Updated April 5, 2019. New blogs and notes will be posted regularly throughout the tastings.
WineSpectator.com members: Read James Molesworth's 2018 Bordeaux scores and tasting notes.
It’s time to shrug off winter … which for many wine fans means Bordeaux’s ritual of showing off (and selling) its nascent vintage in barrel during en primeur season. En primeur is the first chance both consumers and trade get to see the results of Bordeaux’s most recent harvest, in this case 2018, en masse. Despite being unfinished, the wines will be offered for sale as futures, with delivery of the finished and bottled wines coming in late 2020 or early 2021. (Check out our guide to buying futures for more on the benefits and pitfalls of en primeur purchases.
If you're considering buying Bordeaux futures then you may want a little detail on the wines, and that’s where Wine Spectator comes in. During en primeur season I spend two weeks in Bordeaux, splitting my time between face-to-face visits with producers to taste the wines and discuss the vintage’s character and quality, and blind tastings of nearly 300 barrel samples organized by Wine Spectator staff. These tastings will generate the official reviews that we'll post here and in the magazine. (I never review wines tasted non-blind at the châteaus).
For starters, it’s good to check back on our 2018 Bordeaux Harvest Report. The season started wet—very, very wet. And then it turned dry—very, very dry. The spring saw heavy rains, which led to increased mildew pressures that had producers scrambling to ward off disease. Organic producers were particularly hard-pressed to keep their crops healthy. The humidity, combined with May and July hailstorms that impacted the Côtes de Bourg as well as Sauternes to some extent, reduced yields in some areas. More than appellation-to-appellation though, the vagaries of mildew are producer-to-producer. While some estates suffered notable losses, overall, Bordeaux produced an average-size crop (a welcome return after the frost-devastated 2017).
As July arrived, things changed for the better, with warm temperatures and drought-like conditions for the second half of summer into harvest. July, August and September were all warmer than recent averages for those months. A late-season rain was easily shrugged off, as the grapes were small and thick-skinned in the end. Cabernet Sauvignon relished that warm, dry summer, while all the major red grapes performed well. Harvest was ideal and stress-free.
The Bordelais are pretty good at hyping a vintage, and are already comparing 2018 to 2010, the current benchmark vintage. That’s because 2010, a near-perfect vintage on both the Left and Right Bank, was also marked by a wet start followed by a warm, dry finish. But 2010 didn’t have the same mildew pressure as 2018 … and, well, benchmarks are benchmarks, and vintages as awesome as 2010 don’t happen very often. So while there’s good buzz in the region, let’s see how the wines show in these early tastings before we get too far ahead of ourselves.
Keep in mind that my en primeur tastings are an introduction to the vintage, focusing on wines both widely available and popular in the U.S. market and highlighting sleepers and values, but this report is not a comprehensive overview of the vintage. For that you'll have to wait for my annual report in the magazine, in March 2021. You can check out my 2016 Bordeaux tasting report in the March 31 issue, and check out our 2015 coverage for a travel feature on places to stay if you decide to visit.
Molesworth wraps up his trip with more than a dozen Right Bank reds, from Pétrus, Vieux Château Certan, Le Pin, Cheval-Blanc, Trotanoy, La Fleur-Pétrus, Clos l'Église and more.
Moving onto the Right Bank, Molesworth tastes 16 exciting young reds, from Valandraud, Canon-La Gaffelière, La Mondotte, Canon, Troplong Mondot, Clos Fourtet and more.
Molesworth finds successes in the making at first-growths Margaux and Haut-Brion, but perhaps the quintessential 2018 at Château Palmer.
James Molesworth finds hot prospects at Léoville Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Beychevelle and Branaire-Ducru.
Before visiting Châteaus Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild, Molesworth checks in on progress at Lynch Bages.
In Pauillac, the 2018 grands vins at Châteaus Latour, Pichon Lalande and Pichon Baron are showstoppers.
James Molesworth kicks off his Bordeaux visits at the top the Médoc with Châteaus Cos-d'Estournel and Calon-Ségur.