After a fantastic day yesterday travelling from St Estèphe, through Pauillac and St Julien, it is 8am on day two and we are currently on route to Margaux and our first visit, Ch Palmer.
What is very clear from the tastings yesterday is that 2018 is a warm and powerful vintage and those châteaux who harvested higher yields have made wines that are bright, energetic and very comfortable in their own skins. They have a wonderful natural sweetness, impressive volume and richness of fruit that support the tannins, with impressive aromatics.
Those that were affected substantially by the mildew and/or the heat wave over the vital ripening months of July and August had to be careful not to make a wine with slightly pinched tannins on the finish. A vigorous selection of healthy berries was so important in these cases.
Palmer is down 50% in terms of quantity, having been hit hard by the mildew. Thomas told us they had a series of five sorting tables and not a single affected berry went into the vat, resulting in a small quantity of a very impressive Palmer whose tannins are precise and finely grained. The wine has wonderful mid palate drive and sweetness, with real energy.
Emmanuel Cruse at Issan is a great man. This is a Château that I buy for myself every year, I love the wines. He notes that the key to 2018 is to create a wine that is balanced and it is so important to keep the freshness. Emmanuel tells us that he thinks his Blason d’ Issan is the best he has ever made, combining the richness and seductive aspect of the 2015 and the structure of the 2010 vintage.
Brane Cantenac is a real highlight for me today. This is a superb wine that is incredibly natural, nothing is forced here. It is perfectly balanced, powerful, silky and voluminous on the palate. The finish is extremely long, a signature of the Château. Lovers of Margaux will adore the 2018 Brane Cantenac.
We are now on route to St Emilion, having just tasted at Rauzan Segla. Both the Ch Canon and Rauzan are straight out of the very top drawer in terms of sheer quality.
Canon is seductive. On the limestone plateau, there is a very high level of ripeness of the tannins to this wine due to the long warm days and very cool nights. Lots of ‘puissance’, lot of volume and lots freshness.
The Rauzan is my wine of the day so far. It is a WOW wine that combines a wonderful richness of dark silky fruits with such well integrated and textured tannins. 25% down in volume, there is not a single mildewed berry in this fabulous blend. This wine has energy and life. It is pure class.
After a quick lunch at La Dominique, we spend the afternoon tasting in St Emilion and Pomerol. Tasting the Clarence Dillon property Ch Quintus in St Emilion was a true joy. The quality has been improving and all the hard work that has been put into this property since they bought the Chateau five years ago has really paid off. One can actually taste the limestone soils within the wine, so mineral, pure and refined. The tannins are supple and so classy. This is a magnificent Quintus, built on its elegance and finesse. I love it.
Figeac is a star. Very gentle vinification with no punching over. Everyone was so worried that they might end up with hugely tannic wines that they all picked early to keep the freshness. This is so important in 2018. Figeac is very floral, with fabulous aromatics. The palate is SO natural, pure and focused. The tannins are silky and beautifully integrated. The fruit is bright and energetic, absolutely delicious.
And our final visit of the day: Cheval Blanc is utterly stunning. ‘Freshness, precision and floral notes’ are there in spades. 14.5 % alcohol and you simply can’t notice it.
Many of the best wines of 2018 are powerful yet at the same time are wonderfully elegant. This is an exciting and vibrant vintage where many of the châteaux located on the best terroirs have made something very special.