Top 50+ hits: Bordeaux 2020 from barrel

The emotional, the intellectual, the (i)Deals

In a vintage that favors Merlot from cold clay and limestone soils

By Panos Kakaviatos for

26 May 2021

No ads, no fees charged: Here my objective and experienced impressions of 2020 Bordeaux, 18 years in a row assessing Bordeaux from barrel, including visits during the pandemic era.

Before posting hundreds of barrel sample tasting notes, let’s cut to the chase with 50+ top barrel sample “hits”, like a Top 50 Singles Chart. Divided into three categories, you can scroll quickly to the wines for each category by clicking the subtitles below:

15 Top Emotions

When assessing barrel samples, more attention is paid to structure and aging capacity: Why spend hard-earned cash for not so age-worthy Bordeaux? Nonetheless, wines with the necessary architecture also can evoke immediate emotional appeal. These wines excite with delight, and you will find more such examples on the Right Bank in 2020. The list here includes very expensive wines ($500+ a bottle) to “quite expensive” ($80+ a bottle)

15 Top Intellects

These barrel samples promise to appeal more to your intellect or your inner wine geek. They may not be as (initially) exciting, but have superb density and quality of tannin to go the distance. This category features more from the Left Bank in 2020 and prices vary similarly to the Emotions list.

20 Top (i)Deals: Part I and Part 2

Wine (i)Deals are expected to have especially good price/quality ratios. Part I mainly covers wines ranging from $50 to $100 a bottle. Part II is more for wines expected to cost less than $50. Read More

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Château Tour Saint Christophe

Beautiful estate, excellent price/quality ratio

By Panos Kakaviatos for

18 April 2021

I just arrived in Bordeaux, where I will be tasting the 2020 vintage from barrel over the next two weeks with dear friend Jane Anson. Much of the vintage buzz has been rather positive, although too early to pronounce a modern trilogy of fine vintages in 18, 19, 20. From what I have heard, there is greater freshness to the vintage as compared to the two preceding years, but that is not sure yet. In any case, it could be the best trilogy in a while for Bordeaux.

Vineyard terraces

Over the next few days, I am staying at a lovely estate in Saint Emilion called Château Tour Saint Christophe, located in Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes at the frontiers of Saint-Émilion.

While I look forward to tasting more famous brands like Château Figeac, Cheval Blanc, Canon and other illustrious Saint Emilion estates, lower cost wines crafted with quality in mind  especially interest consumers. Read More

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Weekend White: 2017 dry Bordeaux

Château Tronquoy-Lalande Blanc

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles 

20 February 2021

Much is said of 2019, 2018 and 2016 as recent “great” Bordeaux vintages, naturally regarding red wines. However, this world famous region crafts many whites, dry and “sweet”, so it was useful to taste a just-released 2017 dry white from the excellent Saint Estèphe estate of Château Tronquoy-Lalande.

The density and freshness to match spicy Thai beef and eggplant.

About the 2017 vintage

While September rain seemed to lessen the éclat of the Cabernets (Sauvignons and Francs), “it was not a problem at all to be cooler in the summer for the whites,” stressed Eric Kohler (of Lafite Rothschild) about his dry white Rieussec. “When you have a strong summer, it can make a great red, but then it may make the whites a bit tired,” he said. “This year it was great because the fruits and the clusters, you wanted to eat like a salad.”

It proved also important to pick grapes before a heat wave towards the end of the harvesting season, added wine consultant Thomas Duclos. “Those who harvested before some particularly hot days ended up with very nice wines, but for those who did after – starting on 5 September – it was a bit more complicated,” he said.

Château Tronquoy-Lalande harvested between 21 August and 1 September, avoiding the heat wave that ended up making some 2017 whites taste somewhat flat.
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New grapes in Bordeaux to fight climate change

Foresight, or an easy way out?

by Panos Kakaviatos for

6 February 2021

Late last month it became official: France’s wine appellation authority (INAO) authorized six new grapes for Bordeaux to better adapt to climate change. Two are very well known: Touriga Nacional and Alvarinho.

As most readers know, the late ripening Touriga Nacional, famous in Portugal, yields rich black fruit, high tannin and has good resistance to diseases in the vineyard. Alvarinho also is used for Portugal’s Vinho Verde whites and is the same grape as Albariño in Spain. As most readers know, it yields dry whites with rather high acidity and resists grey rot.

You can read more about all six new grapes from Chris Mercer’s reporting in Decanter.

The INAO chose these grapes for naturally high acidity and resistance against specific vine diseases, according to Mercer. Also important to note is that these new authorized varieties in Bordeaux could only make up 5% of a producer’s vineyard area and 10% of a final wine blend, according to the Bordeaux Wine Council or CIVB. Ten percent may not sound like much to some people, but it can alter the identity of a wine indeed.

Many are upset by the news.

Why not use other methods to fight climate change, such as canopy management or existing grape clones more resistant to heat and dry weather? What about less leaf stripping, planting vines in cooler vineyards with northern exposures, for example, or work soils to reduce pH? That makes sense. For his part, Bordeaux based wine writer Yohan Castaing says that the logic is not so easy to follow, in this report. “While evolution in viticulture seems to be the basis, the CIVB has chosen to plant grape varieties that are very far removed from Merlot, the two Cabernets or Sauvignon Blanc” and this is true, too. Read More


Do wine scores miss the point?

by Panos Kakaviatos for 

3 February 2021

When I look at how I scored wines about 10 years ago, the scores were more conservative. Many more wines were rated between 88 and 92, and that was just swell. For a while, I never gave any wine 100 points, because perfection can be boring. 99 sounds more interesting, more real. And yet, how to deny the sheer exuberance of tasting, say, Cheval Blanc 2018 from bottle? From bottle mind you. I cannot really understand 100-point scores for barrel samples: the product is not even finished. 

But never mind 100. I miss an era, not too long ago but sadly gone, when a wine that garnered 88 out of 100 reflected a very good grade. Indeed, for American schools, from which the 100-point scale originates in the first place, 88 out of 100 is a high B, or “B+” rating. A very good rating. It would be like obtaining over 16 points in a French school, which is a high score in the 20-point scale that was often used in France for wine scoring.

Of course A grades are superior. But these days, any wine worth considering has to be in the 90s and not the low 90s. The 100-point scale has not been reduced to the 10 points between 90 and 100, but is more like a five-point scale. These days even an “A-” (a score between 90 and 92, or even 93 and 94) would be considered less than exciting for retailers who need to get wines off shelves (in the pandemic era, off curbsides or delivered from online sales).

What is a trophy wine anyway?

Several merchants have told me that you need 95 or more to get a consumer truly excited these days. Could this mean that many more great wines are being produced these days? Of course, the wine industry would tell you that. But what of valid criticism? What does the 100-point scale mean anymore?

Whatever the case may be, these days 90 can be considered rather good and nothing more; 93 quite good, 94 very good, 95 excellent and 97 outstanding, with 98-100 “nirvana zone” wines. We edge closer to Michael Broadbent’s five star ratings, with 96 one star and 100 the coveted five stars.

As for 100-point wines, they can only be those wines that have properly aged, arriving at time-earned complexity. For wines like 1982 Petrus or 1959 Latour, or 1988 Krug or 1996 Oenotheque Dom Perignon, which I have been lucky to have enjoyed, I can say “100” with more ease, not only out of sheer exuberance, but also because of intrinsic greatness from aging that brought about complexity.

In reality though, many wine writers and critics have upped their scores on the scale to reflect this new reality and so it can seem like we live in an era of point inflation.

All the more reason to read the notes of a wine critic or writer and to pay less attention to the scores. I find it more interesting to read what the writer or critic has to say about the wine rather than rely on a number, but – gee whiz – how original a thought is that? 🙄 😂 🍷🍷