The fine wine industry has been watching the Bordeaux En Primeur unfold with interest. The annual showcase of the region’s latest vintages captures the attention of merchants, investors, critics, and industry members like few events in the wine world. The early word on the Bordeaux 2020 vintage, as we reported a few weeks ago, was that it might be comparable with 2019 and perhaps even better than 2018. The Bordeaux Futures 2020 previews are now in, and we know it has indeed turned out to be a heterogeneous vintage, with the Right Bank performing better than the Left.
The futures tradition remains a win-win for both producers and buyers. The upfront investment allows the estates to produce the next harvest of Bordeaux wines, and customers get to stake a claim to the vintages that have been judged likely to yield positive growth and returns in the long term.
Key highlights of Bordeaux Futures 2020
The 2020 growing season was unpredictable. The wet winter of 2019 and 2020 brought ample water reserves to the vineyards that resulted in early bud burst. But the rains stretched till spring and caused mildew pressures. There were some hot and dry spells in spring and heatwaves in summer, with the occasional downpour on the Left Bank. Harvest was early due to the overall heat stress.
The Left Bank harvests of Cabernet Sauvignon have been relatively low because of the small size of last year’s berries. But they were high on purity and intensity with refined tannins. The Right Bank was less affected by the dry season and yielded some exceptional Merlot. The Cabernet Franc also excelled with its freshness and sleek acidity.
In general, the reds of Bordeaux 2020 have subdued aromas, with a few elegant exceptions. The tannins are silky but subtle, the acidity is vibrant, and the fruity notes are rich and velvety soft. A few wines also have a touch of herbaceousness – think mint, sage, eucalyptus, green grass. The integration of the tannins, acidity, and fruit is excellent throughout, and seamless in many cases. This is a key aspect of the 2020 vintage.
The white wines of Bordeaux 2020 are equally harmonious and distinct in their acidity, with prominent honey and tropical fruit notes. The overall quality of the both Left Bank and Right Bank wines is superior and relatively consistent, and the latter includes a few outliers that shine brighter than the rest. The vintage will make for easy drinking now, reminiscent of 2016, but promises to age well for years.
Experts are of the opinion that the 2020 vintage is sublime and seductive, and somewhere in the middle of the opulence of 2018 and the classic 2019. Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent Jane Anson has rated the 2020 vintage a 4/5, the same as 2018 in her books but slightly lower than her rating of the 2019 vintage.
The best performers of Bordeaux 2020 include the Right Bank wines of Château Canon, Larcis Ducasse, Rocheyron, and Pontet-Canet, and the Left Bank Château Margaux. While it has been a good show for Right Bank wines and Merlot, all terroirs with clay-limestone soils have been overall successful. Anson also suggests looking to Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs, and Fronsac for good value.
A word of caution on second wines, which are unexciting this time, especially among Left Bank vintages. But there are a few with strong tannins that have a sharper personality in a second wine. On the Left Bank, La Croix de Beaucaillou and Pagodes de Cos Blanc are two such performers, while on the Right, Troplong Mondot and Blason de l’Évangile deserve mention.
Futures prices of the early releases in Bordeaux 2020
Cheval-Blanc was the big-name estate to kick off the Bordeaux Futures 2020 campaign. The release price is €380 per bottle, ex-négociant. This is a 2.7% hike over the 2019 vintage, but more than 30% cheaper than the 2015 and 2016 market prices. Châteaux Angélus, Pavie and Léoville Barton were the next to join the campaign. Keeping with its leading rank among St.- Émilion’s classified growths, Angélus went big with a future release of €260 per bottle, ex-négociant, 13% pricier than the 2019 opening price.
Another St.- Émilion winery, Château Pavie, released its 2020 futures at the same price as its 2019 release; €240 per bottle, ex-négociant. Léoville Barton on the Left Bank released its 2020 futures at €60 per bottle, ex-négociant, an increase of 16.3% over its 2019 release price.
We now have a good idea of what the Bordeaux Futures 2020 hold, with some reviews and tasting notes out for all 260 wines. But a comprehensive verdict on the 2020 vintage is still being formed since not all intended participants and trade members have been able to sample the wines yet. International shipping of tasting samples by wineries has produced mixed results and inconsistencies. At this time, some critics are holding off on sampling until they can conduct official blind tastings of the notable wines.