In terms of the weather, 2020 follows the path of 2016, 2018 and 2019 in that they were all defined by a mild and wet spring, followed by long dry summers and hot and dry harvests. 2020 is looking like being one of the three lowest yielding vintages of the last decade, the other two vintages being 2017 and 2013. Unlike those two vintages, the quality appears to be much higher – although we do have a soft spot for the best of 2017 and even the occasional 2013. The reduction in volumes for 2020 were largely due to mildew in the wet spring, drought during the summer, and the heatwave at harvest which concentrated the juice in the berries. The appellations that appear to have suffered most in terms of volumes are the southern Medoc pair of Margaux and Saint Julien, and those further south – Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes and Barsac.
With the 2020 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign almost upon us, we’ve now tasted from all the major appellations at a range of price points. It’s worth remembering that these wines are barrel samples and present a glimpse into what the finished wine will be like, and they are fragile, but it has been reassuring to see how well the majority of wines have shown, and how stable the wines have been over several days. One of the few benefits to tasting remotely rather than at the property is the chance to assess samples over several days.
Some of the early critical reception has focused on 2020 being a Merlot vintage, and we were particularly impressed with the majority of the wines we tasted from Saint-Emilion – no mean feat given the size and varied nature of the appellation. Those fortunate to be on limestone and clay have fared best in this drought vintage, the accumulated water reserves in these terroirs proved to be invaluable. In general, those on free-draining sand and gravel based soils have fared less well. La Dominique have produced a wonderful wine that is likely to be good value, we were particularly impressed by Troplong Mondot, Belair Monange, and the Thienpont pair of Pavie Macquin and Larcis Ducasse. The best wines of Pomerol combine stylish fruit with uncommon power and depth, these should prove to be wines of considerable ageing potential.
Over on the Left Bank, the northern powerhouses of St Estephe and Pauillac are on imperious form. Basile Tesseron at Lafon Rochet has produced what might be his best wine to date, and in Pauillac, Lynch Bages have excelled again. We were particularly impressed by St Julien this year, with Leoville Barton producing a wine that all the other Leovilles will have to do well to best. This relatively small commune tends to be consistent because of its size, so you can be assured that when it’s good it’s really rather good. Margaux, as ever, was more varied, but we loved Cantenac Brown’s 2020, which captures the depth of the vintage but not at the expensive of Margaux’s perfume and elegance. Early indications were that the gravel soils of Graves had suffered, but in general the wines we tasted were at a high level, we particularly enjoyed Malartic Lagraviere and Smith Haut Lafitte. The dry whites were a very welcome surprise, with more acidity and tension than we were expecting. De Fieuzal Blanc particularly stood out in our tastings.
We’re hearing from Bordeaux that it’s likely to be an early campaign, we’re expecting to make our first 2020 offer from the Right Bank in the first week of May. Hopefully we’ll have a brisk campaign with good momentum, if all goes to plan we expect the First Growths to conclude the campaign mid-June. It’s too early to conclude at this stage if 2020 is a great vintage, there are inconsistencies, and it’s a case where the best terroirs have prospered in what was at times a challenging growing season. The vintage character can take over in some years, but for us in 2020 it’s a vintage where the terroir character really shines through over the vintage – no bad thing in our book.
We’ve been speaking to some of the key players in Bordeaux to get their impressions of the vintage:
Hervé Gouin, Sales Director at Château Mouton Rothschild “Despite the reduced volumes, 2020 sits firmly within the upper echelon of vintages produced in the last decade.”
Guillaume Pouthier, General Manager at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion “I like to best describe our 2020 vintage as a guy going to the gym in a white T-Shirt: a little show off, wanting to prove his point.”
Daniel Cathiard, Owner of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte “Perfection, Fresh and Linear” are the three best descriptors of their 2020 vintage.
Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Technical Director of Château Cheval Blanc “Cheval Blanc has produced a wine with “Broad shoulders and an impressive structure – a wine for the cellar.”
Olivier Gailly, Sales Director at Château Pavie “2020 was a singular vintage in which we refocused on the essentials: to care for our land and to be closer to our teams.”
Stéphanie de Bouard-Rivoal, CEO of Château Angelus believes the 2020 is the most elegant wine ever produced at the estate, giving the name “Le Sublime” to the vintage.