2022 represents the 40th anniversary of the “Southwold Tasting”, taking its name after the small fishing village in Suffolk where it was first hosted by the former Adnams chairman Simon Loftus at his home in Southwold back in 1982.
The concept is simple: a group of 18 wine importers and journalists (this year including no less than nine Masters of Wine) gather to review the Bordeaux vintage two years after the wines have been bottled. They taste the wines blind and give an independent view on them and the vintage. This year, it was the turn of the 2018 vintage to be assessed. 250 wines all tasted blind over 3 days; what better way to really assess a vintage and throw up a few surprises!
The focus is very much on the leading estates within each appellation, the classified growths and their 2nd wines in the Medoc, and the comparable wines in Pessac-Léognan, St Emilion and Pomerol. Unsurprisingly we tasted some lovely wines. The vintage has a degree of hedonism about it and the wines a warming richness, although in general alcohol was very much kept in check and the wines that stood out all maintained a high level of freshness and the tannins showed excellent maturity. They have a feeling of the 2015s about them but, interestingly, the very best of the 2018s just pip the 15s on their average scores, although not by much! In short this is a style of Bordeaux which is excellent in quality and will provide extraordinary pleasure for all tastes and palates. They have richness, depth, structure and a great long-term future ahead of them.
The joy of such a tasting is not only the reassurance that the best estates deserve their reputation, such is the class and quality that shines through when tasted in this environment, but also that it throws up some newfound gems. Not necessarily from unknown names, but properties that punch way beyond their position and pecking order. This was most certainly the case this year and it was so exciting to see estates such as Haut Batailley, Ormes de Pez, Berliquet and Gloria give their more esteemed neighbours a real run for their money.
The right bank wines of Pomerol and St Emilion did require very careful and attentive tasting. The best wines are exceptional as highlighted by Ch Ausone which produced the wine of the vintage based on this tasting, showing off extraordinary poise and class. Ch Canon alongside it highlighted the work that the Chanel team lead by Nicolas Audebert have done in recent years, justifying its reputation as a great star of the appellation. Most exciting of all though was to see Ch Canon’s neighbour Ch Berliquet, also owned by Chanel, producing one of the buys of the vintage. This remains excellent value and was one of the complete stars within the right bank. In Pomerol as always it is difficult to pick a name. We rightly expect Petrus and Le Pin to perform, but the group were also taken by L’Eglise Clinet and I myself loved the joyous balance and purity of Vieux Chateau Certan.
As we moved into the Medoc, one of the senior members of the group and a respected Master of Wine reminded us that whilst we all seek charm and finesse in Margaux, in its youth it can sometimes be a little more awkward: its famous freshness that is the backbone behind its longevity can sometimes make the wines difficult to judge so soon after botting. It was pleasing to see this fresh character still come through in the rich and warm vintage that 2018 is, but pedigree most definitely came to the fore. Ch Rauzan Segla completed a trio of brilliant wines from the Chanel stable and Brane Cantenac continues its extraordinary run of quality. The little gem however is most definitely Segla, Rauzan’s 2nd wine, which stands alongside the very best of them in Margaux and most importantly will not require years of patience before you pull the cork.
Expectations are aways high when we taste St Julien with its embarrassment of riches of classified growths. The quality of the appellation really shone. The three Léovilles were superbly representative of their terroir style. Léoville LasCases was the epitome of the iron fist in a velvet glove. Léoville Poyferré was the groups favourite, velvety and flamboyant with a superb coating of richness. But on a sentimental note, Ch Léoville Barton was everything it should be. We had just heard the morning of our tasting that Anthony Barton, the doyen of the property and region for almost 5 decades, had sadly passed away aged 91. This 2018 and our scores and comments would have made him proud: this is wine with muscle, drive and great longevity. However, two other wines which should not be overlooked came from Domaines Henri Martin St Pierre, a fine 4th growth, and the value wine of the appellation Ch Gloria.
Moving north with three 1st growths within the appellation, the wines of Pauillac should catch attention and they most certainly did. I was hugely impressed with Ch Mouton Rothschild; the vintage style seems to bring out the very best in this fine estate. However, it was the wines of Jean-Michel Cazes and his son Jean-Charles which stole the show. Ch Lynch Bages came out with all guns blazing and shone as one of the wines of the vintage, exotic, rich and powerful, but it was the family’s latest acquisition, Ch Haut Batailley, which really caught the eye; it must be one of the buys of the vintage. Quintessentially Pauillac, it has poise, structure and wonderful Cabernet drive and an exciting life ahead of it.
In the very north the wines of St Estèphe showed off great terroir identity: the wines combined polish with an earthy depth and brooding power. The finest have personality and structure. The great names of Montrose, Cos d’Estournel and Calon Segur will be long term keepers, but the under the radar star was another Cazes family wine, Ch Les Ormes de Pez, producing a wonderfully confident wine which will give huge pleasure whilst its neighbours go through their ageing process.
In Pessac-Léognan Domaine de Chevalier showed its extraordinary ability to hit the heights within the appellation for both its red and white wines. 2018 is not considered a great year for the regions white wines, but the Chevalier contradicts this thought perfectly and is excellent and definitely worth seeking out. Sauternes had an equally hard time, particularly as a freak hailstorm hit on 15th July (the day France won the World Cup!) and devastated many of the best terroir, but Yquem pulled through and has produced a very lovely 2018 indeed and topped the table of sweet wines this year.
In conclusion 2018 has produced some superb wines, it possibly lacks the consistency of years in the mould of 2016 or 2005, but it stands alongside 2015 as an outstanding year for its top wines. The wines have a great future ahead of them and there is a balance between those which will reach an early maturity, and the finest wines which will age alongside the very best vintages. It is a year which will sit proudly in any cellar.