Last week the MWH Wine team attended the Union des Grands Crus tasting in London. As usual, the wines were on show were from the vintage two years past, so in this case the 2019s. We were especially keen to attend this year’s event as in our eyes 2019 Bordeaux had something to prove. When the wines were first offered for sale in the en-primeur campaign of 2020, they were are attended by conflicting messages.
On the one hand producers across the region were heralding yet another good year. The Bordeaux Institute of Wine and Vine Science (ISVV) gave 2019 a 3.5 to 4--star rating out of 5 – in its annual report. The critics were also big fans and lavished high scores on a châteaux from both sides of the river as the following aggregated scores from WineSearcher show:
- Petrus – 95/100
- Mouton Rothchild – 97/100
- Lafite Rothschild 97/100
- Margaux – 98/100
- Cheval Blanc – 96/100
- Figeac – 97/100
- La Mission Haut Brion – 94/100
- Rieussec - 92/100
- Pape Clement Blanc - 93/100
Outside the classed growths hefty scores and praise were also being lavished on the wines. Cru Bourgeoise such as d’Angludet (89/100), Chasse Spleen (89/100) and our perennial favourite, Caronne St. Gemme (85/100), all scored well. This then was a good to very good year as the ISVV had reported. So why then did the wines come to market at prices that gave the impression that these were wines they wanted shot of?
The average release price of the 2019s – excluding the First Growths – was around 20% lower than the 2018s. Such a drop isn’t unheard of, but it’s certainly rare, and it’s normally associated with moderate new wines hitting the market on the back of a brilliant and abundant vintage – think 1997 after 1996.
On the face of it the 2019s were good wines, and while they were following in the footsteps of the glorious 2018s, such a drop in prices raised more than a few eyebrows. At the time it was concluded that the reasons for the uncharacteristically affordable prices were down to:
- Coronavirus – which meant the cancellation of the spring en-primeur tastings (a limited season was held in August 2020) and a dearth of critical reaction. Moreover, the world economy was looking shaky and the last thing the châteaux wanted was to push their luck and have wines unsold
- 2015, 2016, 2018 – as we’ve noted before on this blog, climate change is already affecting Bordeaux. Great years are becoming more frequent and while this is good news in some ways, there is only so much wine that drinkers, collectors, and investors can take. With three recent triumphant vintages either on the way or already physical, proprietors were nervous
- The wines just weren’t that good – despite the official designation of quality and the trickle of positive critical reaction, many wondered if the region’s PR team had over-egged the wines’ quality.
This last point is one why we were so keen to attend the Union tasting. What are the wines like? Is 2019 to be forgotten or could it just be a bargain buy? We’ll address the first question in detail below, but as to the vintage’s bargain status the following suggests that they remain well-priced:
- Margaux 2019 - £478
- Margaux 2018 - £558
- Mouton Rothschild 2019 - £499
- Mouton Rothschild 2018 - £588
- Lafite Rothschild 2019 - £656
- Lafite Rothschild 2018 - £795
- Petrus 2019 – £3,200
- Petrus 2018 – £4,345
- Cheval Blanc 2019 – £441
- Cheval Blanc 2018 - £568
The contrast is stark, and if you look further down the classifications a pattern emerges showing that prices are on average around 10% lower for 2019s vs 2018s. Neither, at the time of writing are physical, so is it that the 2019 wines simply aren’t as good?
Having tasted both vintages, we’d say that 2018 is better. The high spots are just a little higher – all the Firsts enjoyed great success in 2018 – and there’s slightly more concentration and freshness. That said the 2019s are excellent. We tried over 70 wines at the Union tasting and there was not a single wine that disappointed. Some surprised – how Valandraud managed to make a wine that weighs in at 15.5% alcohol that remain in balance we could not imagine. And others delighted despite their extreme youth.
The reds were concentrated with fine structures and plenty of freshness. The dry whites were sublime. Immensely concentrated yet fresh, stylish and elegant, they will make for stunning drinking in the coming years. The sweet wines we tasted were also good. They ranged from medium-bodied and refined, Rieussec, to the downright decadent. The Clos Haut Peyraguey tasted like it had residual sugar levels that would put a trockenbeerenauslese to shame! From a cast of stars, we’ve singled out the following as worthy of particular note:
- Lynch Bages – the hot streak of form continues. Another compelling effort.
- Pape Clement (rouge) – shares some of the characteristics of the superb 2005 only with greater freshness
- Pichon Baron – the Cabernet utterly dominates at present, but there’s plenty of complexity hiding in the shadows
- Pichon Comtesse – the first time we can remember Comtesse being more backward and reserved than Baron. This will need plenty of time, but will be one of the great modern Pichons
- Talbot – a very serious Talbot, the usual puppy fat was absent and the structure was much more noticeable. Great depth of flavour, fine and reserved
- Langoa Barton – preferred (just) to Leoville, this is complete, structured and classical
- Valandraud– an explosive wine, full of dried black fruits, sweet black cherries and spices. 15% alcohol (!)
- Smith Haut Lafitte (blanc)– racy, very fresh and intense. Wood barely noticeable behind the surge of fruit. Will make for stunning mid-term drinking
- Pape Clement (blanc) –the level of intensity made this hard work, but pure grapefruit, pear, and peach fruit were so brilliantly interwoven with minerals and oak that it was worth the effort
- Trotte Vielle – relatively forthcoming, this is a big, rich, weighty incarnation of this typically classical wine. Very enjoyable now, in five years’ time this will be something special
- Clos Haut Peyraguey –like drinking barley sugars, it was almost too much of a good thing. Will need time, but once it loses some of its youthful exuberance it will be a very fine wine
- Rieussec – restrained, very minerally (like a sweet Graves), but with plenty of tropical fruit, honey, and good, balancing acidity
Bordeaux 2019: Quality And Value
There’s no question in our minds that the 2019s are a class act. Having been to over 20 Union tastings we can only recall a handful – 2000, 2005, 2010 - that showed such consistency. The prices remain (relatively) good too, and in the lesser classed growths and the Cru Bourgeoises there are some real gems.
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