2019 Vintage - En Primeur Report

Thomas Parker MW tasting through the 2019 samples in London.

The 2019 En Primeur campaign will take place in unprecedented circumstances. Merchants were unable to taste the new vintage in April amid lockdowns for the COVID-19 crisis. We were one of many merchants and critics that believed an En Primeur campaign this summer would be badly timed in the midst of a pandemic and economic instability. Despite this, it became clear that a campaign would be going ahead - with the expectations of significant price reductions - so Farr Vintners arranged delivery of a huge number of cask samples in late May in order to bring our customers our usual informed and honest advice on which wines to buy. En Primeur campaigns tend to reflect the current economic outlook at the time of release (cf. 2008) so we expect chateaux to reduce prices to sensible levels and hope that there will be great wines worth buying in 2019.

The Wines

Despite the restrictions in movement our team have been able to taste over 150 samples in safe, socially distanced conditions. The majority of these wines were tasted in London, but we have also been able to taste samples not shipped abroad as one of our team has been based in Bordeaux during the lockdown. Tasting notes (and scores out of 20) for all these samples, written by our Master of Wine Thomas Parker, are available by clicking into the wines. 

What is clear from the samples we have tasted is that this is a very good vintage that is great in parts, sitting just behind 2009, 2010 and 2016 but equal to or ahead of both 2015 and 2018. The wines have rich and ripe fruit with good density. This is balanced by a freshness beyond that of 2018, and ripe but plentiful tannins that sit somewhere between 2016 and 2010 in quantity and grip. The best wines will age for several decades but there are wines that will drink well in their youth - this is particularly the case with second wines and more Merlot-dominant appellations. There are great wines from every appellation in 2019 but Saint Julien and Pomerol particularly impressed us, finding superb balance between ripeness, freshness and integration of tannin. The most famous names were reassuringly brilliant, but there are high quality wines to be found at every price point this year.

Pierre-Olivier Clouet talks us through the vintage at Château Cheval Blanc

The dry white wines are of very good quality, with fresh and vibrant aromatics but impressive density and ripe fruit that is in harmony with zesty acidity. Jeanne Lacombe from Chateau Pape Clement compares it to 2015 and Ludovic Fradin of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte to a blend of 2015 and 2016 - a harmony of ripeness and acidity. We have decided not to list Sauternes as part of our website offer, but they are available on request. Yields are down in 2019 (15hl/ha at Doisy Daene and just 7hl/ha at Lafaurie Peyraguey, for example), with late-onset botrytis in October that required quick harvests rather than several passes through the vineyard over a protracted period. 

For the few wines that we have not been able to taste this year, we have asked for technical information from the producers. However Farr Vintners was fortunate to have a member of the team in Bordeaux in May 2020, so we are able to provide tasting notes from the many chateaux who did not send out samples. Consequently, Farr Vintners is the only UK merchant to try nearly every top wine from the 2019 vintage with many wines tasted in both Bordeaux and London.

Our usual tasting trip takes just before Easter, when spring is still struggling to escape the clutches of winter. Many producers that we met expressed delight at the later ‘date de degustation’ and suggested their wines were a little more expressive than they had been a month before. Speaking to the winemakers face to face is an invaluable tool in getting an idea of the characteristics of the vintage and where it sits amongst other recent vintages. Jean-Guillaume Prats at Chateau Lafite remarked that this was a vintage of "every excess in balance". Jean-Basile Roland of chateaux Berliquet, Canon & Rauzan Segla could hardly conceal his excitement at the quality of the wines - it is another very strong vintage for the Chanel-owned properties headed up by Nicolas Audebert.

What is remarkable about the vintage - and maybe the most impressive aspect - is the freedom that it has given winemakers to showcase the terroir and 'house style’ of the chateau. The intense fruit denotes the sun and heat, but the tannins are largely reflective of the grape and soil type. Alexandre Thienpont interestingly remarked that this is why Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin seem so different in this vintage. Despite the small distance between the two properties, Le Pin’s predominantly gravel soil has given incredibly perfumed fruit compared to the ripe fruit and savoury notes from VCC’s clay & gravel mix.

In terms of winemaking style, the difference in end product between other neighbours is stark. On the right bank, Ausone have produced a dense and broody wine with real richness and secondary characteristics. Just up the road at Troplong Mondot, the revolution rolls on as Aymeric de Gironde has produced a wine with incredible aromatics and freshness. This can be seen in Margaux as well. Brane Cantenac showcases the gorgeous red fruit and silky tannins provided by the prime parcel they hold on the Cantenac plateau and their light hand in the winery. On the other side of the train tracks, Rauzan Segla has produced a very different but equally impressive 2019. The slightly higher proportion of Cabernet has led to a decadent wine with lots of dark fruit and savoury complexity even at this early stage.

Corks from the samples sent from Bordeaux

The Weather

There is a wealth of information available from most chateaux on the weather in 2019. After a fairly mild and dry winter, spring produced early bud break in some varieties and a typical one for others. Frost is always the fear with early growth, and there were two spells in 2019, one in mid-April and another in early May. However, most of the producers we have spoken to avoided any damage to the early growth in their vines.

The summer was marked by heat and dryness – Chateau Palmer only had 50mm rain between July and August and Chateau La Conseillante recorded 48 days averaging over 30 degrees Celsius, with a staggering 9 days averaging over 35 degrees Celsius. Chateau Cheval Blanc recorded their 4th driest vintage in 2019 - just behind the 100-point 2005, 2015 and 2010 - a promising sign in terms of quality. Cool evenings in parts of August and rains in mid- to late September were a blessing, allowing the skins to ripen fully, adding freshness to the wines and reducing alcohol levels. Chateaux across the region pointed to optimal harvesting conditions and superb fruit health when bringing the grapes in; as a result, most yields are healthy this year.  A full review of the vintage conditions can be read in the annual Lynch Bages weather report from the Cazes Family.

Reviews

All of the major critics have now released some or all of their scores and reports. We have added reviews from Bordeaux-based British wine writers Jane Anson (for Decanter) and James Lawther MW (for JancisRobinson.com) who have visited the properties, as well as those of critics Neal Martin, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Antonio Galloni and James Suckling who have all received samples at their homes from hundreds of chateaux.

Neal Martin released a full report on the 2019 vintage on Tuesday 16th June - it includes information on the growing season and wines, but also thoughts on the greater global situation and the difference in tasting the wines at home - "Nothing is certain in life except for death, taxes and en primeur". The thought-provoking, funny and detailed article is well worth reading, and is accompanied by a full raft of scores. He concludes that "Two thousand and nineteen is a great vintage", noting that "there are instances where the 2019 vintage does surpass everything I have tasted at this unfinished stage", equally saying that 2016 is better than 2019 in other instances. Comparing to the 2018 vintage, Neal says that the 2019s "display much more elegance and will probably become more renowned". La Mission Haut Brion and Pichon Lalande are the two wines to receive 98-100 points, with several others close behind on 97-99 and 96-98. These can be seen in Neal's Wines of the Vintage on our Recommendations page. 

Lisa Perotti-Brown MW released her report on the vintage for the Wine Advocate on 18th June, following a series "Flash Reviews" for select chateaux either just before or just after they were released. Between these a massive ten wines received a potential 100-point score - Ducru Beaucaillou, L'Eglise Clinet, Figeac, Margaux, La Mission Haut Brion, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Pavie, Pichon Baron, Pontet Canet, and Vieux Chateau Certan. It seems obvious with this many perfect wines, but Lisa concludes that 2019 "is an outstanding vintage", praising the "consistency in quality, form top to bottom". She was particularly impressed with the Left Bank - "the Cabernet Sauvignon coming out of the Medoc this year is through-the-roof-good". Comparing to the 2018 vintage, Lisa thinks "the flavors are remarkably bright and refreshing" yet have "gravitas, weight and jaw-dropping intensity". While she suggests the wines will drink well in their youth, "the best wines should easily go on for 30 to 40 years or more", a critical part of a great Bordeaux vintage. 

James Suckling has released a series of reports with his assessment of the vintage alongside scores and tasting notes. The reviews are extremely positive – Ducru Beaucauillou, Lafite, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild have all received 99-100 points - with the focus on the wines’ purity and finesse. James heaps praise on 2019, saying “I find the vintage to be outstanding and at the same quality as the extraordinary 2018 but the young wines show more classic, even traditional style with fine tannins and bright and vibrant acidity.” He does however highlight the difficulty in releasing wines at this time - “buying futures is the last thing on the minds of most wine lovers as the world deals with COVID-19 and the global economic crisis.

Jane Anson of Decanter has already written a detailed preview on the vintage, and has now released the majority of her tasting notes.

James Lawther MW has now released his 2019 scores on jancisrobinson.com - split into two articles on the left and right bank.

Notes and scores from all these critics will appear on our website as and when they are released, along with each critic’s respective Wines of the Vintage.

Prices

Despite running the campaign during the extremely difficult and uncertain times we face, there is an opportunity for Bordeaux to make En Primeur a success for the 2019 vintage. If wines are priced correctly, they can offer great value to buyers after many recent vintages where the benefits of buying futures have faded. To that end, we have made the lower estimates for 2019 releases the equivalent of the 2014 release prices, accounting for the change in the exchange rate since that time. Most, if not all, chateaux will offer excellent value at these prices – often they will be cheaper than most or all physically available vintages. Our top estimates are 10% below the 2018 release prices. Some wines will still be worth buying at these prices, but not many. Pontet Canet has led the way with its reduction, down 31% on the 2018 release and below our initial bottom estimate. We hope that other chateaux will follow in a similar vein.

You can see our frank assessment of each release price as they happen on our Latest News page, and recent releases will be shown on the What’s New page. We have reduced the number of wines that are available to “Pre-order” and “Wish-list” to those that have been our customers’ favourites in recent vintages, but other wines are available on request. If this is your first time buying En Primeur, there is also an explanation as to how the system works and how to order using the “Pre-order” and “Wish-list” system.

All wines are currently in barrel and will be delivered Spring 2022