The Union des Grands Crus put on their annual travelling show beginning as it always does in New York. It was a grey, drizzly cold day in New York as it often is in January. Participants lined up well before the doors opened at 1:25 pm. This event seemed even more crowded than last year’s tasting of the 2019s. Fortunately, the Cipriani hall is massive and is able to accommodate hundreds of tasters effortlessly. New Yorkers are used to crowds and crowded conditions. To judge by the persistent buzz in the room, tasters were happy. Bordeaux is after all the very bed rock of the world of wine. However, even for the many of us who “strayed” into the many different wine producing regions of the world over the last few decades or so, there is nothing quite like the stability and consistency of Bordeaux wines. The 2020 is the third in a series of ripe, rich wines which seem more the norm than the exception, beginning in 2015. This is not to say that the wines from these vintages taste smell all the same. The 2018s are the most opulent, the 2019s the gentlest and the 2020s quite possible the best balanced of this admirable trio. The 2020 growing season experienced a wet winter and early fruit set which doubtless protected the vines during the hot dry summer. The early flowering meant that the vintage was able to start around mid-August for the dry white wines, with the Merlot harvest beginning around mid-September. Cabernet Sauvignon began about a week later, and the harvest was quickly completed. Quantity was down about 10% from 2019. Merlot did particularly well in 2020 which means that it was a potentially outstanding vintage for the right bank wines. Frankly the vignerons are so selective these days that any substandard fruit is eliminated. I did not find there to be any discernible weakness in the left bank Medocs compared with their right bank counterparts. Best news? The wines tasted quite different from one another. Each Château produced a wine with its own personality. One had only to taste Léoville Barton side by side with Léoville Poyferré, neighbors after all, to experience this first hand. Or Canon and Clos Fourtet. Location uber alles!
Brief comments on my favorite wines
Château Phélan Ségur 2020 St.Estèphe 92
A perennial over-performer. Dark, chewy, very St. Estèphe. Will need a few years.
Despite initial concerns about the influence of the drought summer months in this commune the wines appear to have turned out very well.
Château Brane-Cantenac 2020 Margaux 95
This was brilliant. Electric vitality and freshness. Nuanced and well balanced with lovely fruit and lingering terroir accents
Château Rauzan-Ségla 2020 Margaux 93+
A dark, brooding wine with lots of tannin and flavor. This will be a slow evolver. I am sure it will be a star of the vintage in a decade.
Château Siran 2020 Margaux 93
Always one of the best Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnnel. Easily Fifth Grand Cru in quality. Highly perfumed, delicate with caressing mouth feel. For Burgundy lovers a perfect Bordeaux.
Château Pichon Baron 2020 Pauillac 94+
A massive dense wine in 2020 less easy to taste young than the 2019. A muscular powerful effort. A serious ager. I am sure it will be 95-96 points in a decade.
Château Batailley 2020 Pauillac 93
A fifth Growth that has finally begun to perform like a wine worthy of its classification. Spicely, and energetic with excellent interplay of terroir and acidity. A lovely wine which should taste well throughout its life.
Many fine wines including Leoville Poyferre, Gruaud Larose, Talbot and especially this one:
Château Léoville Barton 2020 St.Julien 97
Among the most classical wine made in Bordeaux, this takes us back the way Bordeaux was made and tasted 40-60 years ago. Beautiful clarity in the wine’s expression and structure. The wine talks a detailed, expressive yet restrained language. Grand Vin as Clive Coates used to say.
Château Branaire Ducru 2020 St.Julien 93
A deservedly popular wine: Sweet, fragrant, harmonious a real palate pleaser.
The Big Guns never appear at this tasting. The secondary wines like Beauregard, La Point and Rouget have improved greatly in the last 5-7 years. Here was one stand out:
Château Gazin 2020 Pomerol 94
This exciting wine has been performing brilliantly since the early 2000s. Spice, tobacco, a range of red fruits and uplifting acidity. Not a blockbuster but really satisfying.
The 2020 seems to be a very successful vintage for these Merlot based wines. Clos Fourtet, Canon, Larcis Ducasse and Cannon La Gaffeliere were each in its own way particularly good.
Clos Fourtet 2020 St.Emilion 95
A real beauty. The most graceful, fluid and perfumed of all the right bank wines. Caresses the palate.
Château Canon 2020 St.Emilion 95
A serious, complex deeply scented wine, the stylistic opposite of the gracious Clos Fourtet. A great wine in the making which begs for bottle aging.
Château Canon La Gaffeliere 2020 St.Emilion 94
One of the outliers on the right bank. More Cab than Merlot. Powerful, earthy imposing wine with fragrant, smoky overtones. Always seem blunt when young. Need 5-10 years in the bottle.
The reds are difficult to taste after the Haut Medocs. Next year I will begin, not end with these wines. The brightness and lift of the Haut-Medocs is less apparent here. The gravelly terroir imparts dark tones to the wines. The exception and by far the best of this large group was the:
Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2020 Péssac-Leognan 96
The brilliant fruit and freshness synthesized with the gravelly undertones to make for one of the great wines of the vintage. If the wine were an Haut Medoc it would be a super-second on a par with Leoville Las Cases, Montrose, etc.