Margaux 2018 from barrel

by Panos Kakaviatos for

26 April 2019 

As a vast appellation, Margaux can be heterogenous in quality. 2018 is no exception. In many ways, however, it resembles the successful 2015 vintage. I feel that the acidity was slightly better in 2015, but the best wines from 2018 from Margaux are great. On the other hand, as I noted in my introduction, I may have over-estimated perhaps 2015 and under-estimated 2016, for the freshness of this latter vintage. In any case, some of my favorites from this vintage are in Margaux. As usual, wines in bold, I like in particular. When red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too, a potential wine nirvana – to be confirmed from bottle!

Château Angludet – Tasted at the press gathering of the UGCB, there is a certain plant vegetal on the nose. But I like the freshness on the palate, and do not mind the plant aspect which gets more floral. This is Margaux, n’est-ce pas? 90-92

Château Brane Cantenac – An enveloping floral aromatic profile. Indeed, floral aromatic intensity! Very “Brane” in a ripe vintage, and it reminds me of their superb 2010. The palate may not be quite as bold as in that vintage, but I like the nuance and relatively soft, elegant tannin, all enveloping the ripe fruit and juiciness, too. Now, that is very Margaux. At the UGCB tasting. 94-96

Château Cantenac Brown – More understated than the Brane above, this has however a refined chocolate powder aspect. I like the elegance overall, with lots of nuanced sheen. The preceding wine shows more dimension however. In any case, soft spoken and refined Margaux. And what’s not to like! Time in glass brings out more floral. Barrel aging will fill it out. At the UGCB tasting. 93-95

Château Dauzac – A bit too much modern sheen, with evident oak derived aromatics. The palate has structure and density, but it lacks enough Margaux charm that is so much more evident in the preceding wine, for example. Time in bottle … 90-92

Château Desmirail – I think clients of this wine really like oak staves. The palate is better and in fact the best in recent years, but the finish dries a bit from oak derived tannin. There is potential here… but not realized this year. 87-90

Château Giscours – Nuanced nose here, subtle. About as far and away from Desmirail and Dauzac as you can get. The palate is solid, with a certain elegance although not reaching the heights of Brane Cantenac or Cantenac Brown. A certain toughness to the tannin: could it be the dry heat and on gravel with ensuing water stress? 92-94

Château Kirwan – I like the nose here for burgeoning complexity. Floral and fruit elements. The palate is ripe and smooth, but not as deep and long as say the 2015 vintage. Still, the finish (signature by Philippe Delfaut) shows lift and no drying elements. 92-94

Château Labegorce – This is a solid wine, somewhat like Angludet but a touch bigger and riper. It lacks just a bit of elegance, and I catch some drying oak derivation. 2014 was more exciting en primeur, but this is very good. 90-92

Château Lascombes – Appealing, dark fruit ripeness on the nose. Excellent floral aromatics! The palate shows concentration and ripe fruit. While the days of über excessive oaky aspects are gone (thank goodness), there is somewhat imposing, ever so slightly drying tannin on the finish that detracts. 91-93

Château Malescot St Exupery – Best nose in a while. Floral indeed. This is really gorgeous on the nose: distinct floral aromatics, like a fresh spring bouquet. The palate is clean and focused and the tannins finely grained and not so drying like the preceding wine. 94-96

Château Margaux* – Blending 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 4% each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, director Philippe Bascaules said selection was key, and his team decided to reduce the percentage of the first wine from 40% to 36% to make prices higher. Just kidding. I tasted the wines just before 1 April, 😊 … Actually, he explained that “fairly early in the winemaking, we understood that some of the vats were too tannic in expression (too tannic for Margaux elegance), and so we reduced the percentage of first wine to 36% of the harvest”. Why, “too tannic” you may be thinking? In addition to mildew challenges, Bascaules also brought up water stress, due to the lack of rain in the summer. He said that he had “never seen” such water stress before in his career: Typically water stress affects younger vines, but in 2018 “even 15 year old vines were affected”, he said, and it seems that the well-drained gravely soils may have been the most susceptible. And why water retaining clay not so much, as having been able to hold on to the rains earlier in the year. Then again, clay soils tended to yield more mildew, Bascaules explained, so was it between cholera and plague? No, not really, considering that yields at Château Margaux proved a very respectable 31 hectoliters per hectare.

Superb Château Margaux

In any case, Château Margaux clocks in at 14% alcohol, and registers an IPT index of 83, which is quite high, but not highest ever at this estate. I loved the pure expression of fruit and almost sweet herbs that came forth with time in glass. Lots of depth and subtle power to the wine, but never armored in any way, as I was expecting, given Bascaules tannins talk. As at Palmer, we have a Meisterwerk carried out by Margaux Meisters, so not such a surprise, eh? In the silly contest between these top two Margaux, I give the slight edge to Château Margaux because it seems to bank more on nuance and elegance, but the styles are decidedly different. 96-98+

Château Marquis de Terme – This is showing a lovely profile overall! Reminds me a bit of the Cantenac Brown in its delicacy, albeit more brownie like. There is a refined nature to the wine, and with time in barrel, any somewhat harder tannin will soften. The overall feeling is of an elegant, floral and ripe fruit driven wine. 92-94

Château Monbrison – More a caricature as compared to the above, lacks the same finesse and breed, with tannins that lack enough finesse to be really exciting. Somewhat tough tannins on the finish. 88-90

Château Palmer – No Alter Ego this year, as Palmer lost much of its potential harvest to the terrible mildew of 2018. The acidites are rather low but alcohol, with 40% Merlot in the blend, clocks in rather low, too (for the vintage), at 14.3%. Deep aromatics of cassis and plum prepare the taster for a wine of profound density and somewhat foreboding tannins. Director Thomas Duroux says that the wine may well shut down, as it is “the most powerful we have ever made”. So, in a sense, this is even more Pauillac with Margaux, but make no mistake, there is elegance to the wine. Aging in 70% new oak. 95-97+

Pavillon Rouge – Higher alcohol lots went into this second wine of Château Margaux so alcohol is higher at 14.5% and it has more Merlot in the blend at 19%, but what is interesting is the high 9% proportion of Mr. Petit Verdot! Rounded out with 3% Cabernet Franc and the taster experiences a rather fresh and deep wine, as well, although not as long and dense as its bigger brother. Really a lovely second wine in 2018. The impression one gets is a mix between the structure of 2005 and the opulence of 2009. 92-95

Château Prieuré Lichine – This is a more outspoken version of the Marquis, tasted in the same three-wine flight. And I like it! Has personality and vigor, while remaining overall quite elegant and poised. Floral and ripe fruit. Give it time in barrel, but it is already rather pleasing to drink. Very floral! 92-94+

Château Rauzan Gassies – The aromatics not as expressive as either the Lichine or the Marquis de Terme. The palate displays a Pauillac aspect, rather full and somewhat imposing, but I like the ripe tannins and it comes across as one of the very best en primeur experiences I have had from this estate, long considered an under performing second growth. It is a solid Margaux, and better than some cru bourgeois level wines tasted today, but not worthy of its high official rating. 90-93

Château Rauzan Segla – Elegant and smooth (this is Margaux, for Pete’s Sake). It is an opulent wine to be sure, with refined tannins. I like the wine’s reassuring grip and freshness, but the balance – at 14+% alcohol and 3.8 pH (low acidity) is not quite as “fresh” as 2016, where the pH is 3.6 and the alcohol 13.5. And there is more Merlot than usual. Indeed, director Nicolas Audebert said that his “best vat” from the 2018 vintage was Merlot. The wine blends 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 2% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. 94-96

Rauzan-Ségla director Nicolas Audebert is justifiably happy about his 2018.

Château Siran – There is a certain floral aspect to the nose here that appeals, but the tannins are just a bit raw. Not as successful to be sure as the 2015. 90-92+

Château du Tertre – Suave delivery here. Again a floral aspect that is perhaps more pronounced than in the Giscours, under the same ownership and management. Also the palate shows more substance. Really like the mid palate sap and elegance overall. Did the cooler more inward terroir prove perhaps a better match to the dry heat of the 2018 vintage? 92-94+

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2 Comments on “Margaux 2018 from barrel

  1. I heard Durfort is another freak of a vintage(ie.Pamer) Any opinions?

    • I need to get second hand feedback on that estate as well, as it was not part of the UGCB tastings, and I did not have the time to visit it. One comment to make: estates that do not include their samples for media tastings are making it much harder for most people who travel to Bordeaux to assess the wines. We cannot go to each and every château … end of rant 😁.

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