Wild n’ Crazy Saint Estèphe 2018?

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 April 2019

Saint Estèphe is an appellation that tends to thrive in hot and arid summers. Take for examples the torrid heat of the 2003 vintage. The cooler soils underneath gravel in Saint Estèphe seemed to counter the extreme weather better than any other Bordeaux appellation of note. Many tasters would agree just how well Château Montrose, for example, handled that vintage. Such was also the case in 2009, although 2009 is (far) more balanced than 2003. And such is the case again, in 2018.

On the other hand, in 2018, I have never seen such high alcohol levels from some of these wines, along with quite low acidities, yet high tannin levels.

Some are pointing out that the density of ripe fruit is just fine, that the dry extract of the wines will make them just fine for long term aging. More important – oenologist Thomas Duclos points out – the aromatic freshness is there. But I have heard enough over the years that high levels of pH combined with high alcohol is not necessarily ideal. After all, Bordeaux wants to sell you these wines! At issue here is the type of balance. Do you want a balanced wine at near 15% alcohol, or a balanced wine at near 13% alcohol. Should it matter? These are the questions I ponder late at night whilst sipping on 43% alcohol single malt.

In any case, I am using a wider range of scores for some of these preliminary barrel assessments. Nevertheless, all wines below are at least red and bold on my informal color coordinated in bold or not rating scale. As you can recall, wines I like in particular are in bold, even more in red and bold, and if underlined, too, a potential wine nirvana.

What makes this vintage – again as expressed in my introduction for “hedonists and intellectuals” – is how Saint Estèphe’s so-called Super Seconds handled 2018.

“We are using less new oak this year,” remarks Dominique Arangoits of Château Cos d’Estournel, as Bloomberg wine writer and author Elin McCoy takes notes.

On one level, Château Cos d’Estournel, the famous estate known for its Indian style pagoda architecture, tried to make the vintage as “classical” as possible. Indeed, the aging will be done with less new oak, so as to avoid the high alcohol wine (14.4%) from leaching too much new oak tannin, as there is already quite enough from the grapes themselves (the tannic index is about 80 at Cos). Also, the blend includes more grapes from vines grown on the deeper clay soils of the estate than usual, so as to maintain as much freshness as possible, remarked technical director Dominique Arangoits. On another level, Château Montrose seemed more to “embrace” the vintage’s extraordinary characteristics.  Read More

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Saint Emilion Sensations 2018

Change in style continues: Yahoo!

by Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 April 2019

Very happy to see how much the “refreshing trend” is coming into focus in Saint Emilion. As stated in my introduction to the vintage, with regard to the 50 member estates of the Association of Saint Emilion Grands Crus Classés. Here we have a case of many  2018s tasting better than their 2016 counterparts.

Late last year, I tasted these same wines, but from the recently bottled 2016 vintage. Too often, the extractions were more noticeable in the 2016s, and the tasting experience less positive.

Of course the cooler vintage character of 2016 mitigated winemaking more than a vintage like 2009 did. But 2016 was a let down from too many of these estates. So with some exceptions, 2018 proves that you don’t get what you expect, and here this is a plus.

At the press tastings of the UGCB, Bloomberg wine writer and author Elin McCoy and I looked at each other with surprise after tasting Château La Couspaude, a wine long known for excessively oaky flavors.

Saint Emilion: taking a charming path towards more freshness

We just marveled at how much better it was than we were expecting.

My overall impression, especially of Saint Emilion? Strangely enough, I found myself wondering about how many critics reacted to the 1982 back in 1983. Many critics who had tasted the 1982 from barrel found it “too easy to taste” or too soft for long-term aging. Sure, that was another era, as winemaking and viticulture were different, and 2018 has more alcohol and more tannin. So I am not saying that the 2018 vintage is like the 1982 in terms of tannin, alcohol, and overall sensation. But what I am saying is that any naysayers for Saint Emilion in 2018 may be under-estimating the vintage. Many 2018s have smooth and even silky tannins and freshness, as well as tannin and structure. Here is another comparison, with the specific estate of Château Grand Mayne. Their 1998 remains one of the best ever that I have tasted. In the bigger alcohol, bigger extraction era of the mid to late 2000s, it was not as easy or pleasurable to taste. But since at least 2014, I have been enjoying Grand Mayne quite a bit. And 2018 is no exception.  Read More

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Premium Pomerol 2018

The gorgeous Château Evangile

Quite consistent, too.

by Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

26 April 2019

Pomerol was excellent in 2018. Akin in consistency to Saint Julien. Especially cooler terroirs, with more clay and less sun, or at least those wines made with especially careful winemaking, succeeded best. And where it did succeed, it counts among the very best that Pomerol has done. Not necessarily “the best” but certainly up there. Already, many of my most favorite wines from barrel for the 2018 vintage come from Pomerol.

As always, if in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more. And if underlined, too, a potential wine nirvana!

Château Beauregard – Assessed at the press tastings of the UGCB, this blend of 75% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc, at 14% alcohol and with a 3.77 pH has a certain imposing aspect as if the dry hot season comes across with somewhat tougher tannins. Time in glass reveals mid palate juiciness however. In a word, it is somewhat tight, but should loosen up with barrel aging. Similar reaction at Pomerol Seduction. 91-93+

Château Le Bon Pasteur – The nose is fresh, so bravo! Rich, yet not over done, with fine, mid palate sap. I like the finish, as it does not come across as too drying. This reminds me a bit of the delectable 1998 Bon Pasteur, at least that is the vintage that popped in my head. 92-94

Château Bourgneuf – The nose is a bit reticent and the palate somewhat closed as well. Not sure here, as the tannin is there, but kind of imposing without being hard. Note withheld for now, as I think that I need to re-taste!

Château La Cabanne – The nose from this barrel sample seemed a bit nondescript, but the palate displays ripe fruit and elegance, and shows how much better this estate has been in recent years. The tannins end just a bit hard, but that is what barrel aging is for, so I look forward to tasting from bottle ! 91-93

Château Certan de May – Initial “glucose sweetness”, even on the attack, but the Cabernet freshness (25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) kicks in, with crushed mint on the nose, with a fresh and rather bright aspect for the vintage countering an initial “sweet” impression. This is a lovely wine! It shows both nuance and grip – and keep in mind that the barrel aging will soften it further. 92-94+ Read More

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Stalwart Sauternes 2018

Challenging vintage, but some nice wines

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 April 2019

A horrific hailstorm reduced yields for some estates to near nothing, if not nothing. I recall writing this news story about the harvest in Sauternes and Barsac for Decanter last year: including Château Guiraud’s announcement that it would only make dry white wine in 2018, because of the devastating hail. Yquem did not present any sample for the vintage to taste. And if the hail missed, widespread mildew earlier in the year reduced yields (by one-third, for example, at Château Raymond-Lafon).

No Guiraud this year …

It looked pretty awful initially during the harvest period, because no botrytis was forthcoming, what with all the dry and hot weather. Indeed, while the dry Indian summer was beneficial for reds – generally speaking, as this, too, was a bit more complicated – it was nerve wracking for Sauternes producers who did not see the development of the famous Noble Rot that makes their wines famous.

So it all seems pretty dark, no? Well, not really. Read More

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Saint Julien the Consistent …

… and consistently delicious in 2018

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

26 April 2019

This famous Médoc appellation often tends to be the most consistent in any given vintage, and all the more in 2018. The more extreme alcohol levels and lower acidities of Saint Estèphe are not found here. A series of wines combines elegance, tannic edge, and suave palates. Sure, the tannins in some are almost too intense, and they are going to be long-term cellar wines especially. But certain estates “rose above the vintage” to make truly superb wines of “Bordeaux balance”.

Overall favorites include Léoville Las Cases, Beychevelle and Gruaud Larose.

But most all communicate pure fruit and even floral aromas. This appellation is indeed a 2018 “sweet spot”, more so than in most vintages.

As usual, if in bold, I liked in particular. If red and bold, even more. If underlined, too, potential wine nirvana (these are, after all, barrel samples).

Château Beychevelle – Floral, violet and ripe fruit. The palate shows finesse-filled density and tannic edge, but always overlaid by such a suave and smooth veneer, that is not “modern sheen” but just refined. A lovely wine with lift and freshness on the long finish. The best Beychevelle that I can recall ever trying from barrel. Bravo! 94-96

Château Branaire Ducru – Potential bargain alert for a cru classé, as Liv-Ex already has determined. Much like neighbor Beychevelle, this estate is all floral and fruit-driven aromatically. The palate is clean, crisp and tasty, with elegance and subtle opulence ending with a long finish. I like the prototypical Saint Julien elegance. 93-95

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – This blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot clocks in at 14.5% alcohol and includes a whopping 95 index of tannin. The pH is a healthy 3.7, so one has an impression of freshness, even if the tannins come across more imposing than refined. Indeed, as the estate’s own literature goes for this vintage: “powerful and elegant structure”. I would say that the elegance comes more on the finish, so give this time. There are layers of ripe, dark fruit, with some graphite aspects and violet floral on the finish. In the end, the strong tannins really need time to settle, and I caught myself writing “more Old School tough as nails” here… Long finish, of course. 94-96 Read More

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