Wednesday Wines – Episode 136 – 2020 Vision: Barrel to Bottle

While the First Growths and various ‘Supers’ from both sides of the Gironde don’t show their wines at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting, London welcomed a cohort of great estates on the 9th of this month, and the big question was how did the wines look now that they have been bottled. In fact, many of the gérants asked this question: do the wines look as impressive as they did out of the barrel? So, here is my assessment of the finest bottles at this prestigious event. I have listed the finest wines in order from my highest En Primeur score (with the original accompanying note) down to a score of 18/20, and 15 wines in the room made the grade. Within each score bracket, I have listed the wines in order of my personal favourites.  After each of my original EP notes and scores, I have included my thoughts now that these wines are bottled as well as approximate pricing for a six-pack of each wine in bond.    I hope this provides you with an accurate insight into those wines that I think are worthy of serious consideration for your cellar.  

 

2020 Château La Conseillante, Pomerol (£936ib x 6)

87% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc

70% new oak, 27% older oak and 3% amphorae

14% alc

39 hl/ha

3.67 pH

9.77ha of the overall 11.79ha went into the Grand Vin

Organically certified

Winemaker Marielle Cazaux explained that she will remember 2020 as a vintage when all of her colleagues, not just the winemaking and viticultural teams, played a part in the vineyard. With the various challenges of lockdowns, kids school runs and a desire to adhere to social distancing while keeping the employees safe, La Conseillante operated an ‘all hands to the pump’ system which meant that they all multi-tasked and in doing so became more au fait with each other’s responsibilities. This team effort brought a new harmony and understanding to this estate and its employees, and for this reason, despite some of the challenges that the weather presented, it was a very happy vintage and one in which every member of staff can genuinely say that they played a full role in making this wine taste so exquisite. Of course, a collaborative team, combined with some very happy vines is likely to make a delicious wine. The clay soils at La Conseillante meant that while the summer was hot and there was a degree of hydric stress, the vines did not suffer. They have learned a lot over the last few warm vintages, so an adapted cover crop, mulching, and a careful (slightly earlier than normal) green harvest all contributed to a perfect vendange with all of the team involved. Harmony breeds harmony, and 2020 La Conseillante is a quintessential creation that perfectly reflects the vintage and acknowledges the human skill involved in making a wine of this elegance and distinction. Deeply perfumed at the same time as refreshingly aerial, the nose is sensational, drawing you deeper and deeper into the glass.  With a luxurious black-fruited theme, the precision here is breathtaking, and the balance is astonishing, too, given that the fruit is so profound. The finish is amazingly bright and alive, and the tannins are pure cashmere. This is one of the most elegant and complete wines of the vintage, and I am sure it will start drinking relatively early and then hold for three or four decades with ease.  19.5+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Utterly awe-inspiring and the wine of the entire tasting. Sensational layers and so luxurious it confounds the senses. As I expected, this thrilling wine already shows succulence and grace, so it will soften earlier and last longer than any other vintage I can think of.

*****

2020 Château Troplong Mondot, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (£432ib x 6)

85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc

60% new oak for between 14-16 months

14.5% alc

3.53 pH

Harvest took place between 3rd – 30th September in two distinct tranches totalling 12 days.

This mercurial vintage seems like a perfect fit for Troplong Mondot. Aymeric de Gironde’s parcel-by-parcel, plot-by-plot, step-by-step philosophy is paying great dividends. With a new, spectacular winery up and running and a panoramic tasting room all but completed, their timing could not be better – I only hope that they will be able to welcome visitors before too long.  With their stylish layering of fruit, seen through a tri-varietal lens, differing soil types, altitude, and orientation, this is a truly kaleidoscopic wine. The nose is brooding, fleshly, and wild, with carefree hints of hedgerow berries and flowers and deeply exotic tones of spice and musk. They started picking here on the 4th September, then stopped for a while before the Cabernets and one plot of Merlot came in on the 30th of the month – just in the nick of time before the rain came in. This spread of harvesting seems to have locked in stunning freshness (and an impressively low pH), which is countered by the expansive and profound flavours found on the palate. The tannins are beautifully integrated, and there is superb concentration here, too, pushing this wine into delicious, carnal places. It will, no doubt, start to drink earlier than usual because the fruit is so all-encompassing and bombastic, but this wine is founded on unshakable acid and tannin, which is in perfect harmony with the fruit, and so this balance will enable it to age extremely confidently, too. I wouldn’t hesitate to move this wine’s classification to ‘A-status’ immediately, such is the unquestionable grandeur on display in this vintage.  19+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Another impeccably well-assembled wine with a stunning texture and prodigious length. Nothing has been lost between the barrel and the bottle.

*****

2020 Château Canon, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion

(£576ib x 6)

68% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc

50% new oak for 18 months

14.5% alc

40 hL/ha

3.53pH

Merlot was harvested from 4th – 21st September and Cabernet Franc was harvested from 18th – 23rd September

In common with a handful of other elite Saint-Émilions in 2020, Canon seamlessly combines lusty fruit intensity with piercingly bright freshness on the palate, making it a wonderfully rewarding wine. The nose is voluminous, layered, and open, and the palate starts in the same vein with deep, red berry fruit cut with flashes of darker, more malevolent flavours. As the palate progresses, it slowly closes down to a final flourish of fit tannins and keen acidity, and it is this jolt of freshness that allows the luxurious notes that precede it to gain perfect balance. This is an expansive and delicious wine, and I do not doubt that it will drink early in its life, but given that the tannins are so refined and active, this vintage will mellow over two or three decades if it is given a chance.  This is my highest Canon score to date, and it is definitely a wine to watch in 2020.  18.5/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – It looked identical to my EP note, and the sheer quality of fruit and accompanying tannins makes this an amazing Canon.  

*****

2020 Château Léoville Barton, 2ème Cru Saint-Julien

(£365ib x 6)

85.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% Merlot

60% new oak

13.6% alc

34 hL/ha

Harvested 14th – 15th September and 21st – 28th September 

Like its sibling, Langoa, the nose on this wine is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There is power here and a degree of wild fruit on top of the more ordered flavours, which I find fascinating. While the oak is rather bombastic and powerful, there is plenty of fruit to soak it all up. The tannins are tremendously fit, and they don’t dry the palate at all, preferring to finish crisp and refined. 2020 Léoville Barton is not in a rush. This is a wine that will need a degree of considered cellaring before you open a bottle, but when you do, it will be a gripping experience. The balance in this wine is truly exquisite from start to finish.  18.5+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Perfectly balanced and crisply tannic, this is a thrilling Léoville-Barton, and like the others in this piece, the score is spot on! 

*****

2020 Château Pichon Baron, 2ème Cru Pauillac

(£664ib x 6)

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot)

70% new oak and 30% one-year-old for 18 months

This wine represents 48% of the yield of the 73ha of vines

As expected, Cabernet leads the way in this blend, and it is the only red in this particular family to feature this grape in the driving seat. For this reason, it has a markedly more commanding nose and stance on the palate.  Small berries make for a deep, dark colour, and alongside the intensity of the perfume and palate, one might expect to experience a markedly tannic finish, but no. This is a genteel, honed wine with a long, lithe finish and a discreet, savoury kick on the back of the palate, and this makes me think that it might start to drink a little sooner than the more structured 2018 vintage. A shade lighter, a touch more expressive and silky, this is a suave Pichon Baron with restraint offset with typical distinction, and I expect it to blossom in a decade and then hold well into the future.  18.5/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Classy and beautifully refined, the tannins gently scour the palate, making this a slightly more backward wine than some of the others. It looked precisely like it did EP.

*****

2020 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 5ème Cru Pauillac

(£300ib x 6)

I set the bar high when approaching a glass of GPL, and so the fall would be particularly painful if this wine let my ambitious standards down. It is all the more gratifying when this wine, year after year, soars high above my hopes. It has the magnificent knack of looking accurate to its commune, its estate, and also the vintage in 2020, bringing these threads together in a wonderfully full, refreshing, elegant, and complete flavour. Nothing is rushed here, with layer upon layer of Cabernet romancing the palate and the tannins are as juicy and resplendent as it gets. This is a fantastic Pauillac and one of the great triumphs of 2020.  18.5+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – So complete and composed, GPL was another stunner that shone in the glass. This was one of my favourite EP Pauillacs, regardless of price, and it looked wonderfully complete and effortlessly noble.

*****

2020 Château Léoville Poyferré, 2ème Cru Saint-Julien

(£432ib x 6)

64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

80% new oak and 20% one-year-old for 18-20 months

13.75% alc

3.69pH

35.88 hL/ha

85 IPT

Harvested between 14th – 30th September

LP is all about controlled delivery and restraint in 2020. The nose is reticent and measured with fascinating depth and intrigue. This is not a bigger wine than the others in this portfolio, but it is considerably longer!  The message is black-fruited and admirably pure, but there is a cloak of tannin around its core, which prevents me from getting too carried away. It was worth persisting with my sample bottle because it opened over half an hour, and I even went back to it a day later to see if there was even more movement in its flavour. Of course, there was! There is a faint, wild mulberry note which grows among the blackcurrant and blackberry themes, like ivy up the front of a stately home and this magical component interweaves exoticism and flair among the order and regimented Cabernet notes. All in all, this is a tremendous wine, and I am always in awe of wines that build gracefully and deliberately on the palate ending with a fanfare of class and distinction.  18.5+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – In common with my note above, this was a remarkably composed and detailed wine, and it retains this amazing delicacy and restraint. It will be a sleeper but will blossom beautifully in time.

*****

2020 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, 2ème Cru Pauillac

(£850ib x 6)

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc

60% new oak for 18 months

13.6% alc

3.8pH

30 hL/ha

This wine has a huge mass of energy, and this signals a particularly long-lived vintage for Pichon Lalande. Densely packed with dark, mineral-soaked fruit, there is little excess flesh here over the impressive core of muscle. The tannins are firm but not drying, and while this is a powerfully built Lalande, there is ample black fruit here, too. Closed and rather contemplative, there are certainly the building blocks of an impressive wine here, but it has a long way to go, and don’t expect it to turn the corner any time soon.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – More backward than some and monastically calm and layered, this is a brilliant Pichon Lalande, and it will repay you handsomely for your patience.

*****

2020 Château La Lagune, 3ème Cru Ludon, Haut-Médoc

(£180ib x 6)

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

50% new oak

14% alc

35 hL/ha

This is a stunning La Lagune with sensational energy, grandeur, and poise. The fruit is lusty, dark, and resonant, and the oak adds to this wine’s flair instead of masking its promise. The finish is prodigious, and the flavour barely falls away as it ticks along. Fabulously classy and laser-sighted to this wine’s precise location, this is a must-buy in 2020, assuming that the pricing is fair. It manages to sum up everything I both like and respect about this historic property in just one glass.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Fresh, bright, lively, and delicious, this is an expressive 2020, and while it will undoubtedly drink well after a couple of years, there is no doubt that there is serious depth of fruit here, and it is falling into perfect equilibrium.

*****

2020 Château Langoa Barton, 3ème Cru Saint-Julien

(£179ib x 6)

53.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 8.5% Cabernet Franc

60% new oak

13.5% alc

34 hL/ha

Harvested 14th – 15th September and 21st – 28th September 

This is a great vintage for Langoa, with tremendous fruit depth and amazing length. The nose is sensational, and the weight is medium-plus, as opposed to full. The cassis and black cherry notes are sublime, and the detail and oak integration is thrilling. I went back to this wine many times, and on each occasion, I found more and more fruit and spice. I cannot recommend 2020 Langoa enough.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Smooth, classy, incredibly fairly-priced, and wonderfully rewarding, this is a star wine in 2020, and it marks another milestone on Langoa’s march to elite status.

*****

2020 Château Beychevelle, 4ème Cru Saint-Julien

(£365ib x 6)

51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

70% new oak

13.43% alc

3.81 pH

78 IPT

47 hL/ha

By comparison to the juicy, gregarious, fruit bomb that is Amiral de Beychevelle, Beychevelle itself is a coiled spring of wine with a hair-trigger set to explode. But, this trigger will not be primed for at least ten years because this wine is tense, firm, sour, and combative. Mouth-watering and nervy with hints of mint on the finish, balancing the firm red fruit, this is a lovely wine with the sort of skinsy bitterness that I adore. Still, it is important to underline that you will have to like tanginess as much as I do to fall fully for this wine. Patience will reward you, but there will always be an underlying violet and sour cherry tang here so caveat emptor.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – One of the most red-fruit-focussed of the collection, this is not as forward as some, as noted above, and the crunch of acidity and whispers of tannin give Beychevelle beautiful tension but do not be tempted to dive in until 2030. 

*****

2020 Château Branaire-Ducru, 4ème Cru Saint-Julien

(£186ib x 6)

This is a fine vintage for Branaire, but it is an atypical one, too. Usually velvety and charming, the classic Branaire flavours are here, but they are tense, angular, and rather introverted. The acidity is bitingly fresh, and the tannins are lined up, ready for combat, but these two elements do not dare to interfere with the fruit. The oak is lovely, too, so I am confident that this will be a hugely enjoyable wine down the line, but you will have to wait not only for the tannins to soften but also for the fruit it drops its shoulders, too.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – In the bottle, the tannins seem to have melted away a touch more than I expected at this stage, so I need to check again in four or five years, and if this trajectory continues, I will remove the ‘+’!  It is worth noting that, in common with some of the other wines, the value here is staggering.

*****

2020 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion

(£327ib x 6)

55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon

50% new oak

13.5% alc

32.5 hL/ha

The harvest took place between 17th – 29th September

Certified Organic

I sometimes find Canon-La-Gaffelière a little too oaky and also a little too tannic in its youth, but this 2020 is perfectly balanced, and while the percentage of new oak remains the same, the alcohol in this vintage is lower than normal, and the concentration of the fruit flavours is deliciously heightened. This is a stunning wine with a very attractive perfume and a complex palate, and it finishes with a discreet, minty flourish that freshens the tannins and lifts the back end of this wine, making it all the more enticing.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Fragrant, bright, and glossy, the Merlot is singing in this wine, and it is moving smoothly along its path.  This might end up being more forward than expected.

*****

2020 Château Rauzan-Ségla, 2ème Cru Margaux

(£400ib x 6)

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc

60% new oak for 18 months

13.5% alc

3.74pH

Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested between the 21st – 29th September, Merlot was harvested between the 8th – 18th September, Petit Verdot was harvested on 25th September, and Cabernet Franc was harvested on the 21st September. This is a strong vintage for Rauzan-Ségla with finely-tuned, well-drilled flavours that are arranged in admirable symmetry down the length of the palate. The fruit is composed, impressive, detailed, and perfectly balanced, and there is little obvious flamboyance on display, preferring to adopt a contemplative and confident stance. The tannins are discreet, evident quite early on in the palate, but they are evenly distributed, giving the experience freshness and bite with counters the serene red fruit notes in the core of this impressive wine. 18/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – I had identical thoughts to my EP note, making this a delicious wine, and, dare I say it, there could easily be a half point added here, given the lovely balance on display.

*****

2020 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge, Pessac-Léognan

(£620ib x 6)

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

60% new oak

30 hL/ha

This is a cultured and extremely enjoyable wine with a gentlemanly feel, and there is calm fruit, balanced oak, and energetic tannins, all perfectly proportioned. This makes it one of the finer wines from this appellation in 2020. The tannins are nicely marshalled and crisp, and they will retreat in an orderly fashion in ten or fifteen years.  18+/20

9 November 2022 thoughts – Again, I felt this wine was perfectly delivered into the bottle with sprightly freshness on the finish to balance the delicious fruit.

 FIN