Red Bordeaux

Shop Red Bordeaux

2022 – a rich, opulent vintage, the product of a hot and dry summer. The wines are expansive in every way: full of fruit, tannin, alcohol and body, with considerable complexity conspicuous from the beginnings of their lives. The loose-knit character and velvety tannins mean the wines are likely to drink well from the beginning, just like the 2009s did, without ever shutting down. The unexpected freshness may originate from the (perfectly legal) inclusion of 15% of the 2021 vintage, a much cooler year.

2021 – breaking up the run of hot, ripe vintages, 2021 is an appealing throwback to the wines of the 1990s, in its freshness, modest alcohols and midweight style. For drinkers accustomed to the warmer years, the limited fruit and fine grained tannins may reduce the appeal. But for lovers of classic Bordeaux vintages like 1988, 1996 or 2001, there is much to enjoy in 2021, especially on the Left Bank, where the later-ripening Cabernet fared well. In spite of the cool year, the tannins are supple, meaning the wines will drink well early in their lives, even if they will not last forever.

2020 – the Covid summer was another warm one in Bordeaux, producing wines of considerable power and depth of fruit. Compared to 2018 or 2022, the tannin structure is a bit more classical: firm and authoritative, suggesting the best wines will need a few years in bottle to soften. This tightness also lends an excellent precision and tension to wines that could otherwise be soft due to their generosity of fruit. An excellent vintage, where the Left Bank probably triumphs over the Right; in the latter, high alcohols and over-ripe fruit can be in evidence.

2019 – another warm year and one in which the region’s red wines succeeded gloriously. Drinkers will argue for decades about the relative merits of 2018, 2019 and 2020, but for me, the concentration of fruit, firm but ripe tannins, excellent freshness and overall purity of expression elevate the 2019s above their neighbors on either side. The 2019s will need several years in bottle, but will then reward drinkers with a ‘modern classic’ style of Bordeaux: rich but fresh, ripe but pure. 

2018 – a difficult year in the vineyard, plagued by mildew, reduced yields in 2018. The grapes were further concentrated by a hot summer. The resultant wines are on a huge scale: vast depth of fruit, tannin structures and alcohol levels. This is a decidedly Mediterranean rather than an Atlantic-style vintage, with all the hedonism that implies. The wines cannot be called classic, but they dazzle by their sheer intensity and scope.

2017 – a somewhat forgotten year, which gave wines high both in tannin and acidity, and rather limited in fruit. This combination has not in general appealed to the market, but that is not to say that all the top names did not make good wines: they did. Further down the quality ladder, quality remains more variable.

2016 – a glorious year for classically-styled Bordeaux: fresh, bright wines, with moderate body weights and alcohol levels, and great purity and delineation of flavor, permitting every terroir to express itself. The tannins remain tight-knit for now, and the best wines should not be touched until at least 10, and ideally 15, years old. 2019, to compare another more classically profiled vintage, is more fruity and approachable and for that reason some tasters prefer it. But the best 2016s are simply archetypal red Bordeaux, resplendent in their effortless complexity and class.

2015 – much excitement greeted the 2015s, after a run of so-so vintages. And the wines in general live up to it, especially on the Right Bank, where the Merlot was excellent. In the final analysis, 2015 is a fruit-led vintage and lacks the purity of terroir expression of the 2016s. But this should not be held against it; the succulent, generous 2015s are irresistible and already offer so much pleasure.

2014 – a year of fresh, mid-weight wines, lacking the concentration of the best years, but nonetheless offering attractive, classically-styled Bordeaux for immediate consumption. Certainly a good option if spotted on a restaurant wine list; less so for long term aging.

2013 – the only real ‘write-off’ vintage in the century so far; a very weak vintage due to a cool, wet summer. The wines lack fruit and should be drunk up now.

2012 – 2012 is similar in some respects to 2014, in that it yielded very correct, authentic Bordeaux, but without the concentration or excitement of the best years. The Right Bank is probably the pick in this vintage, where the Merlot achieved decent concentration. The top Right Bank wines can be very good.

2011 – a difficult year featuring high levels of tannin and acidity, but without the concomitant depth of fruit to match (or mask). These have always been very firm and slightly joyless wines, although as always in Bordeaux, age is the cure; 15 years after the vintage will see some softening to give solid if not spectacular wines.

2010 – the second in the ‘twin peak’ vintages of 2009 and 2010, both yielding exceptional wines. 2010 lacks the hedonistic, sumptuous fruit of 2009 and is instead more tightly wound, with a sturdy tannin structure and an overall sense of haughty grandeur, yet to relax. In fact, the 2010s may be the longest-lived wines of the century so far, although 2005 might compete; the precision and purity of fruit, the balance and glorious harmony of the wines limited only by the stubbornness of the wines to yield to the effects of time. In 2023, the best 2010s still taste like barrel samples, but when they come right, they will be astonishing.

2009 – in contrast to the 2010s, the 2009s have been glorious from the beginnings of their distinguished lives. The warm summer produced opulent, rich wines, full-bodied, with melting tannins and plush finishes. By no means are these wines classical Bordeaux, but the overall hedonism of the style is hard to resist; a comparison with the 1982s, similarly accused of being too fruity or too soft, reveals the potential here. Latour may be the wine of the vintage, but virtually no château put a foot wrong, at all quality levels. A handful of wines on the Right Bank suffered from over-ripeness or over-extraction; the Left Bank is virtually faultless.

2008 – an ‘ugly duckling’ vintage, in which the late ripening vines produced grapes full of tannin and acidity, but less fruit, especially on the Left Bank. But in recent years, the wines are achieving better balance, with good depth of flavor and concentration, and an overall elegance of style. The Right Bank is very good or even excellent; insiders suspect the 2008 may eventually be considered the equal of the two succeeding vintages in Pomerol. Right Bank 2008s can represent excellent value.

2007 – a light vintage across the board, rarely seen today; perfumed but largely lacking the concentration for further aging.

Older notable vintages

1998 – an unequivocally excellent Right Bank vintage; at 25 years old, the best Right Bank wines are drinking wonderfully today. The Left Bank, with the exception of the Merlot-heavy Pessac-Léognan (the Haut Brion stable is outstanding in 1998), are a bit drier and more severe than the pleasurable Merlot-led wines.

1996 – a lovely, refined, Left Bank vintage, showcasing gravelly, cedary Cabernet in top form. Lafite and Margaux lead the way, with honorable mentions to the Pichons and Montrose; all are drinking well today. The Right Bank was far less successful.

1995 – the obverse to 1996, where the Right Bank excelled. These can be superb wines today. On the Left Bank, the tight grip of the Cabernet tannins persists today, but the wines are very enjoyable in a strait-laced, linear, fresh style, and the tannins ensure they will last forever.

1990 – a high yielding vintage, for a long time considered the best of the 1988-1989-1990 trio, but now grudgingly yielding superiority to 1989. The wines are rich and fleshy, soft and luxuriant, but should probably be drunk in the next ten years.

1989 – a superstar vintage, but arguably only recently appreciated as such; potentially the rival to 1982. Indeed, 1989 can often show more concentration, focus and consistency than that year. These are brilliant, complete wines, with ample fruit, huge aromatic and flavor complexity and beautifully softened tannins, on both banks.

1988 and 1985 – grouped together for showing similar profiles: good but not exceptional concentration, with lovely balance, easy harmony and excellent Bordeaux finesse. Both, however, are fading now and should be drunk up.

1982 – a, perhaps the, legendary vintage of the last fifty years, important as much for putting Bordeaux on the map for the American consumer (thanks to Robert Parker) as for the outstanding quality of the wines. At this age there is a lot of bottle variation, but the best wines combine sumptuous fruit with spectacular exotic aromas and a warm embrace of a finish. At this age the Left Bank wines are more reliable, but the Right Bank also made great 1982s.