintage context. I thought that the 2017 had greater definition, and pipped the ’18 on the day.

Château Faugères produces herbal and spicy reds, with plenty of black fruit. Again, nothing wrong at all with the 2018 and 2016 showed here. Château Fleur Cardinale was knockout at the tasting. This property usually makes lush and seductive wine and the 2018 and 2016 showed, performed really well. The ‘18 is full and meaty and the ’16 is layered and caressing but with plenty of smoky and savoury notes. It was spellbinding. This property lost almost all its 2017 owing to frost, but bottled what remained of the vintage in a series of magnums, if I remember correctly.

Two vintages from Château Fombrauge, 2018 and 2017, were not as overt as I thought they might be. The team at this Bernard Magrez owned property do look to extract the maximum they can, but the tannins management here is very good. The 2018 was a little brooding and needs a couple of years I reckon, likewise the 2017, which had layers and freshness but also felt pretty tight at present.

Château Fonplégade is owned by Denise and Stephen Adams on wonderful terroir on the limestone plateau. This property has been organic and from 2020 biodynamic. The wines are always concentrated and inky but with real finesse and verve. The 2018 and 2016 pair were amongst the most impressive wines of the tasting. The 2018 had power but was already appealing, while the 2016 was even more intense and layered.

I’m a great fan of Château Fonroque, biodynamic here for some time under Alain Moueix. The 2018 leapt from the glass, with wonderfully crystalline fruit. A beautiful wine. They also bought the 2017 with them, but this had all gone by the time I returned [I did all the 2018s first in one go]. Finally, Château Franc Mayne also looks good in 2018. Lots of methol, tar and black fruits here, bit dry on the finish but has the fruit to round out. The 2011 also shown was holding up well and felt inky, yet mature, from that topsy-turvy vintage.

The following detailed notes were taken on Monday 13th September. I must confess, that after almost 90 wines, and many at 15%+ I had to go home and lie down for a while afterwards [despite spitting them all out obviously.]. I’ll post notes on the remaining wines in a ‘Part 2’ post in the coming days.

Château Barde-Haut, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 Deep; red at edge; little reductive at first but blew off; savoury notes; more purity on the palate; nicely defined; quite refreshing and with good texture to the tannins. Textured and long finish. Lovely terroir this property has. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% alc]. Tasted September 2021. Drink now-2032. 92+

2014 Mid depth; earthy red at edge; warm, spicy notes; little dusty; slightly old Bordeaux nose; spicy, mid-weight palate; with developed notes of tobacco and herbs. Tasted September 2021. Drink now-2026. 88

Château Bellefont-Belcier, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 Mid depth; stalky and inky aromatics initially; purity comes through here though with a distinct emphasis on the fruit; fruits on the palate with a silky aspect; overall soft and seemingly low acid. A soft and easy Bellefont-Belcier. [70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc]. Tasted September 2021. Drink now-2033. 90+

2016 – Mid depth; savoury edge; has real depth and intensity to the aromatics; well-balanced palate with nice balance between the acidity and the flesh; lovely texture and this wine will age well; a little reticent overall perhaps on this showing but with lots of potential. [65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% alc]. Tasted September 2021. Drink 2024-2038. 92+

Château Bellevue, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep, purple red at edge; good depth; sturdy fruit which needs to open; unfurls eventually; perfumed merlot; soft and sweet entry; ripe; shows this still has all the ’18 qualities; silk and satin on the palate; warm and savoury finish. This was a beauty during primeurs but has crept into it’s shell a little. Needs a few years to open up, or hours in the decanter. [100% Merlot, 15% alc]. Tasted September 2021. Drink 2024-2038. 92+

2013 – Lighter colour than many; translucent at centre; some red brown at edge; lapsang souchong notes on the nose; very light palate with a soft and easy finish. A success in a dreadfully difficult vintage where red wines often taste like white wines. [100% Merlot]. Tasted September 2021. Drink now. 85

Château Chauvin, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep and dark; arterial in the glass; colour tight to the rim; layered aromatics; ripe; some molasses and fig notes; ripe and full palate, quite caressing and full; this ’18 works well in a full-throttle style; lots of extract and supple fruit; works well; low acid style. [85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc]. Tasted September, 2021. Drink now-2038. 92+

2015 – Mid depth; red at edge; maturity creeping in; some undergrowth, ceps and earthy notes; alongside plums and savoury tones; palate works well; quite creamy and pure with savoury and spice notes. Has nice balancing grip and freshness on the end. [Drink now-2030. 93

Château Clos de Sarpe, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep and arterial; rich; satin quality here; voluptuous; some liquorice and fig; ripe fruit; molasses and fig tones again; lacks a bit of zip and a little ponderous in the middle but lots of ripe fruit here. Has the bold, hedonistic, almost ‘too-much-of-a-good thing’ qualities of the vintage. [85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% alc]. Drink now-2032. 90

2014 – Deepish with red edge; brick; feels very developed; with vanilla notes. Not a 2014 that has much ahead of it on the basis of this sample. May have been slightly oxidised. Didn’t have the chance to re-taste during the session. [85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc]. Drink now. 83?

Château Corbin, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2019 – Mid depth; ripe and sturdy; feels full; black fruits; blackcurrant notes; soft entry on the palate; plums and blackcurrants; whiff of pencil shavings; nicely textured on the palate which works well. Reminds me of the sublime texture of the ’19 vintage overall. Freshness and grip on the end. Excellent. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2023-2035. 93+

2018 – Mid depth; dusty but intense ripe Merlot on the nose; works well; sweet and ripe on the palate; nicely done. Ripe and full and works well. Doesn’t quite have the textural interest of the 2019 on the palate but this is a very good 2018. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc]. Drink now-2032. 91+

Château Côte de Baleau, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; ripe and voluptuous; creamy black fruits; decadent almost; velvety palate; good texture; silky; impressive. [80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc]. Drink now-2023. 92

2016 – Healthy colour; good intensity; some earth; spices; [20% Cabernets in the blend]; nicely intense on the palate; like this a lot; has extract and texture and grip; still needs a few years but shows just how fabulously balanced and fine 2016 vintage was. [80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc]. 92+

Château Les Grands Murailles, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; tighter than Côte de Baleau and more schist; nice creamy plum note sbehind; like the purity; soft and easy in the palate; this works really well and is very satisfying; has depth and texture at the back which is missing in some of these decadent ‘18s. [100% Merlot]. Drink now-2035. 93+

2012 – Mid depth; earthy red at edge; lovely mature Bordeaux; savoury tones with mushrooms and undergrowth – very nicely done; a point; inky on the palate but with the savoury and undergrowth notes; nicely mature but not at all loose on the palate; has depth and works well. Intense finish. 2012 was really good in St Emilion, a modern day 1985 [for those of us old enough to remember those ’85 in its youth]. [100% Merlot]. Drink now-2028. 92+

Clos Saint-Martin, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; beautiful wine; really fine, pure aromatics; plums, pain grillé tones; ripe; palate has the same flavours with a savoury edge and nice texture to the palate. This works a treat and is a very attractive but also layered ’18. [75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc]. Drink now-2035. 93+

2017 – Mid depth; dark at centre; spices; some pain grillé notes; again like the plummy purity; attractive; nice fruit on the palate; leafy notes; lacks a little depth at the back; fresh though. [85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% alc]. Drink 2023-2035. 88+

Clos de l’Oratoire, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; lovely aromatic; really intense; some schist; purity; this will work well in a few years; layered but pent up; an exciting ’18 in that regard as it has yet to reveal itself; spices and plums on the palate; nicely composed and balanced; plum and chocolate notes; will work well. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 14.5% alc]. Drink 2025-2038. 92+

2016 – Mid depth; some legs; sturdy aromatics; chocolate; spices; black fruits and some leafy notes; nicely done; creamy quality to the palate; caressing and works a treat; very nicely handled wine from a good terroir in a lovely year. [80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 14.5% alc]. Drink now-2038. 93+

Clos des Jacobins, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; fresh; little dusty; fruit is there; nice palate; plums and black fruits and some pain grillé notes; this really works; lots of sweet ripe fruit with a meaty and savoury edge. Good stuff. [80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink 2023-2034. 91

2016 – Deeply coloured; mature at edge; ripe, some intensity and savoury notes; very enticing; beautiful palate which is nicely balanced; with a nice tension between the fruit and the savoury notes; creamy finish which has nice punctuation. Really good. [80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2034. 93

Château La Commanderie, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; some red fruits, sturdy; undergrowth; palate lacks a bit of depth in the middle; some notes of tea, herbs and spices. Leafy tones too. Overall lacks a bit of depth in ’18. [75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 14% alc]. Drink now-2028. 87

2016 – Mid depth; some density at core; leafy earthy notes with maturity; spices, some leather; more grip and intensity than the ’18. Has good texture to the tannins and plenty of middle. Good stuff. [75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 14% alc]. Drink now-2028. 90

Couvent des Jacobins, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; ripe, satin aromatics; open and sexy; easy palate with plenty of fruit and some texture though it feels a little loose in the middle perhaps. Nevertheless, this is attractive St Emilion and probably early maturing in this vintage. [85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot]. Drink now-2030. 89

2015 – Deep and dark; spices, herbs and black fruits; intense and layered; still quite pent up and, perhaps unlike the ’18, will evolve well; savoury palate with black fruits and herbs again; his attractive texture and depth. Works really well overall. [85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot]. Drink now-2025. 91+

Château Dassault, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; deep at core; spices; sturdy aromatics; some tarry notes; silky palate which is easy and open; lacks depth compared to the best; has texture on the finish though. [65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2028. 87

2016 – Deep; dark central core; inky an Cabernet influenced nose; savoury and creamy notes; impressive aromatics; lively and well-balanced palate; savoury; will improve over the next 5 years but has fine texture and the fruit is good. Such a lovely vintage 2016. [65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2032. 92+

Château Faurie de Souchard, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; deep centre; spicy and fresh; camphor; palate is easy and soft; lacks a bit of focus; overall lacks complexity but is enjoyable enough. Loose finish. [70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2032. 87

2016 – Deep and dark; deep centre; savoury and intense; plenty of cabernet influence here; inky; has lots of fruit and evident structure; like this; chocolate on the finish. [70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2032. 90+

Château de Ferrand, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 Mid depth; less concentrated looking than some; little inert at first; fresh palate; quite gutsy; lacks finesse; rather rustic palate which remains tight on the finish. Quite tannic and a little extracted in feel. [82% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink 2023-2032. 86

2016 Mid depth; some intensity; with more substance than the ’18; fruit and depth to the palate with nice texture and structure. [82% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now – 2032. 88

Château de Pressac, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Bold colour; intense aromatics; camphor, liquorice; spices; ripe plums; little tight overall; nicely composed wine on the palate; plenty of fruit; well balanced; freshness here which is good to see in the vintage context; ripe tannins on the end. I’d expect this to fill out further and merit a higher score. Drink 2023-2033. 90+

2017 – Good colour; some intensity on the nose; grip and structure more evident on the palate with greater definition than their ’18. Freshness on the finish. Feels better than ’18 to me. Drink 2022-2035. 91+

Château Destieux, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep; red at edge; legs; lifted aromatics; plums and sweetness; liquorice note; some eau de vie; nice depth; sweet ripe fruit with some elements of spice and leather showing some maturity already; firm finish – lacks the flesh of some. [66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now -2030. 88

2016 – Deep; lifted aromatics; red fruits; initially soft and easy on the palate but this shows considerable extract and ‘middle’ which appears hidden at first; ink on the finish with chocolate notes. Full. [66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2030. 89+

Château Faugères, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Glossy looking; fresh and alive in the glass; legs; savoury and spicy aromatics to begin with; has intensity; layered; ink and iodine; palate clean and pure; textured and nicely composed; some tannin and matter on the finish that gives a solid finish. Will settle over the next few years. Nicely done ’18 this. [85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink 2023-2035. 92

2016 – Deep core; herbal and intense; defined; earth; leather; black fruits and smoky tea notes; easy entry on the palate; this is drinking nicely already; balanced and enjoyable with low acidity and warmth on the finish. [85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink now-2034. 91

Château Fleur Cardinale, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Bold colour; saturated looking; meaty nose with a peaty quality; full; meat and savoury notes continue on the palate with some coffee and mocha notes; black cherry; plenty of chew on the palate with extract; needs a bit of time but this wine has plenty of extract and matter. Should be very impressive in 3-5 years. [76% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2023-2038. 93+

2016 – Deep and dark at centre; more pent up and intense than the ’18; obvious depth and layers; strong wine with a smoky and savoury edge; lovely palate; really caressing but also has complexity; spices, tobacco and leather notes alongside the black fruit tones; texture on the finish. Terrific stuff from an outstanding St Emilion. [76% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon]. Drink 2024-2040. 94+

Château Fombrauge, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep; purple edge; some legs; little reticent at first; closed and a little brooding on the day; palate has nice texture with supple fruit and firmness on the finish. Extract and matter on the end, but the tannins are supple and very ripe. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2023-2033. 92+

2017 – Deep at core; solid colour; little unyielding aromatics at first; opens up in the glass; pure fruit tones; layers emerge; bright palate with good fruit and sweet tannins; this works well; has freshness too – ’17 is an excellent vintage in St Emilion. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2024-2035. 91

Château Fonplégade, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; plums, black cherry; richly fruited; nice purity and clear precise aromatics; again plummy black fruits on the palate; really caressing. This is nicely handled. Love the purity. Could do with a further 5 years in bottle to open up further but give this an hour or two in a decanter now and it will be very appealing. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2023-2038. 93+

2016 – Deeply coloured; attractive aromatics; spices, some camphor; intense savoury note which is attractive; opens up really well although there is real depth here and the wine has multiple layers; easy entry on the palate; nicely handled tannins; some spice and tobacco notes; textured and savoury. Excellent wine. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink now -2040. 94+

Château Fonroque, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Mid depth; red at edge; legs; very crystalline fruit; leaps from the glass – vivacious and exuberant; plums, menthol; spices; savoury notes too; complex; satisfying and full on the palate; round tannins with some extract on the end. Great stuff. 93

Château Franc Mayne, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé.

2018 – Deep; schisty notes; has substance on the nose; some tar, menthol; black fruits; like this; unfurling nicely in the glass; nice extract on the palate; sweetness of the fruit is balanced by the extract and texture; has settled well; little dry on the finish but this will round out. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2023-2035. 92+

2011 – Deep at core; reddy brown at edge; mature aromatics; tobacco, spices and savoury notes; palate soft and nicely handled; inky but the mature notes continue on the palate; nice grip on the finish. [90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. Drink now-2026. 90

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