The 2020 Bordeaux vintage has already got people excited. Talk from the sorting tables has revealed a vintage that, while not as universally excellent as say 2015 or 2016, has some real gems in store. While April’s en-primeur tastings and subsequent offers are still some way off, we thought we’d whet your appetite by looking at the vintage conditions and pointing to a few potential stars that will be worth your attention next year.
Bordeaux 2020: Triumph Over Adversity
2020 has been an extraordinary year and the scourge of Covid and its lockdowns haven’t escaped Bordeaux. Growing conditions provided challenges (when don’t they in this maritime region?) and the start was less than propitious. March was beset by frosts and spring was wet and producers had to be watchful around flowering to ensure rot didn’t rob them of their fruit before it had a chance to set.
Things did recover though and the summer was hot, really hot at times. June and July were often baking, indeed later in July the temperature nudged 40C (104f) and was associated with periods of drought and heat and stress. Welcome rain fell sporadically but often in the form of thunderstorms. Some of these were violent and a few vineyards were unlucky enough to be battered by hail which reduced crop sizes further and gave vignerons a selection headache come the vintage.
The harvest began in mid-August for the early whites – those destined for fizz and the early-ripening Sauvignon Gris. The reds began in earnest with Merlots in mid-September. There were some early harvests in Pomerol and as a region this seems to have fared well. Things in neighbouring St Emilion were trickier. Some of the late ripening Cabernet Franc wasn’t picked until October by which time the ideal warm days and cool dry nights had given way to rain. On the Left Bank things were more uniform and slightly easier, with pretty much everything having been brought in before the weather broke.
Through a combination of frost, rot, hail and sun, the size of this year’s harvest is down by around 1% on the average for 2010-2019. That may not sound like a lot, but it equates to around 7m bottles in total and in the small production vineyards of Pomerol and St Emilion it will influence availability and prices come April.
Bordeaux 2020: Styles of Wine
At this nascent stage and with a long period of cask ageing ahead of them, its difficult to be precise in terms of the vintage’s style. While growing conditions were very similar to 2016 and 2018, the reduction in juice is likely to make for concentrated, sterner wines that will need time to show their character. These then are likely to be wines that are to be cellared and forgotten while we enjoy the blooming 2015s and luxurious 2016s.
One thing we can say for certain is that while brilliant wines are on the way, this will not be a universally great year. Gavin Quinney rightly points out that individual property’s terroir will have played a more significant role than usual. Frost, hail and torrential downpours will have all taken their toll – especially on the Right Bank where clay can constitute a significant part of the soil’s makeup. Given the hit-and-miss nature of these storms, buyers will be wise to look carefully at individual estates’ notes and reviews in determining what to take.
Bordeaux 2020: Prices
There’s already a lot of speculation regarding the likely prices of these wines. The 2019 Bordeaux are widely seen as offering excellent value and, coming to a market that was awash with excellent but pricey 2018s, 2016s and 2015s, it was a wise move. Will the 2020s also offer value? Its hard to tell this far out, but there are some factors that are worth considering:
- The market has a lot of good wines to offer at present - the past decade has seen great wines produced in 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. Buyers are spoilt for choice, though with physical wines much in demand from investors, the chateau may feel emboldened
- The global economy isn’t in a good place– the fallout from Covid is likely to be long lasting and this could depress buyers’ appetites. At the very top end – Petrus, Le Pin, Ausone, Mouton, Lafite etc. – if the wines are as good as many claim, then prices could still be high
- It’s a small(er) vintage – and great wines are not universal, so demand is likely to become concentrated around the best and force prices up, something we saw back in 1998
We’ll know more in April, but we’re expecting a wide spread of prices that will be generally higher than 2019.
Bordeaux 2020: Which Wines To Look Out For?
Again, it’s too early to be precise, but reading the runes it seems likely the Left Bank properties – ones best suited to draining away the sudden excess of rain – will have performed well. Pomerol by virtue of being early is also likely to have fared well. In St Emilion it will come down to terroir – gravel/clay content – and the percentage of Cabernet Franc in the cepage. Ausone could struggle given its 55% Cabernet Franc while Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot with its 70% Merlot may have done better. Hail was also a problem and this will mean producers with a reputation for exceptional rigour when it comes to selection will be winners. This is a vintage in which careful research will be key.
Bordeaux 2020: Something To Look Forward To?
This promises to be a fascinating campaign and we will (COVID-19 permitting!) be hitting the tasting trail next year. For us the decider will be price. If the wines are in line with the 2019s then there will be a market for them. If, however, they get greedy then buyers may look to existing stocks and leave them with wines they can’t easily sell en-primeur. We shall see…
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