Fine signs for Bordeaux 2019

Let’s start with some top Cru Bourgeois

By Panos Kakaviatos for

15 July 2020

As you may recall, back in May, I dubbed Bordeaux 2019 the COVID19 vintage.

That was not meant to decry quality, but rather to set context. And as I wrote back then, my intention was not to add hype, but take time to taste when I could, as the official tastings in late March and early April had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

As we know, many other things were cancelled, vulnerable people died, including my own mother, and we are still grappling with COVID19 today: in some countries it is still wreaking much havoc.

Unlike some of my fellow writers and tasters, I avoided having hundreds of wines delivered to my home during the quarantine in France. Partly because I felt that so much hype exists already around nearly every vintage of Bordeaux, so why rush to taste this year in the terrible COVID19 situation? I still believe that less hype and a more questionable economy has contributed to welcome lower pricing.

En Primeur campaign “reawakens” demand 

By all accounts, the Bordeaux 2019 en primeur campaign has been going quite well. No doubt you have read plaudits from critics, with many high-90s scores. Liv-Ex, the global marketplace for the wine trade, recently issued a report claiming that the Bordeaux 2019 campaign has “grabbed the market’s attention in a time of great uncertainty and considerable financial stress”. Combining scores of notable critics, “2019 is the highest scoring vintage (on average) of the past 15 years”. So you can sleep tight tonight: you will find plenty of 96-98s and even 98-100s or even “100+” scores and incentives to buy the next “vintage of the century”. When Château Pichon Longueville Baron was released, for example, last month, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW had such effusive praise to score above a potential 100 points for that wine, initially proposing a range of “97–100+”, concluding: “This is an absolutely beguiling expression that is classic Pauillac and yet it is Pauillac like no other”, as published in this Liv-Ex report from last month. I could expound more on why I think the 100 point scale is generally suffering from inflationary pressure, but that will be the subject of a future text. Suffice to say, the scale no longer reflects its original purpose. An 89 point wine, for example, and as you can read below in my notes, is a darn good score. But now that is considered by too many to be sub par. Basically, the “100 point scale” has been reduced to anything 95 and above to sell wine, many merchants tell me. WTF!

Back to the 2019 campaign : These times of “great uncertainty” have resulted in average price cuts of 21%, enough to “reawaken” demand and to “rebuild faith” in the system, as big brands were often more fairly priced than the second and third tier wines, so reports Liv-Ex. Recall the superb opening price of Château Pontet Canet, for example. I bought some of that, too. With lower prices, the wines will move.

Liv-Ex noted that unlike recent campaigns, this one has developed an active secondary market – “so active that the 2019 vintage has been leading Bordeaux trade by value in recent weeks, and for the first time in years, several wines are now selling at a premium to release,” the report claims.

When I visited Bordeaux last month for a weeklong visit – mainly for an article unrelated to Bordeaux 2019 to be published in Decanter Magazine later this year – I tasted at Châteaux Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and Montrose, as well as Domaine de Chevalier and Château La Louvière, to get a sense of the vintage. I also accepted a kind offer for mailing wines of Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. and via video conference with director Philippe Dhalluin, I tasted Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Clerc Milon, Château d’Armailhac and Aile d’Argent. Incidentally, he announced his retirement to me last month over lunch, and here is the story about that.

Finally last month, I tasted scores of highly rated Bordeaux barrel samples at a trade tasting held not so far from Strasbourg, in Wiesbaden, Germany. These and other tasing notes will be published within the next 14 days, so keep an eye out for your emails. Hint: many barrel samples proved indeed excellent 😉.

Lifting boats

A good sign of a successful vintage is when lesser known wines excel, to be interpreted as vintage quality lifting more boats.

Although I cannot offer a comprehensive picture of 2019, not yet at least, with enough representative samples, one can grasp a sense of the vintage.

We should all know by now that the official Cru Bourgeois moniker no longer includes such famous brands as Châteaux Sociando Mallet, de Pez, Ormes de Pez, Phélan Ségur, Potensac and others. But its 2020 classification helps guide us to the “cream of the officially recognized crop”. I was happy to have accepted some 14 barrel-samples from the Cru Bourgeois Alliance, including elite Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels, the highest level of the classification out of 249 estates ranked.

Cru Bourgeois tasting notes 

While one bottle was faulty, the rest were of very high quality. And tasted in June means that the barrel sample had more time to integrate oak components. For that reason, I find it more interesting to assess barrel samples in June. My notes reflect tastings over a period of several days: an advantage in having barrel samples sent to you. As usual, wines in bold I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more.

Château Fonréaud Listrac Médoc Cru Bourgeois Supérieur – Rich and dark fruit on the nose. Réglisse and oak derivation, nicely integrated, with juicy plum fruit on the palate and lacy tannins. Bright finish, ripe cherry aspects. Medium plus length. 89

Château Lestage Listrac Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – More immediately oak driven and not quite as elegant a nose as the preceding wine. A bit of salty freshness on the end palate: cool, smooth and interesting. Maybe a bit finer on the palate, with finer tannins, but I am troubled just a tad by the amount of oak. With time in glass, the power of the Lestage “wins” for greater density, as compared to the Fonréaud. 89+

Chateau Biston-Brillette Moulis Cru Bourgeois Supérieur – Suave nose, ripe fruit, plum and more strawberry than cherry. The palate is juicy and rather on the lighter side of things. It has tannic structure, with ripe fruit and a nice, iodine like finish. A bit less character than the preceding wines? Simpler as compared to the preceding wines. But it grows on you. 89 😊

A pair of fine Margaux rated Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel

Chateau d’Arsac Margaux Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Refined nose, elegant. Spicy oak derived notes combined with floral. Cherry pit, too. Quite tannic on the palate, but shows character: red fruit character and ripe. Ripe raspberry. A note again of freshness on the finish. If tannic, one senses a finer grain. 91

Château Paveil de Luze Margaux Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Even better than the above, more expansive on the nose and you have almost a jammy note of strawberry. The palate packs more punch than the preceding wine, but still quite refined, maybe a bit Pauillac-like. Strongest barrel sample so far for structure and for aging combined with elegance. Riper, and it showed even better over the next few days. 92

Château d’Agassac Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – A high tone on the nose. A bit of toast and chocolate notes, coming from the oak barrel. The palate is croquant, and a bit metallic, but with energy and freshness. Lovely notes of red ripe fruit, with hints of cut herbs for freshness on the finish. 90

Château Charmail Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Liqueur de cerise noir, dense in its expression of fruit: beautiful! Very agreeable and balanced. Smooth, refined, and a very belle structure tannique, very cassis à fond! This is gorgeous and velvety, a finish that is smooth and certainly with tannic power but in a velvet glove. 92+

Château Belle-Vue Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Nose is very deep and fruit driven. Enveloping nose of dark red fruits. A bit of oak derived notes as well, along with confected fruit reflecting a solar vintage. Impressive structure on the palate, even a bit raw at this stage. Give it 3-5 years of cellaring and I will likely grade it higher. 91

Château Cambon La Pelouse Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Noble nose! Maybe the most noble so far. Creosote, acidulated freshness, forest strawberry, coulis de fruits rouge. The palate has true iodine freshness and refinement, with smooth tannins that have charpente tout de meme. An overall favorite! A brilliant wine in the making, methinks and its “exceptional” moniker well earned, especially as my impression was confirmed when tasted again in Wiesbaden as part of the Crus et Domaines de France tasting: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. 14% alcohol and a pH of 3.69. 92+

Château Arnauld Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Dark red fruit, like the aromas coming from pressed black cherry skins, thoroughly enveloping, with some toasted notes, but subtle. A rich and dense palate, but less tannic austerity than other samples here, and richer than Cambon La Pelouse, but not as subtle. More cherry skin juiciness on the palate. Texture is enveloping and round. 91+

The advantage of at home samples: one can assess them over time, and with food, too. Lovely roast chicken pairing with three favorites.

Château de Malleret Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois ExceptionnelFruit rouge albeit a bit metallic. It conveys refined elegance, but not with the same “back up” as, say, Cambon La Pelouse. 90

Château Malecasse Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Black fruit but more reticent on the nose than some of the others. A bit of wet stone that is neither oak nor fruit, but the wine itself! Lovely, subtle fruit driven notes: really juicy on the palate. An opulence, with tannic edge. A bit heady, on the finish. Tasted over next few days, and it held up nicely. 91+

Château du Taillan Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Sample flawed.

Château Lilian Ladouys Saint Estèphe Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel – Rich, opulent nose. Strawberry and plum fruit, la baie du mur, with smooth and juicy texture. Really good stuff, not among the most potentially complex, but very good.  There is a tannic edge to this that reflects the image of Saint Estèphe and that is a good sign. Juicy finish. Maybe not as “complete” as Charmail or quite as nuanced as Cambon. 91





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