2019 seems a lifetime ago. The world was different. Europe was different. I was different.
More pertinently, the 2019 Bordeaux vintage is/was one that I was almost totally unfamiliar with until a year or so ago, and one that I was not totally up on until a few days ago. My only experience of the vintage around EP time in 2020 was a few stolen spare samples offered to me by a pal who knew I’d be interested. I liked what I tasted, and that was about it until the wines started to arrive in the UK – a slow stream of bottles opened in the office almost always impressed, and the UGC tasting of the 2019s in November 2021 had me thinking that this was a properly serious vintage. It has been good, if a little challenging, to catch up, and to finally nail 2019.
The Bordelais marketing hum (prior to the one about 2021 marking a welcome return to the classic style of the 1990s) is often to the tune of 2018, 2019 & 2020 being a triumvirate of sorts; three great vintages on the spin. This isn’t right: 2018 and 2020 are decent in places but neither are great. 2018s are just too hot; 2020 is a mixed bag. 2019, though, is the real deal Holyfield.
Here’s what I reckon:
They make an awful lot of wine in St Emilion or, rather, there are lots of wines to taste. A few years ago I was fairly certain that this is what I’d be doing in purgatory though this is no longer the case, least of all in 2019. Tertre Rôteboeuf absolutely walked this for me though this and Roc de Cambes (which was excellent – a few tasters commented that they preferred this to TR) are personal favourites, the latter being my desert island wine. Troplong Mondot was a winner and I am intrigued to see just what happens at this estate now that the turbochargers have been removed from the winery. Canon & Figeac are both unsurprisingly excellent and Belair-Monange (I wish it was called Magdelaine) is one of my picks of the vintage on the right bank.
This is the only part of the picture that isn’t quite clear to me in 2019, though this is down to my weak spot as a taster rather than anything else. Merlot and sunshine = alcohol and – some may well laugh – I struggle a bit with alcohol. This flight reminded me a little of the Pauillac flight of the 2009 vintage: it was a bit like being pummelled with pleasure. Your usual suspects did what they usually do: Lafleur and VCC are just beautiful, albeit in a slightly more busty fashion than their counterpart 2016s. Eglise-Clinet is something else (and it appears that Denis took delivery of Troplong’s turbo-chargers for his last vintage; this is a properly full-on Eglise-Clinet). I rated Gazin, as I always do at this tasting, and I liked Clinet more than everyone else. It’s just so impeccably well-tailored.
I may well have under-scored these but I think the Merlot was interfering again. Haut-Bailly did it for me, which is slightly out of the ordinary as this is not a wine that always suits the blind format: it’s a bit too cerebral. Less cerebral but definitely more punchy are Pape Clement – you can taste the work in the winery here but it’s exceptionally well done – and the beautifully plush Carmes Haut-Brion. I remember asking myself 10 years ago if Guillaume Pouthier’s vision at Carmes would work or not: on balance I think I decided that it would on account of the man himself. As it happens it has more than worked: he’s almost created his own appellation in that nothing else tastes quite like Carmes, and it’s delicious to boot.
All the barrel salesmen that used to do so well in St Emilion now ply their trade, successfully it would seem, in Margaux. They like a bit of barrel gloss in Margaux and some of them are better at it than others. This notwithstanding, you can buy 2019 Margaux pretty much blind bar one cru bourgeois that you probably won’t buy anyway. Rauzan-Ségla walked Margaux for me, ahead of Palmer (which is also pretty special; it’s a stylistic thing). Brane-Cantenac is delicately vinous and ethereal. And you’re not supposed to like Lascombes but I did.
Now we are tooting. This is always the most consistent appellation in the Médoc. For me it’s possibly the best in 2019. You cannot put a foot wrong here and, at the foot of the page of some consistently high scores and positive notes I’ve written: “I am underscoring these”.
No-brainer of the appellation is Langoa Barton, a wine that made me smile the first time I tasted it back in late 2021. On the day I scored Léoville half a point lower but this, with time, will be a stonker; right now it’s a block of fruit. Gruaud, Poyferré, Ducru – these are all very special wines, and no duds. I didn’t quite get Lascases, but rarely do in this context.
Again there’s a bit of context here: I reckon that if I’d tasted these on their own, and not as part of what is an exhausting tasting, I’d have liked them even more. These be serious wines. Well, apart from a couple of wines (from first growth stables) that always disappoint, plus that wine that everyone knows I think is/was the Emperor’s new clothes.
Big boys aside, it was the Baron that did it for me this year, as it often does. My note on this ends: “this is not ____ing about”. The Comtesse was up there too along with Lynch Bages and a beautifully restrained GPL. As is frequently the case these days, any one of these wines could mix it with the first growths on a good day. Batailley seduced me as it always does – properly flashy posh bistro Pauillac.
About a year ago I did something I haven’t done in years: I bought a wine I’d never tasted. In this case it was 2019 Montrose. I bought it off the back of an Instagram post. So I was looking forward to this. The thing about St Estèphe is that – a bit like me – it loves and needs the sunshine. Taste 2009 St Estèphes and you’ll see. Taste 2018 Montrose and you’ll see. In 2019 they follow suit.
I totally missed Calon Ségur, which I’ve done in the past, though the group placed it third, behind Cos and Montrose in that order. I had Cos a whisker ahead of Montrose, with Meyney doing its rather annoying party trick of punching up there with the big boys. As did Phelan Ségur, with Capbern a fraction behind.
The big boys
As with most merchants of my generation, 1996 is the first Bordeaux vintage that I sold a lot of, and the 1996 first growths were the first set of big boys that I got to know well. These are still young wines. I’ve recently enjoyed the 2000s vs the 2005s at a rather special dinner that I may or may not write up, and the 2009s & 2010s weren’t that long ago. What really strikes me is just how far the winemaking has come along in 25 years.
The 2019 big boys are very, very special. On the left bank I had Lafite and Margaux and Haut-Brion at the top of the pile; the group had Latour (which I generally miss on account of not being clever enough). I normally have Mouton as my pick, and my note on this wine reads: “the vintage sort of overtakes these”, by which I think I meant that the wines were all shining so bright it was hard to pick between them. You could also make the point that, at this stage, the vintage does mark the wines: there is ripeness and, importantly, energy, across the board from top to bottom.
On the right bank Cheval Blanc just might be my wine of the vintage and Lafleur is something else, as it should be.
The greatest vintage ever does not exist. What is better: 2009 or 2010? 2016 or 2019? Or 2005? It’s not just heavily subjective (but my opinion is the correct one, obviously), it’s a moving puzzle of taste, and it’s about individual bottles and where you taste them, drink them, spill them, what you eat with them and who’s with you. At the very top, the 2019s are as breathtakingly good as their 2016, 2010 and 2009 counterparts. Further down I’d say that they are better than 2009 & 2010, and about the same as 2016, though in a more enjoyable, user-friendly style. And enjoyment is rather what the whole thing is about.