2019 Bordeaux Vintage Review: Perfectly Balanced, Rich, and Energetic
(Bloomberg) -- Chateau Mouton Rothschild, $400 a bottle; Chateau Lafite Rothschild, $525; Chateau Pontet-Canet, $80; Chateau d’Issan $49: Prices for futures of 2019 Bordeaux wines have been rolling out fast and are still coming in.
The region’s en primeur campaign, which is the period when chateaux release prices for the most recent vintage and sell the wines while they are still aging in the barrel, is in full swing. And some of results are the best bargains since the 2008s, which were sold as futures the spring after Lehmann Brothers collapsed.
“Most people agree 2019 is a seriously good vintage,” says Christian Seely, the managing director of AXA Millesimes, which owns several Bordeaux chateaux. “In normal times, none of these wines would have been discounted. But you have to give people a reason to buy.”
Want to take a flyer on the futures game? You can find deals in every price category, from $20 to more than $500, whether you want to buy for sheer drinking pleasure or, hey, for investment.
What Are the Wines Like?
After tasting some 125 samples shipped from Bordeaux, what’s impressed me most about the ones I rated best is their perfect balance, bright energy, and enticing floral aromas married with richness, fine soft tannins, and especially satiny textures. They show off each estate’s terroir and characteristic style even more dramatically than usual. Many are surprisingly approachable right now, which isn’t typical of barrel samples, and I almost felt like drinking them in this unfinished state. The wines will spend an additional 12 to 18 months aging in barrels, which usually smooths out their tannins and adds weight. Based on the weather conditions of the year and the balance and character of the wines, this is a superb vintage, one with serious aging potential. Legendary? We need a bit more time to tell.
Eric Kohler, technical director of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, calls 2019 “a classic-modern vintage, more traditional and balanced than 2018, and with modern richness without excess.” (The 2018s were bigger and bolder, with lots of apparent tannin, sometimes high alcohol and marked by the climate more than terroir.) Kohler says 2019 was “an easy year, a mix of cool and hot. From the beginning we knew it would be great.”
But not everyone did. After a humid spring came a dry, hot summer, with intense heat waves at the end of June and in July. Luckily, rainstorms in July, August, and September came just when needed and helped the grapes hold acidity, which is why the wines have so much balance and freshness. It was also a year when cabernet sauvignon grapes shone.
“It’s very unusual to have cabernet sauvignon with so much ripeness and freshness and such soft tannins,” says Bruno Borie of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, one of the year’s Left Bank stars. The cool nights, he says, also helped keep freshness.
“With a long period of dry weather, the winemaking key was being careful not to extract too much tannin and keep the purity of fruit, says Pomerol’s Christian Moueix. He calls 2019 a “solar vintage”—one with much more sun than usual.
Aymeric de Gironde, chief executive officer of Chateau Troplong Mondot in Saint-Emilion, sees 2019 as “a dual vintage, with charm and sexiness, but also backbone and length.”
Winemakers like to compare the latest vintage to ones in the past, but I didn’t hear consensus. Emmanuel Cruse of Chateau d’Issan thinks 2019 is a mix of the aromatic, seductive 2015s and the structured, classic, truly great 2016s. Others call it a mix of the structured 2010s and open, plush 2009s or opulent 2015s, with more purity and finesse. The one problem for some wines in 2019 was heat stress because of the dry summer, so some wines made from young vines have prune notes. There is more variability in Saint-Emilion.
The State of the Future
Despite the turmoil in the world, there’s plenty of consumer interest in futures, says Shaun Bishop, CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based JJ Buckley Fine Wines, “because quality is high and prices are fair.” Tom Jenkins, Bordeaux buyer at Justerini & Brooks, adds, “Some are selling out in record time.”
Should you buy? “Twenty nineteen is all about price,” says Ella Lister, whose blog at Wine-Lister.com is a great source of analysis on the best deals. “Mouton is a steal compared to back vintages, which cost much more.”
Caution: In the U.S., futures prices don’t include the 25% tariff on French wines under 14% alcohol, and buyers will be responsible for that cost if it’s still in place when bottles arrive in 2022.
My top wines below are culled from those I’ve tasted so far, but there are many more excellent ones, as well as some at value prices under $50. I haven’t included whites such as the fabulous Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc or the Chateau Marquis d’Alesme, which just arrived. But they—and many others—will be included in more extensive notes on the 2019s that I’ll start posting in my Bordeaux Report on www.elinmccoy.com next week.
14 Top Wines From 2019
Lafite Rothschild ($525)
This supremely elegant Lafite balances power, precision, and a succulent creamy texture with alluring aromas and subtle cedar and mineral notes. I give this year the edge over 2018.
Mouton Rothschild ($415 )
A near perfect wine, this powerful, complex, silky-textured red shines with polished tannins, smoky mulberry fruit, and a touch of cocoa and is cheaper than all recent vintages.
This first growth is finely structured and super complex. With expansive scents of cedar, tobacco, and licorice, it has subtlety, energy, length, and nuanced flavors. It’s 30% less than the 2018 release price. I give it a slight edge over the dense, almost brooding La Mission Haut-Brion, which is also a stellar buy.
Highly sophisticated, this is the best vintage yet for Angelus’s new elegant style, with a texture that co-owner Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal calls “as soft as vicuna.” But the price is high.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel ($153)
Spiciness is in Cos’s DNA, and it comes through in this harmonious wine with enticing dark chocolatey notes. The velvety texture hides a structure that will let it age—but the price is still high.
With its soft density and crushed berry flavors, this Pomerol is deeply seductive, better than the 2018.
Pichon Baron ($125)
Lovely scents of warm fruit and rich tastes of black plums, raspberries, and spices mark this firmly structured wine. It’s on par with the estate’s best vintages.
One of the year’s best deals, it brims with aromas of warm fruit and lilies and has very pure flavors of cassis, tobacco, and blackberries.
Clerc Milon ($69)
Dark, savory, and almost brooding, the wine from this estate owned by Mouton Rothschild is plush and mouth-filling.
Ducru Beaucaillou ($155)
This is a sumptuous Ducru, with aromas of cedar and cigars, rich, balanced black fruit flavors, and a satiny, seductive texture.
One of the best Pomerols of the vintage, it’s a seamless, suave wine that brims with floral aromas and dark, pure layers of fruit, earth, truffles, and chocolate.
Pichon Lalande ($144)
One of the vintage’s most stunning wines, it has an elegant juiciness, rich, cool blueberry fruit, seamless power, and satiny smoothness.
Smith Haut Lafitte ($90)
An intense black olive character and cherry notes mark this savory, refined wine that’s better than the 2018. The white is tops, too.
Troplong Mondot ($94)
This vintage is both sensual and sophisticated, with super supple tannins and dark fruit.
Below $50 a Bottle
Lilian Ladouys ($20)
A killer bargain, this Saint-Estephe red shows off floral and black fruit aromas, nice plush tannins, and surprising richness and balance.
Tour Saint Christophe ($30)
Powerful yet juicy with layers of blackberry fruit, this wine from Saint-Emilion consistently offers good value.
Open and generous, this wine shows off vibrant cassis aromas and flavors and is one of the best vintages I’ve tasted of this wine.
Violet-scented, this red has the classic, elegant, graceful style of wines from Margaux. It’s better than 2018, fresh and racy, with a long, intense aftertaste.
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