The rain poured down… and down, yet it did nothing to dampen the spirits as I and a host of colleagues avoided the deluge in a most pleasant fashion: tasting scores of about-to-be-bottled wines from the already storied Bordeaux 2020 vintage.
I was taking part in the annual Millesima ‘Panorama’ tasting, which I have attended on about a dozen occasions over the past 20 years. I am always seriously disappointed if I have had to decline the invitation or, as was the case for 2020 and 2021, the event was cancelled because of Covid. There is no other event quite like it, all the wines are tasted under one roof and the tasting is held a full year after the en primeur jamboree. The dust has settled, a more measured approach can be taken. The tasting is also brilliantly well-organized in terms of logistics and management.
And what of Bordeaux 2020? If one word can describe it, it is ‘balance’. My notes are replete with exultant scribbles about many wines, and balance is the unifying thread between them. ‘Good balance’, ‘well-balanced’, ‘beautiful balance’ and numerous derivatives occur again and again. It is a classic vintage in the best sense, not in the pejorative, we-had-to-call-it-something sense. A generalization of the most sweeping stripe would cast the Right Bank as succulent and lush, and the Left as firmer and more structured. Preference for one or the other will be a matter of taste. And for which appellation will I be raiding the piggybank? Margaux. And which château? Léoville-Barton.
Personal Highlights – in no particular order
Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan
It is impossible to write about Chevalier without mentioning the genial proprietor, Olivier Bernard, now joined at the helm by his sons Adrien and Hugo. There is no greater host in Bordeaux – and no greater ambassador for their wines. An exotic nose presages a complete palate of abundant ripe fruit, firm tannin and crisp acidity. Everything in its place, balanced and harmonious, with impressive length on the finish. A great Chevalier.
Château Léoville-Barton, Saint-Julien
A glorious Léoville. Steers a deft path between strength and subtlety, vigour and charm. The pure, savoury fruit counterpoints the dry bite of tannin and crisp ping of acidity. Elegant and composed, reserved though not austere. Structured, with fathomless depth. The finish goes on and on… Anthony Barton can rest easy; his legacy is in safe hands.
Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe
The vast scale of recent improvements at Montrose now sees it snapping at the heels of the first growths. Grippy tannins to the fore, with the other players only making their presence felt from the mid-palate on, and especially on the enduring finish. One for the long haul.
Château Pichon-Baron, Pauillac
A long-time favourite of this writer. A pleasant tingle of acidity holds the robust tannins and abundant fruit in check, imposing order on the cornucopia of flavours. Resonant and long. Proper Pauillac.
Château d’Issan, Margaux
‘Oh – this is gorgeous!’ was the first thing I scribbled about this wine. An instantly appealing, delightful amalgam of scents and flavours that beguiles the palate. A delicious Margaux.
Château Kirwan, Margaux
Such a delight to find Kirwan back on song after the ‘blunderbuss’ years. Wave after wave of pleasant, attractive flavours roll across the palate, before departing with a flourish that echoes long and satisfying.
Château Palmer, Margaux
Sweet, perfumed nose. Texture and taste in harmony on the palate. All the components beautifully dove-tailed. No errant notes. Balanced and long. Lovely wine.
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Saint-Emilion
Lovely, sweet fruit and creamy texture, succulence and opulence aplenty. Firmer notes beneath the glossy overlay. For those who like a little lushness in their claret. Could be drunk now.
Château Figeac, Saint-Emilion
Firmer than many of the other 2020 Saint-Emilions, not as ample. Beautifully balanced wine, fresh and clean, with a gentle but insistent perk as it crosses the palate.
Château La Conseillante, Pomerol
Beautifully composed. A jigsaw of components where the joints are already seamless and near-imperceptible. Impressive balance, pure and precise wine.
Raymond Blake has been writing about wine for 25 years and has been published across the globe. He is a regular contributor to 67 Pall Mall TV. His latest book, Wine Talk, has been published by Skyhorse, New York.