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Usually, winemakers in Bordeaux are hesitant to call a vintage superb until all of the grapes have been picked and the wine has finished fermenting. This year, however, winemakers across the region are thrilled with the quality and ripeness of the grapes–they’re already calling the 2018 Bordeaux harvest one of the most successful of the past decade. While it’s still too early to make any definitive predictions about the investment potential of the 2018 vintage, based on the health of the grapes picked so far, you can expect to see plenty of age-worthy, intense wines. This is a vintage that you’ll want to keep a close watch on as it develops over the next few months.
How Ample Rainfall Affected the 2018 Bordeaux Harvest
Although the 2018 Bordeaux harvest was successful for most producers, that doesn’t mean that it was an easy growing season. Winemakers had to cope with excessive rainfall and mildew in the spring and early summer, both of which made growing conditions complicated. It’s not unusual for Bordeaux to experience a little rain in the spring, but this year there was far more of it than usual. Days would pass without any cloud break in sight and some winemakers estimate that nearly a year’s worth of rain fell by mid-June. This, coupled with high humidity, provided the perfect environment for mildew to grow.
If you’re a fan of Grand-Puy-Lacoste or other top Pauillac producers, you’ll likely find plenty of wine to enjoy from this vintage.
Château Canon Managing Director Nicolas Audebert said that it was the most mildew he had seen in Bordeaux in 40 years. To keep the mildew in check, most winemakers were forced to remove budding fruit at the first sign of fungus. In some regions where rainfall was especially heavy, this was a full-time job, particularly for biodynamic winemakers. Because these winemakers weren’t able to combat the mildew with antifungal chemicals, they had to take extra care with their vines this year, removing diseased fruit early and often. You’ll find that yields are slightly lower this year than usual (by about ten to 20 percent) due to this extensive culling. It’s also worth noting that not all producers in Bordeaux faced problems with mildew. Grand-Puy-Lacoste owner Emeline Borie told Wine-Searcher, “We had no mildew. Somebody came looking for it, and found just one berry in the vineyard with mildew.” So, if you’re a fan of Grand-Puy-Lacoste or other top Pauillac producers, you’ll likely find plenty of wine to enjoy from this vintage.
Weather conditions during the 2018 Bordeaux harvest were nearly perfect, with just the right balance of rain and sun to encourage the grapes to ripen fully and retain a healthy amount of acidity.
Despite these early complications, the hot, sunny summer months allowed the remaining grapes to grow fully and develop incredible intensity. In fact, the excessive spring rain may actually have been a benefit for the fruit as temperatures began to rise in Bordeaux in July and August. The rootstock had access to water that had collected deep underground during the spring, which sustained the vines until harvest. This was important for young vines in particular, as the shorter roots cannot always reach deep water tables. By late August, some young vines were beginning to show signs of water stress, but an early start to the harvest season and some rain showers in September prevented ripening issues. Weather conditions during the 2018 Bordeaux harvest were nearly perfect, with just the right balance of rain and sun to encourage the grapes to ripen fully and retain a healthy amount of acidity.
Vintage Quality Already Looks Promising
Why are winemakers so excited about the quality of the 2018 vintage? Not only did the grapes overcome difficult weather conditions, but they are also already showing excellent balance and complex flavors. Winemakers who have begun crushing their white grapes have found intense aromatics. Likewise, red grapes, particularly Merlot, have highly concentrated flavors, with complex notes of hazelnut present in the seeds. Many wines in this vintage will be high in alcohol because of the hot and dry latter part of the summer, but producers planned harvest times carefully to preserve acidity, and cool nights should also help keep the wines lively. As for Sauternes, some producers were still waiting for grapes to mature fully as late as October, but so far, botrytis is growing well and you can expect to see excellent wines from top producers like d’Yquem this year. While nearly every region in Bordeaux had a rewarding harvest, Pauillac in particular is reporting supremely healthy grapes. Producers from this region, such as Lafite, Latour, and Mouton-Rothschild, should produce an exceptional 2018 vintage.
Collectors looking for wines to lay down for a long period of time will likely find a number of excellent candidates in the 2018 vintage.
In terms of overall quality, most winemakers are comparing the 2018 vintage to 2010. The 2010 vintage was extremely high in both tannin and acidity, with intensely concentrated fruit flavors. The 2018 vintage is expected to be similar, featuring bracing acidity (due to prolonged cloudy conditions during the growing season) as well as deeply concentrated fruit (due to dry, hot summer conditions). It’s too early to say with certainty what the wines will taste like, but producers expect them to be more rounded than the 2010 vintage (they will likely have less tannin), while still lively. Collectors looking for wines to lay down for a long period of time will likely find a number of excellent candidates in the 2018 vintage, especially if the wines show as much complexity, intensity, and acidity as the grapes have shown.
Investing in 2018 Bordeaux
In advance of the 2018 vintage release, think about whether you enjoyed the 2010, 2009, and 2005 vintages. The 2018 vintage is shaping up to be similar in quality to all three of these past vintages, though winemakers think it will be most similar to the 2010. Grapes harvested in 2009 and 2005 were similar in intensity to this year’s harvest, but more ripe and rich in flavor. To determine whether the 2018 vintage will appeal to you, sample a few Bordeaux wines from 2010, 2009, and 2005. This will give you a general sense of what the 2018 vintage could taste like as it matures over time. It’s best to compare vintages from the same producer, such as Margaux, Le Pin, or Pavie.
While it might be too soon to make room in your cellar for the 2018 vintage, you can start preparing for futures or prearrivals by signing up for producer mailing lists or becoming a private client with a trusted wine retailer. This will keep you updated with the latest information about how the 2018 Bordeaux vintage is progressing and when you can expect to order your first bottles on prearrival. Due to the exceptional quality of the grapes, these wines will likely be in high demand upon release, so it’s important to order your wine as soon as possible before the best producers sell out. When a vintage shows this much potential this early, you can never be too prepared for its release.
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