The wine world should have descended on Bordeaux this week to taste the 2019 vintage from barrel and make their assessments, with the chateaux initially due to release the wines from mid-April onwards. However, it comes as no surprise, the biggest event of the fine wine year is currently on ice.
While the Bordelais speculate on the en primeur ice thawing somewhere between May and July, vintage reports are starting to trickle in from the turreted chateaux, as well as the independent assessment of the vintage from the Associate Professor of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, Dr Axel Marchal - between them they provide us with a tantalising taste of what's to come.
Associate Professor of Oenology, Dr Axel Marchal, and his colleagues at the University of Bordeaux, are tasked with providing an annual and independent assessment of the vintage. Based on the report, 2019 is looking like a must-have.
The academic team bases its assessment on weather data and has a tick-list of five conditions throughout the growing season. Tick at least three of the five boxes and you can expect a very good vintage. Appearing on a webinar this week hosted by Jane Anson, Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter, Marchal explained that in the best soils four of the five parameters were fully satisfied and the remaining condition of flowering was at least partially
met - making it an a highly promising vintage from an academic perspective.
It is incredibly rare that all five conditions are fully satisfied. In fact Axel explains that in regards to quality of ripening there is an emphasis on the final two conditions being met - dryness during veraison and clement weather during harvest - both of which were ideal in 2019, setting us up for a stellar vintage.
The five conditions relate to 1) flowering; 2) fruit set; 3) shoot growth reaching completion and ending just prior to veraison, 4) dryness during veraison and 5) clement weather during harvest – ensuring no dilution or rot when grapes reach maturity and they are at their most susceptible.
Axel reports rapid, homogenous, early budburst following a warm spring provides ideal
conditions for flowering, resulting in good yields and most importantly a homogeneity
when ripening. 2019 had this early warm start to the season yet there were some challenges, notably with some Merlot vines at flowering suffering some millederange resulting in a reduction of yields and uneven flowering.
A dry early summer saw perfect conditions for fruit set and in the best soils shoot growth reached maturity ending just before veraison, when the energy of the plant switches to the ripening of the grapes. August and September provided perfect conditions for veraison right up until harvest with no hydric pressure thanks to good reserves of water and sporadic rain
episodes throughout the period. The harvest was picked in beautiful clement weather.
Quality assured, what should we expect stylistically? "I'm very impressed by the vintage," said Nicolas Glumineau from Pauillac's Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. "It's like the comparison between '09 and '10; '18 is more like '09 because it's opulent and expressive and '19 is more like '10 with its tension and precision. [The 2019 vintage] is much more my personal style as a wine lover."
Eric Kohler and Jean-Sebastien Philippe of Chateau Lafite Rothschild said much the same stating, “Our gut feel is that just as there will always be a discussion between 2009 and 2010, we will have the same between 2018 and 2019. 2018 being closer to 2009, and 2019 being closer to 2010.”
Heading even further up the Medoc to the most northerly appellation of St-Estephe, the head of Chateau Phelan-Segur Veronique Dausse summarises the wine style that we can expect: "Combining the qualities of concentration, structure, ripeness and length, 2019 also has the freshness necessary for the balance of great Bordeaux wines," she says. "The upright and precise character of this 2019 vintage is also surprising, given the solid alcohol degrees."
As they say, "good things come to those who wait" - and with the 2019 vintage this has never been more true.