People, Pauillac & the right bank

Travels in Wine / Bordeaux

Travels in Bordeaux: People, Pauillac & the right bank


Sebastian Payne MW Sebastian Payne MW / 24 May 2019

Continuing on our quest to taste the new-born 2018 clarets took us out to Pauillac and across the river to Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. Here's a snapshot of our trip:

Fifth-growth Château Haut- Batailley where Jean-Charles Cazes has bought some of his neighbour's land
Fifth-growth Château Haut- Batailley where Jean-Charles Cazes has bought some of his neighbour's land
Not your usual attire for visiting Bordeaux châteaux!
Not your usual attire for visiting Bordeaux châteaux!

Business for the great and good is booming. Jean-Charles Cazes, who is certainly one of the most far-sighted long-term thinkers of the new generation, kindly provided one welcome lunch stop. He has just bought a neighbour's land in Haut-Batailley (previously owned by the aunt of Xavier and Bruno Borie of Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Ducru-Beaucaillou who did not want to take on the extra responsibility and expense). 2016, 2017 and 2018 Haut-Batailley are quite splendid and will be worth their price even though that has increased to help cover the cost of planting its unused land and the purchase.

The Cazes family have also undertaken a massive 'big dig' next to Lynch-Bages to modernise and expand their cellar. Hard hats and yellow wellies are there for those who want to inspect the work. Neighbour vineyards Pichon Comtesse and Pichon Baron proved to have made outstanding 2018s in their satisfactorily contrasting styles. Both offer a magical mix of power and finesse. This year I prefer the charm and sublime poise of Pichon Comtesse, but I know many claret lovers who will favour the serious Pauillac depths of the Baron.

Saint-Emilion from the Pavie Macquin wine tasting room
Saint-Emilion from the Pavie Macquin wine tasting room

A day on the right bank – a highlight of our week

An extended day on the right bank (well a good 45 minutes' drive east from Bordeaux) in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion provided, perhaps, the most exciting moments of our week. Unusually in 2018, good sites with well-managed vineyards saw all three major varieties succeed. Cabernet sauvignon (king of the Médoc), merlot and cabernet franc (king and queen of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion), all three were superb.

'Christian Moueix, who has been present at 49 vintages said that he could not remember a better year'

Wonderful wisteria at Saint-Emilon's Château Ausone

This is rare. Most years favour earlier-ripening merlot or later-ripening cabernet so it wasn't a complete surprise when Christian Moueix, who has been present at 49 vintages, (and since I've seen nearly 40 from the outset I believe him) said that he could not remember a better year. Certainly Fleur-Pétrus, Bélair-Monange, Ausone, Hosanna, Figeac, Canon, Conseillante and Clos Fourtet all tasted quite wonderful, promising so much. But for us just as important, we found many splendid less-famous wines in Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Lalande-de-Pomerol and the Côtes de Bordeaux which will deliver lots of pleasure. Not at the same level of finesse but not at the same prices either.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff still essential

Nevertheless we concluded at the end of a busy week that there were wide variations. The vintage is less consistent than 2016 or 2015. It wasn't easy to make great wine in 2018, which is why we went out and tasted and re-tasted to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

But for sure the top 2018s will be of legendary quality and there will be some terrific buys elsewhere. So take the 2018s seriously: they can offer concentrated, ripe, fine Bordeaux essence at its considerable best.

Where to go next?

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