It’s always difficult to generalise about the wines in St Emilion, such are the complexities of terroir and the variations of winemaking and viticultural approaches. Still, I think it’s pretty safe to say that 2020 is another exciting vintage here in the heart of the right bank. In terms of the broader overview, alcohols are down slightly on the heady numbers in 2019, and it feels as if there is greater freshness in the 2020s than in the last couple of years. These wines feel well balanced and delicious in this vintage, with attractive textures and supple creamy tannins. On the best limestone and clay-limestone terroirs the wines are fabulous. The summer was dry, and conditions were even drier here than on the left bank. Some properties on sandier soils may have run into trouble with vine stress but generally I was very impressed by the wines here at this early stage. The following post contains notes on forty châteaux. It’s slightly less comprehensive than usual and I hope to fill in some of the gaps with further tastings over the coming months.
Posts Tagged ‘Chateau Rol Valentin’
For a second year running trips to Bordeaux have been complex. Once again, the châteaux have been sending barrel samples. Of course, there are concerns about the air freighted wines being in top notch condition when they arrive. It’s a compromise. For me, better to taste and exercise your judgement, than not taste anything at all. So there are caveats to reviewing Bordeaux these days, but given this, what does 2020 look like? The heat and drought of the summer, combined with varying quantities of rain at the end of the growing season, have resulted in a generally impressive vintage. Overall it is a good partner to 2018 and 2019, and marks a trio of fine vintages. On the basis of the few hundred wines I’ve tasted it’s the least consistent of the three. In general, it doesn’t have the coquettishness of 2018, nor the excitement and magnificent texture of the 2019s. It does have plenty of substance, the fruit is generally supple, the tannins creamy, and alcohols that are a tad lower than the last couple of years. But 2020 seems a more heterogenous vintage than the two before it, so it is not as straightforward to understand as those seemed. There is a hollowness to some and a lack of aromatics in others. Prices are slowly being released. You’d certainly not want to be paying more than you did for your 2019s. Ideally, given the economic uncertainty, and the volume of fine Bordeaux available in bottle, savvy châteaux should be selling this at a decent discount to make sense of an en primeur purchase.
There is no doubt that 2019 is an excellent vintage in St Emilion. There are many fabulous wines displaying beautiful fruit, concentration and supple tannins. Alcohols are high – fifteen degrees is not uncommon – but many wines still retain surprising freshness. With potentially high tannin levels, the foot has been held off the gas in the cellar by many properties, showing a more nuanced approach to winemaking here than perhaps a decade ago. It shows how the heady days of over-extraction appear to be behind us in the appellation. If 2019 doesn’t quite have the exuberance of 2018, or the heavenly balance of 2016, it could be seen as a hypothetical blend of the two, or a combination of 2009 and 2010, but without the late picking and extractive practices that characterized that period.
There are some excellent wines in St Emilion this year. While the 2017 vintage will always be remembered for the severe April frost, unlike 1991, that other frost affected year, there are a great many impressive wines in the appellation [and the same could never be said for ‘91]. Still the frost has created inconsistency, affecting the blends of some, reducing the volumes for many, and wiping out vineyards for others. Interestingly critic Antonio Gallioni has called 2017 a right bank year. Certainly many of the top wines here are really good, friendlier perhaps that the correct reds on the left bank, even though the left bankers technically profited more from the growing season. Yet as Cyrille Thienpont at Pavie Macquin pondered, ‘It is not really a case of left bank versus right this year, or Merlot versus Cabernet, more a question of which terroirs performed best.”