Graves and Pessac-Léognan 2018 (reds)

Noteworthy vintage

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

26 April 2019

The hotter gravely soils of this famous appellation may have been too … gravelly and hot for the vintage. Here is a case where the question of 2016 is quite relevant. In some cases, I do think that 2016 may be a better vintage than 2018, as it seems to have more aromatic freshness. But let us not quibble: many wines in 2018 are potentially great, including the two that tie for “first place”: Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, pictured above, and Château La Mission Haut Brion.

Bravo to Château Bouscaut for a fine 2018 red.

Château Chantegrive (AOC Graves) – This has weight and power and yet not heavy handed. Still, I wonder if it could have used just a bit more freshness à la 2016. 90-92

Château Ferrande (AOC Graves) – Lovely ripe nose, one of the best in memory en primeur from this estate. There is ripe fruit, and a certain austerity that augurs well – not a drying sort. Just a certain tannic edge that one would hope to have from such a young not yet bottled barrel sample. Nice. 91-93

Château Rahoul (AOC Graves) – This also shows a ripe dark fruit aspect on the nose. Licorice. Quite a hefty expression of Graves to be sure, but remaining a Bordeaux. There is some alcohol however seeping through, so the danger is that you may end up thinking that you are drinking a Napa Valley Cab , which is not a bad thing per se, but you are – you know – in the Gironde area.

Château Bouscaut – This is showing some fine sap and mid palate juice. There is dry extract galore, ripe tannins and plenty of satiny fruit. Smooth. Nice job! 92-94

Château Carbonnieux – The nose is somewhat cranberry when compared to Bouscaut tasted just before. The palate shows off some fine ripe tannin. There is a fresh iodine aspect that could be due to earlier picking here? Not bad. Give it time in bottle. 91-93

Bravo to Guillaume Pouthier for making one of the best red Graves from barrel in 2018.

Château Les Carmes Haut Brion – A top wine from the rather hot and gravely soils of the famous Pessac-Léognan appellation, as director Guillaume Pouthier pulled out all stops to maintain freshness, fermenting grapes at over 50% whole cluster and not de-leafing, so as to ensure that his grapes were not grilled by the sun. Blending 37% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot, the wine is both delectable and serious, conveying wet stone like “minerality” while being driven by juicy, ripe fruit flavors. The alcohol is somewhat low for the vintage, at 13.75, with excellent acidity to balance that. While on the higher end of the price spectrum for this category, this wine from barrel is more engaging to me than first growth Château Haut Brion, tasted the same day. 95-97

Domaine de Chevalier – Yet again terroir makes a difference in 2018, and the cooler microclimate served Domaine de Chevalier very well. The aromas exude some fresh mint and even touches of fresh eucalyptus. One of my favorite noses so far because not “obvious” and displaying “pedigree”. The tannins are refined and remind me a bit of the 2010, as there is power, here, too and quite pronounced indeed. I am not sure about the finish for the moment, as it comes across just a bit hard, but that is due to a need for aging, as the wine never seems hot or over-ripe. 94-96

Château de Fieuzal – Dark even jammy to the core fruit on the nose. It will seduce you unless you have no proclivities for seduction. The palate is smooth enough and there is a hint of headiness, but who cares! This is fun to drink. It may not make older bones, but it is really engaging. Have at it! 92-94

Château de France – You have a medium weight dimension to the ripeness, as if this were not truly 2018. But the aromas are balanced and appealing. The palate comes across as a just a tad attenuated. There is a freshness appeal for more traditionalist tasters but maybe lacks a follow through on to the finish that would satisfy your desire. 91-93

Château Haut Bailly – What a fascinating vintage for Haut Bailly. 2018 is about as far and away from, say, 2004 as one can be. What I have always loved about Haut Bailly is its freshness, refinement and elegance. And for this reason, 2018 is quite a challenge. I spent much time discussing the wine with the talented director Gabriel Vialard. He has never seen higher tannin than in 2018 (the IPT index is at 86). The pH at 3.75 is high, but the alcohol, about 14%, is not as high as in other parts of Bordeaux in 2018. Vialard stressed that fermentations were done at lower temperatures than usual to maintain freshness, and so also barrel aging now is taking place for this vintage in cooler temperatures (between 16-17 degrees as opposed to between 18 and 19), to maintain freshness in the wine as it ages. The estate is now building an underground cellar to anticipate more vintages like 2018, so that barrel aging can be more easily carried out in cooler temperatures.  It should be completed in time for the 2020 harvest. Another challenge was the mildew attack in 2018, and we discussed at length treatment options. So how is this blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and five per cent each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc? What I find here is a wine with an expected finesse, in terms of the tannins. Fine grained they are! An added benefit is the impressive depth to the palate, which impressed me and Bloomberg writer and wine author Elin McCoy, with whom I tasted the barrel sample. As much as I admire the 2018, which comes across both “intellectual” and “hedonistic”, I still wonder whether the 2016 will prove superior in terms of freshness. The estate likes to hold verticals every two years, so here is a vintage to follow, and to compare indeed. 94-96

Château Haut Bergey – This red shows ripe fruit, and a rather nuanced and almost classical impression that is about as far away from the more jammy seduction of de Fieuzal as you can get.

Château Haut Brion – The attack is smooth and exhibits ripe fruit and the mid palate has impressive opulence and density. I found myself thinking of the 2009 from barrel, nearly 10 years ago, and indeed the numbers are not too different. With Over 49% Merlot, 38.7% Cabernet Sauvignon and almost 12% Cabernet Franc, the wine has 14.6% alcohol and a pH 3.8, with moderate tannin for the vintage (72 IPT). The 2009, by comparison, had a pH of 3.84 pH. Yes, there is a 2009 aspect to this wine, and that sounds like good news, albeit with a bit more freshness, and that sounds like better news. How often do tasters underestimate the greatness of this estate? Several times, I recall liking the barrel sample, then loving it from bottle, so this may – once again – be another case. As much as I like the barrel sample, I seem to want to respect it more than love it.  At this stage, the edge goes to La Mission and you can find – as far as I am concerned – alternatives from Pessac-Léognan that are just as good if not better (Carmes) for less money in 2018. 94-96

La Mission did it for me more than Haut Brion, from barrel in 2018 😊

Château La Mission Haut Brion – A successful La Mission in 2018, that communicates both ripe fruit opulence and orange rind like freshness! Over 50% Merlot, with 42.9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3.6% Cabernet Franc, this wine clocks in at 14.4% alcohol with a 3.76 pH and 75.8 IPT. The overall impression here? A very serious wine, with ripe fruit and palate breadth and depth! The more I tried it, the more I liked it, admiring also a certain finely ground chocolate aspect on the finish that reflects the fine and smooth tannin. Tied for first place among barrel samples in 2018 from Pessac-Léognan. 95-97

Château Larrivet Haut Brion – This has nuance and freshness. A bit closed in, but time in barrel should resolve that. 91-93

Château Latour Martillac – Nice job from this estate, which usually plays the “classical” card; fine balance between ripe fruit and airy, iodine freshness. Not as dense in the mid palate as, say, Domaine de Chevalier, but a very pleasing red! There is some austerity in the finish but should be resolved with cellar aging. It is rather a “good” austerity. 92-94+

Château La Louvière – Balsamic, black olive, deep red fruit richness and this from a rather classically minded estate. The palate is medium bodied with some austerity on the finish but the mid palate is juicy and there is ripe fruit. Give it time; should be like a 1990 or 2009. 92-94

Château Malartic Lagraviere – I like the expressions of ripe red and dark fruits here. The mid palate shows depth and juiciness, but then there are ever so slightly drying aspects on the finish. Let us wait until this is bottled to be sure! 91-93

Château Pape Clement – I like the depth and the power of the wine, with ripe tannin and smoothness. Indeed, a rather foreboding style and alas some drying tannin on the finish… not sure, but the 2016 vintage came across more promising. Another one to especially revisit from bottle. 92-94

Château Olivier – A bit of oak on the nose, but the palate is better, and more refreshing than, say, Pape Clement. I like it. Indeed, tasting again and you get a sense of iodine freshness as well as ripe red and black fruit. Nice!! 92-94+

Château Picque Caillou – Strangely slightly under-ripe for a 2018? It has some freshness, however, and red fruit character, but seems stuck in a low gear. Let us see how it performs from bottle! 90-92

Easy going at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, with co-owner Daniel Cathiard and Hong Kong based wine journalist Ying Hui.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte – Blending 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, this barrel sample has a deep and dark color and exhibits aromatic depth, with dark and rich ripe fruits. There is depth on the palate as well, as is expected from this illustrious estate, and I like the smooth tannin and freshness, too! Aging in 60% new oak, which will marry well. But for me, the jury is out on whether the 2018 has the same nuance as the 2016 vintage. Assessed at both the UGCB press tastings and at the estate itself. Bravo to winemaker Fabien Teitgen for his hard work in any case to make the vintage work. Let us wait and see from bottle! 93-95

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