Density, intensity and freshness
The 2020s, paradoxically, offer a return to a more classically styled vintage, despite there having been long periods of hot, dry weather during the growing season. The best wines display good fruit density, harmonious balance and, crucially, freshness, with no hint of overripeness. As a general rule, the reds have more structure and tannin, but lower alcohol levels than the last two vintages, so many will require patience in order to enjoy them at their drinking peak. And whilst it is fair to say that there is less consistency across the piste than in 2019 and 2018, the best wines in 2020 really are very good indeed.
There is no one region or commune that outshone others, although I was delighted to discover that the Haut-Médoc produced some particularly lovely wines in 2020. Haut-Médoc is a relatively modest appellation but the wines offer exceptional value for money and so this year we will be offering a mixed case for members.
A roller-coaster year culminates in the third very fine vintage in row
Vineyard managers and winemakers had to make crucial decisions throughout the year in order to meet the many challenges that nature threw at them. After an early flowering, late spring was at times damp, and mildew was a constant risk. Overall volumes are down this year as a result, particularly on the left bank. From mid-June for around two months there was practically no rain at all. Thankfully the vines in the more water-retentive soils were able to draw on the water reserves that had built up over the previous months in order to avoid shutting down.
The weather in September 2020 was variable, and the decision on when to pick the grapes was critical. Sébastien Olivar of Château Dutruch Grand-Poujeaux said that the minutely detailed weather reports that he would normally be glued to were not available due to the lack of data normally gathered through air traffic in the area. This made the picking decisions even more tricky than normal. Merlot in general ripened readily and was picked up to the third week in September, but some heavy rain showers thereafter provided more challenges for the later-ripening cabernet sauvignon.
The berries, particularly the cabernet sauvignon, were tiny in 2020 and so the ratio of juice to skins was low. This meant that particular vigilance was required in the cellars in order not to extract too much tannin from the skins - only the gentlest handling was required.
So 2020 is a vintage that really sorted out the wheat from the chaff when it came to decision making at the individual châteaux. The great news is that those who held their nerve and made the right calls throughout the year were rewarded with some truly impressive red wines.
Dry whites and Sauternes
The dry whites this year are delicious. Despite the heat and the drought conditions over the summer, acidity levels were good, so the wines have maintained admirable freshness. They are less exuberant than the 2019s, but have lovely intense aromas nevertheless. The embattled producers of Sauternes had an even more challenging year than those producing reds. The onset of botrytis (noble rot) was very late, and yields are tiny. We have made a very strict selection this year of the three best wines that we tasted.