The Critics are Out!

By Gavin Smith

Jun 18th, 2020

In the latter part of this week we finally saw the vintage reports and reviews published from the leading critics, including Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s report for The Wine Advocate, two separate reports for Vinous from Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin and Part 1 of Jeb Dunnuck's report also published online. James Suckling and Jane Anson have also continued to release their notes in stages on their respective websites.

They are unanimous in declaring the vintage either "outstanding" or "excellent" and wines have performed remarkably consistently across all price points. Despite the immense quality of the vintage, the campaign will be remembered in large part for the price reductions across the board and with plenty of wines now garnering high scores, we look at some noteworthy buys that are still available and some top value-picks from the vintage.

In keeping with what has turned out to be a topsy-turvy campaign, due to the constraints of the pandemic, practically all the wines from the Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur campaign had been released (and much of the top wines sold out) prior to these reports being published. Throughout this time however there have been enough reviews to confirm what the Bordelais and merchants have been saying since first tasting the wines in May – that 2019 is a great vintage and more so, a remarkably consistent one, offering a plethora of fantastic wines at every price point.

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s flash reviews released just prior to some of the major releases and scored very favourably certainly provided some additional confidence in the vintage and in these wines in particular. It is clear though that there is general agreement that the vintage sits alongside 2016, 2018 and 2010 as one of the finest of the modern era. The consistency in quality of the vintage on the one hand might seem surprising considering the heat and drought of the growing season, particularly with the heat spikes at the height of summer. You might have expected more vignerons to have been tripped up by this. Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s report highlights that this was not the case, finding little to no evidence of unresolved tannins in the wine (caused by the vines shutting down during the drought).  On the other hand perhaps the success of the vintage should not come as a surprise considering the levels of precision in viticulture and vinifiction that have been reached (particularly amongst the classified Growths), along with the fact that all European wine regions are getting better at managing the warming climate.

The Pape Clement Winery - one of the highest aggregate scores in 2019

Given the strength of the vintage, the usual suspects have performed to the very high standards we have become used to (even in less great vintages) – The First Growths and Super Seconds on the Left Bank have all garnered huge scores and high praise, as did the Pomerol giants that have been tasted. Petrus, Lafleur, Le Pin alongside the top Saint-Emilion wines of Chateau Ausone and Cheval Blanc are all noticeably absent in the critics' reviews, as the estates chose not to send samples outside of France.

Despite the immense quality of the vintage, the campaign will be remembered in large part for the price reductions across the board and given the consistency of these top Chateaux in recent years the likes of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone had no trouble selling out almost immediately even without reviews. Chateau Canon, Chateau Palmer, Chateau Rauzan Segla and Chateau Montrose also decided not to send out samples.

Chateau Labegorce - Top Value pick in 2019

Even without tasting some of these top estates, the critics have been confident in giving a general view of the vintage. Lisa Perrotti-Brown declared 2019 “an outstanding vintage”, a vintage of great consistency and noticeable freshness. She summed it up nicely stating: “The juxtaposition between alcohols (on the high side), crunchy fruit profiles, higher acids and lower pHs (for the most part) is what gives the best 2019s this real sense of energy in the mouth. 2019 is like a vortex of contrasts together creating a truly amazing sense of harmony on the palate.” Antonio Galloni also captured the vintage well, comparing it to the 2009s and 2010s in terms of ripeness and fruit purity, but with a marked difference in style as winemaking has changed over the last ten years – “the 2019s share some attributes with 2009 and 2010, they are much more finessed wines built on persistence and length more than opulence. This is partly the vintage speaking, but also a question of style. Just ten years ago, we were still living in the era of hyper-extracted wines.”

Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion - the highest scoring wine of the vintage

Neal Martin's review concluded that 2019 “is an excellent vintage” stating that there are instances where “the 2019 vintage does surpass everything I have tasted at this unfinished stage, and others where I feel the benchmark 2016s will ultimately be superior.” Somewhere close, but not quite as good as 2016 seems to be a fair overview from him. Judging on his scores he certainly prefers it to the 2018 vintage, awarding two potential perfect scores: Chateau Pichon Comtesse and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion. That is two more than in 2018 plus this does not include the untasted favourites of Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Lafleur and Ausone. Galloni’s conclusion was similar, stating: “2019 is a superb vintage that falls just short of being truly epic”.

James Suckling's position is somewhat reversed – being a huge fan of the 2018 vintage, he seems to prefer the more opulent intensity of that vintage. Considering the similarities in warmth, the wines in 2019 really are very different to 2018 with much finer tannins and more overall freshness and in that respect more medium-bodied. Despite that, Suckling has been hugely impressed with the vintage providing eight potential perfect scores compared to 14 in 2018 (it must be stated that a lot more wines were tasted in 2018).

Jane Anson had the benefit of being based in Bordeaux and therefore got to taste many of the wines at the estates. Tasting close to a 1,000 wines she certainly has provided the most comprehensive insight into the vintage. Having had scores published for the very earliest releases has made hers a prominent voice in this year’s campaign. Her top wine of the vintage is Chateau L’Eglise Clinet with Pomerol being her favoured appellation in 2019, although like others, it is the consistency across appellations that has really impressed her. Like Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni she still has 2019 coming in (just) behind 2016 in terms of quality.

Chateau Laroque - awarded huge 95-97 points by Lisa Perrotti-Brown for their 2019.

With the reports now published and given the speed at which the wines have been released, we thought it would be helpful to identify some clear favourites that you may have missed and that are still available. An indicator of the consistency of the vintage is that Neal Martin has scored a staggering 45 wines between 94-97 points. Some of these are exceptional value and should not be missed.

Clos du Marquis - Top Second Wine in 2019

Critics' Highlights:

Consistent High Scorers (that you may have missed)

Chateau Clos Fourtet 2019, Saint-Emilion

Although not tasted by all of the major critics so far, it has received fantastic aggregate scores with both Neal Martin, Antonio Galloni and Jane Anson all awarding it a potential 97 points. This Premier Grand Cru Classe "B" estate is certainly producing some of the finest wines in Saint-Emilion today and is well worth your consideration in 2019. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Chateau Pape Clement 2019, Pessac Leognan

Due to the timing of this release it is not surprising that it got missed, but the wine has garnered fantastic scores across the board and remains certainly one of the top wines of Pessac Leognan in 2019. Neal Martin awarded it 96-98 points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown 96-98+ points. It has one of the highest aggregate scores of the vintage. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Top Value Buys

Chateau Labegorce 2019, Margaux

A beautiful wine from Margaux that was released on one of the biggest days of the campaign and lost its opportunity in the limelight. But whilst this may have been missed on release the fantastic score to price ratio makes this one of the buys of the vintage. Garnering 93-95 points from Neal Martin and priced under £20 a bottle seems fantastic value. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Chateau Laroque 2019, Saint-Emilion 

Seemingly a perennial favourite for Lisa Perrotti-Brown: 95-97 points for a wine that costs just £17.50 in bond is recommendation enough. If you missed our offer click here for last remaining cases. The recent success of the wine is undoubtedly down to hiring the highly respected winemaker David Suire (one of the men behind two of Saint-Emilion’s top performing estates - Chateau Larcis Ducasse and Chateau Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse). His talent and experience, combined with the blessing of some stunning vintages, has seen this Saint-Emilion estate regularly score in the high nineties since his arrival. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Chateau Lagrange 2019, Saint Julien

The Chateau is owned by the highly successful Suntory Group (best known for its premium spirits including the Japanese whiskies Yamazaki and Nikka), who since taking over the property have been making steady long-term improvements to the wines thanks to an extensive replanting scheme which they implemented on taking over the property 30 years ago. With these vines now reaching maturity and bearing premium fruit, along with a significant increase in their Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, the wines today have never been better. Their 2019 was awarded 94-96 points by Neal Martin, 95 points by Jane Anson and is priced at just over £30 per bottle in bond. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Chateau Tour-Saint-Christophe 2019, Saint-Emilion

Every year the estate seems to get better; the wine has never been so concentrated and balanced as in 2019. Thanks to their limestone and blue clay soils, the wine never feels heavy, despite the generosity of fruit. It also performs particularly well in drier vintages like 2019. Awarded 94-96 points from Neal Martin and 95-97 points from Jeb Dunnuck for a wine priced at just over £22 over fantastic value. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Top Second Wines

Clos du Marquis 2019 (Second wine of Chateau Leoville Las Cases)

Always a favourite for drinkers who love their linear style typical of the Grand Vin of Chateau Leoville Las Cases. Scoring a huge 93-95 points from Neal Martin this year, looks like a great buy for the winemaking prowess at work here. Click to view product details and critics reviews

Croix du Beaucaillou 2019 (Second wine of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou)

This wine has always been a favourite for many, as it consistently manages to retain a plush, concentrated purity of fruit you don't always find at this price point. It is particularly exceptional in 2019 and comes highly recommended. Garnering huge scores from the critics, with Neal Martin awarding it a potential 96 points, for a wine at just over £28 bottle in bond this is recommendation enough. Click to view product details and critics reviews.

Releases to watch out for

Chateau Pichon Comtesse, Pauillac

A winery on incredible form, it has produced a truly outstanding wine in 2019, receiving several potential 100-point scores from the critics. It is in fact just one of two wines from Neal Martin’s report to be awarded a potential 100 points, describing it as “unbelievably precise”. It certainly is one of the wines of the vintage and the energy and tension in the wine is mindblowing. This wine is certainly one of our picks of the vintage. Click to read product details and critic reviews.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Leognan (Red & White)

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte continues to be one of Pessac-Leognan’s most consistent performers with the 2019 vintage following in a long line of exceptional wines, getting more and more refined with every vintage. Winemaker Fabien Teitgen has a great ability to dissect a vintage describing the 2019 as “the texture of 2009, but with more freshness in the aromas and more acidity, perhaps like 2015 for the aromas and 2017 for the acidity and the length… the Merlot is very dense and powerful and the Cabernet Sauvignon has a wonderful tannin structure producing a wine with very long length”. Tasting the 2019 it is easily one of the finest Pessac Leognan reds of the vintage, if not one of the finest on the Left Bank. Click to read product details and critic reviews.

Chateau Troplong Mondot 2019, Saint Emilion

Whilst still to be released, the new style of wines at Chateau Troplong Mondot are certainly finding favour in 2019. Along with Chateau Canon they are the first to pick the grapes in Saint-Emilion, opting for ethereal freshness over opulence. The wine is magnificent in 2019. Neal Martin scores it 95-97, Lisa Perrotti-Brown 96-98 and Antonio Galloni 96-98. This will be one to watch next week. Click to view product details and critics reviews

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