Travels in Wine

Travels In Bordeaux: Tasting the new-born 2018 Margaux

The first taste of a new Bordeaux vintage is exciting, illuminating and daunting. I was about to begin an intensive week tasting a great many samples of new-born wine every day for a week.

The first taste is the sweetest! A line-up of Margaux at merchants Ulysse Cazabonne, Bordeaux

How the tastings work

It helps that I have done this a lot and have a record of vintages tasted at the same stage going back decades. All the top names we taste at their châteaux. But fresh samples are delivered each day to trusted négociants too, who helpfully line them up. So we can and do taste many châteaux's wines several times. This is useful when there is a question mark over a particular wine and a joy when a less well-known name stands out as excellent on several separate occasions.

It was clear immediately that 2018 is a vintage to notice…

Your buyer Tim Sykes' photo line-up of Margaux châteaux above was my first taste. It was clear immediately that 2018 is a vintage to notice and that I would need a toothbrush later that day! These are wines with lots of concentration, tannins and fruit. Margaux I know from experience is challenging to taste young because the best wines from this deep gravel soil have noticeable tannins and acidity when young which can mask underlying fruit. Middle palate and length are important clues to the best wines. This is what we look for when tasting.

Brane Cantenac – one of the Margauxs whose wine really sang
Brane Cantenac – one of the Margauxs whose wine really sang

The effects of the weather on wine

Advanced growth in Saint-Emilion
Advanced growth in Saint-Emilion

Margaux is also a multifarious commune with diverse soils and results are always up and down. Rauzan-Ségla, Brane Cantenac and Siran sang. Several others didn't. The hot dry summer stressed vines on Margaux's lean gravel. Generally it was to prove that older vines and soils with deep water-retaining clay soils below had an advantage. We subsequently found lots of good wine in Saint-Estèphe which often has this mix and quite sensible pricing too.

Walking round the vineyards (we always make time to do this) it was quickly apparent that, once again, flowering occurred earlier than in the past. In early April this means frosts are a real danger. The ice saints are remembered in mid-May and Burgundy was reminded this year. Anyone who denies climate change is a fool.

Sebastian Payne MW

Society Buyer

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian, our longest serving wine buyer, joined The Wine Society in 1973. He served as Chief Wine Buyer from 1985–2012.

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