Pauillac 2018

Power and refinement

By Panos Kakaviatos for

24 January 2021

Pauillac boasts some excellent wines in this vintage, some in my Top Ten. As said in the intro text, in many cases 2016 (and even 2019) may outshine 2018 in the longer run. However, some estates were capable to tirer son épingle du jeu, as the French say, and “rise to the occasion” to rival not only 2019, but also 2016. As with Saint Julien, I tasted fine Pauillacs blind at Château Pedesclaux with Jane Anson and Yohan Castaing. I also tasted – non blind – Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Duhart Milon, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Pontet Canet, Châteaux Batailley and Lynch Moussas at the respective estates (the latter two also in the blind tasting). In addition, Châteaux Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac at the offices of the Bordeaux Wine Council, during which we spoke with Jean Emmanual Danjoy, who is taking over direction of the estates of Baron Philippe de Rothschild from Philippe Dhalluin.

First Wines of Pauillac 2018 in bottle (some tasted blind, others at the estates) 

Château d’Armailhac – Clocking in at 14.5% alcohol, this blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot is both ripe and tannic. Pretty much as from barrel, the aromas are clean and pure, the palate smooth and even lacy, with underlying Pauillac grip. As the quality of the harvest improves at this estate, the percentage of new oak is increasing. Not too long ago, it was only about one-third, but for 2018, the wine aged in 50% new oak. Sure, there is some imposing tannin on the finish, but in a good way, meaning that you can cellar this with confidence. Excellent wine! Tasted at the CIVB offices of Bordeaux. 94

Château Batailley – Bravo! My range from barrel was 91-93 and in bottle it is firmly at the upper end of that scale, and then some. Although the nose starts out a bit closed, time in glass reveals both ripe red fruit and graphite. Rather a mouthful of wine on the palate, with 2018 “fire in the belly” and power. Yes, perhaps some vague hints of oak-derived tannin (it was aged in 60% new oak), but overall the wine delivers depth and power. Indeed, impressive density and I also very much like the orange-peel freshness on the finish to this blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and the rest Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol. Tasted blind with a series of other Pauillacs and at the estate, with similar notes. Excellent job! 94

After lunch at Château Batailley

Château Clerc Milon – Lovely wine, very pristine and focused and there is true elegance here. There is a bit of tannic austerity, but in a good sense. The terroir has more clay than at d’Armailhac (under the same ownership), so it does better in hot vintages and it shows here. Certainly the aromatics of Clerc Milon in 2018 are cooler than that of the d’Armailhac in 2018. I get the feeling of slightly better freshness and a more spherical aspect, approaching the level of the grand 2016 vintage. “In 2016, we had more acidity, and there was a bit more tobacco”, remarked director Emmanuel. Whereas 2018 brings forth a “much riper and a more ‘modern’ aspect.” But I like this because it really is never “too modern” and you get refinement and density. Indeed, fellow taster Yohan Castaing prefers it to the 2016. For me, it will be fascinating to compare the two over the next 10 years! The blend includes 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, more than in the 2010 vintage, and so interesting to note that alcohol in 2018 clocks in at 14.1% as compared to 14.3% in 2010, which had a higher percentage of Merlot. 95+

The excellent Clerc Milon among the line up from Baron Philippe de Rothschild, as tasted in Bordeaux at the CIVB

Château Croizet Bages – Tasted blind. Displays red and dark fruit notes, some powdered chocolate and graphite. A far better showing than from barrel. In any case, this blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot that aged 12 months in 50% new oak clocks in at 14.5% alcohol. The palate is supple and displays fine structure over which one gets a sense of smooth tannin. Quite nice indeed. 92+

Château Duhart Milon – Tasted at Château Lafite Rothschild. The best wine ever produced, remarked director Eric Kohler during the barrel tastings, and it certainly is the most flamboyant Duhart Milon from barrel that I could recall ever tasting. And so it is from bottle. Clocking in at 14.1% alcohol, the blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot gives off very ripe red and black fruit, with a Merlot dominating aroma of ripe plum at this baby stage. There is depth to the palate, with a strong sense of power, yet also refined, which is how it was from barrel. You do get a “fire in the belly” aspect from the vintage with low acidity and a higher pH (3.84) than from the second wine, Moulin de Duhart, which I appreciate almost more for a “classical” approach. 94+

Château Grand Puy Ducasse – Tasted blind. Not sure what is up here but the barrel sample was not as inspiring when compared to its Pauillac peers and the same goes in bottle. First the good news: you have tannic power here for longevity, to be sure. And there is ripe fruit, no doubt about that. What is missing is just that extra dimension of refinement that one should expect from a cru classé. 89

Blind tasting at Château Pedesclaux

Château Grand Puy Lacoste – Tasted blind. Alas, this particular sample came across rather disjointed, and I could not get past a feeling that something was not quite right. Note reserved and will look to try in early 2021. Faulty Sample

Château Haut Bages Monpelou – Considered by some as a “cru bourgeois” level wine, but not formally part of the Cru Bourgeois Alliance, this wine has always been a bit under the radar but shows well, and 2018 is no exception. Under the same Casteja Family ownership of Château Batailley, this estate includes plantings once part of Château Duhart Milon. It is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. and shows off much character, and has a robust aspect. Maybe a bit tight now, but I like the quality of the tannin, and it comes across a bit more supple than the Château Beau Site, which I also liked, as tasted at Château Batailley. 92+

Château Haut Batailley – Tasted blind. I have always liked this wine and it again proves its appeal in 2018. This has certain graphite aromas, and the palate a more supple aspect, measured and balanced. Not as “fiery” as some preceding wines, not quite as dense as, say, the Baron, but oh so very balanced, well put well together, and suave is the word to use. After having aged 14 months in French oak barrels (60% new), this blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Merlot reveals a fine tannic structure, but with polish. A classy Pauillac that seems very “Saint Julien”. 95

Director Eric Kohler of Château Lafite Rothschild

Château Lafite Rothschild* – I was so excited from barrel, and I remain so from bottle. While it does not quite excite as much as, say, Cheval Blanc or Léoville Las Cases, the estate falls into the Top Ten. Why? Very supple and subtle aromas, refined and precise with graphite and burgeoning tobacco aspects. Supple and elegant and there is a very classic sense to this wine that defies the vintage. Indeed, I agree with the literature, insofar as managing to demonstrate “extraordinary potential while at the same time keeping its balance and elegance”. The blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot clocks in at just under 13.5% alcohol, with a 3.75 pH and 3.7 acidity. The overall result is something akin to 2016: Quite a feat. Polish, polish, polish, and in a good sense. The second wine, Carruades, is lovely, but lacking the same length. 98

Château Lynch Bages – Tasted blind and somehow I guessed … Lynch Bages (while not guessing so well with the others, 😂). And, by golly, it comes along strong in bottle. The slight austerity of the tannin is gone, replaced by tannic power and edge, but smoother. And you get floral and dark red fruit aromatics, the cassis to be sure from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is pleasingly expressive, with a palate of density and excellent length. I get the feeling that this blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot that was aged 18 months in 75% new oak is a younger version of the 1990. A great wine. 96+

Château Lynch Moussas – Hats off to the Casteja family for crafting two fine Pauillacs in 2018, although Lynch Moussas takes a back seat to the Batailley. Initially austere, the wine later displays nuance and some sweet fruit, with juiciness and veritable “drinkability” on the palate. I like the overall elegance, but it lacks the density of some of the other Pauillacs. 92

Hard not to just love Mouton in 2018

Château Mouton Rothschild*: Utterly gorgeous wine, a Top Ten to be sure: the 100% new oak is well integrated with 3.7 acidity lending freshness, verve and tonicity. As at other estates this year, less pumping over and more care so as to avoid too much tannic extraction, and the proof in bottle surpassed my expectations from barrel. The blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc included “highest ever” alcohol content for Cabernets that director Philippe Dhalluin had seen, at 13.8%. But here the balance works so well, with much impressive density and power, and the expected seduction from this estate! Lots of deep, dark ripe fruit, blackberry and dark cherry, with graphite and black tea. Very expressive indeed. The barrel aging has calmed things down a bit and we have a wine that is not as imposing as it was from barrel but with plenty of cellaring potential. 98+

Château Pedesclaux – Tasted blind. A property that is only getting better as the years pass, and 2018 offers more proof in  bottle. Blending 56% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, it exudes a gorgeous nose with refined elegance on the palate, and this coming from the hottest year since … 1900. The palate communicates nuance, refinement and power. From barrel, I questioned whether it could stand up to the 2016. It does. Bravo! 94+

The ever gorgeous estate of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Château Pichon Longueville Baron – As has been said of other wines, this estate reported its highest-ever alcohol, with just over 14%. But the blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot exudes subtle depth and polish. Aged in at least 80% new oak (but not 100), initial toasty notes give way to vivid, ripe dark and red berry fruit with tannins refined and smooth. As the wine sits in glass the classic Pauillac pencil lead becomes more noticeable, and so is the impressive density and very long finish with lift. Hurrah! 97

Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – Tasted blind. From barrel a tour de force that rivaled some of the First Growths I had tried from barrel. And, yes, I love this blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot as well from bottle. Aged judiciously in 50% new oak, the rather high 14% alcohol did not leach too many oak derived tannins so that the wine tasted – not a surprise – gorgeously fresh! Considering the rather high pH of 3.85, and one has a noteworthy success for this solar vintage. Although in the series tasted blind, this particular bottle came across a tad closed, and I would have liked to have spent more time with it. The Comtesse nevertheless is a wine of great elegance and finesse, with refined tannin and much depth. The palate has underlying power, with expected freshness on a long finish. A truly interesting comparison to make with 2019 and 2016. Buy a case to compare! 97

With Alfred Tesseron of Château Pontet Canet

Château Pontet Canet – Tasted non blind at the estate with owners Alfred Tesseron and daughter Justine. There is a true grace about this wine, much purity, also exuding intriguing notes of white pepper with more typical cassis and bright fruit. Sadly very low yields as the 2018 mildew eliminated much of the potential harvest here: the estate is 100% organic and thus – like Château Palmer – suffered more than most because of the mildew. I count it as an excellent Pontet Canet. 96

Blind tasting at Château Pedesclaux of “second wines”: a selection  

Fleur de Pedeslcaux (the second wine of Château Pedesclaux) – I like the ripe fruit on the nose and finesse of tannin. The mid palate has sap and power, although it comes across just a tad short on the finish. 88

Echo de Lynch Bages (the second wine of Château Lynch Bages) – There is a certain power to this wine that reflects Pauillac and I like some of the freshness on the finish. 87

Reserve de la Comtesse (second wine of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande) – I enjoyed the freshly cut lawn on the nose, revealing airy freshness and the palate is both ripe and smooth. Quite a fine wine! Medium finish. 91+

Alias de Croizet Bages (second wine of Château Croizet Bages) – This proved to surprise me the most. Smooth and suave on the palate, with ripe enough tannins as well as a foreboding nature to the tannin that shouts Pauillac. Not too shabby! 89

Griffons de Baron (associated with Château Pichon Longueville Baron) – Pauillac power, the most you get among the second wines tasted blind, in fact. And ripe fruit. A wine that demands aging. Just a tad austere at this “baby” stage. 90

Lion de Batailley (second wine of Château Batailley) – I like the ripe fruit expression here, albeit with quite a load of tannin as well. There is a certain freshness however which sets this one apart from others and what a surprise! Bravo. 91

Lacoste Borie (second wine of Château Grand Puy Lacoste) – This is more similar in profile to the Reserve de la Comtesse, with that fresh cut lawn aspect, along with forest rain. It comes across smooth and refined, and gets a high note as well. Nice job! 90



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