The 2018 Are Exceptional Here Is What To Invest In

Posted: Apr 18, 2019

The 2018 Bordeaux Are Exceptional. Here’s What to Invest in Now

At the region’s annual en primeur tastings last week, I sipped my way through about 500 barrel samples of Bordeaux’s extraordinary 2018 reds.

The best wines are exceptional: concentrated, layered, velvet- and silk-textured, pure and succulent. Tasting barrel sample after barrel sample is usually tough, with puckering palate fatigue, but not this year. The wines combine the mouth-filling plushness of the 2009s with the ripe structure of the 2015s and 2016s, plus a cool, bright energy that made me crave another taste.

Some chateaux, like Lafite Rothschild and Vieux Chateau Certan, made fantastic examples that will surely last for decades, and I found many wines that will be serious bargains, especially when compared to Napa cabernets.

The downside of 2018 is that superb quality isn’t universal. In a year of big, bold wines, some have bitter tannins, high alcohol, or a soupy heaviness. Reds are the clear stars, while only a few whites or sweet wines wowed me.

The style of the wines
“This year is about freshness and juiciness along with density,” said Nicolas Audebert, winemaker at Chateau Rauzan-Segla. “We were able to get that rare combination because of the long growing season.”

Weather always shapes the wines’ character, and 2018 was a stressful rollercoaster vintage, going from one extreme to another. The first half of the year looked like a disaster, with persistent rain, violent hailstorms, and outbreaks of mildew that reduced the crop but happily didn’t affect quality of the grapes that remained.

The second half of the season was hot and exceptionally dry, followed by a very long harvest. Ripe grapes were tiny, with plenty of tannin in the skins. To keep freshness, finesse, and balance required very gentle winemaking.

“2018 is a particularly American-style vintage,” said Jeffrey Davies, an American wine merchant based in Bordeaux. “It has plumpness and accessibility.”

Should you buy 2018 futures?
Chateaux will release their prices over the next two months and the big question will be which to invest in. The Bordeaux futures game goes like this: chateaux set the price for their wines and offer them to the region’s 400 or so negociants (or brokers), who add a profit margin and then offer them to retailers, who add on theirs. To get in on the action, you put down money with a reputable retailer for wine still aging in barrels, and receive the bottled version two years later.

The rationale for tying up capital, as Liv-Ex points out in their recent 2018 Bordeaux report, is to secure wine at its lowest price.

But in recent years, some chateaux set their release prices so high that their futures sold poorly, and when they arrived in bottles, the wines were actually cheaper. That made buying futures a poor short-term investment.

To win at this game, you have to pick the right wines, meaning ones whose prices are low enough, are made in tiny quantities or for which there’s hot demand. In the last very good vintage, 2016, the wines providing the best returns, for example, include Les Carmes Haut Brion and Lafleur (both up 109 percent from their release prices) and Petrus (up 64 percent), according to Wine Lister’s 2018 Bordeaux Study. All are in my top ten from 2018 below.

Many merchants I talked to, such as Clyde Beffa of the Bay Area’s K & L Wine Merchants, expressed caution about prices. The uncertainty of Brexit and its effect on currency, the depressed Chinese market, and Trump’s latest tariff threats on European wine will all affect how chateaux price their wines and what merchants will buy.

“If pricing is fair,” says Chris Deas, the Bordeaux specialist at Zachys Fine Wine in Scarsdale, New York, “we believe there will be a strong response from our customers.”

By Elin McCoy
April 17, 2019
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