WineThe Collection

Bordeaux 2019 – a forgotten vintage, now delivering

As Bordeaux lovers prime themselves for the en primeur tastings of the 2021 vintage, Panos Kakaviatos urges them not to overlook the unfortunately tagged 'Covid' vintage, Bordeaux 2019 – now in bottle – which excels in quality and, particularly, price

Words by Panos Kakaviatos

saint emilion vineyard in Bordeaux
The Collection
Saint Emilion, home to some of the better value wines of 2019. As Jean-Antoine Nony of Château Grand-Mayne said: 'If we could have a vintage like this every year, we would be happy'

As the market progressively recognises the fine quality of the Bordeaux 2019 vintage – now finally available in bottle – savvy consumers can still find deals. Indeed for some châteaux, 2019 counts among the least expensive releases of the last 15 years, excepting the far inferior 2013 vintage. That it has taken the market a while to come around to the vintage is largely due its initial release being overshadowed by the onset of the global pandemic.

Back in 2020, it had been difficult, between lockdowns and curfews, for the trade and critics to taste the vintage from barrel. Based in France, I tasted some barrel samples in Bordeaux, while others were sent to me. Many of my counterparts outside of France were unable to taste anything, so initial reviews (and promotion) proved muted: a far cry from the hyped 2018 vintage, when some critics scored mere barrel samples at 100 points plus, recalling the Spinal Tap amps that went up to 11 in the classic satire.

pomerol bordeaux 2019
Vieux Château Certan was among the highlights of the Bordeaux 2019 vintage, which Kakaviatos rates as more consistent and occasionally superior to 2018 (photo: Panos Kakaviatos)

2022 began with virus déjà vu: even with vaccines and a less serious Omicron variant, soaring infection rates compelled the Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) to cancel its annual January US roadshow, which would have given American consumers the chance to try the recently bottled vintage. More’s the pity. Even if 2018 has a handful of clearly superior wines – especially in terms of palate density – 2019 is more consistent – and sometimes superior. In some cases, the vintage can match the great 2016s.

The good news is that it also remains affordable. Château Grand Puy Lacoste, which opened ex-château at €38 (£32) – two euros less than in 2005 – is still competitively priced when now in bottle. Some pricier producers, from Châteaux Lafleur Pétrus in Pomerol and Pichon Baron in Pauillac, to Clos Fourtet in Saint Emilion and Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux, are also relatively inexpensive.

pichon de lalande bordeaux 2019 wine
chateau pichon baron in bordeaux
The two Pichons – de Lalande (left, foreground) and Baron (right) are both among the standout big names in 2019 (photo, left: Panos Kakaviatos)

Common vintage attributes for the 2019 reds include bright fruit, smooth tannin, fine palate density and long finishes. Like 2018, it was a solar vintage marked by a lengthy hot summer – over three months of good weather from June to the end of September. But cooler evenings compared to 2018 reflect more freshness. As Château Margaux director Philippe Bascaules remarked: ‘While 2018 can be clearly categorized as a vintage from a hot year, I cannot say the same for the 2019,’ which he prefers.

Ultra-expensive brands – from Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion and the Left Bank’s five first growths, to Pomerol’s elite trio of Petrus, Le Pin and Lafleur – are predictably excellent, although both Cheval Blanc and Ausone impressed me more in 2018.

Is 2019 a ‘great’ vintage? It’s still too early to tell

Is 2019 a ‘great’ vintage? It’s too early to tell. At the very least, it is an excellent vintage, lifting quality for ‘all boats’. As Jean-Antoine Nony said as we tasted his excellent Château Grand Mayne in Saint-Emilion: ‘We would love to have a vintage like this every year.’ Indeed, the old French wine-buying adage applies: grande année, petit vin; petite année, grand vin.

Blind tastings of classified wines from the appellations of Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien (thanks to the Conseil des Cru Classés) proved how well even second wines shined, which is seldom the case in lesser vintages. Some of the very best price-quality ratios from Bordeaux 2019 can be found in the so-called Super Seconds category as well as more mid-range brands, both of which featured prominently in the recommendations below.

Will the Covid-19 price silver-lining last? I wouldn’t wait too long: Not only is the market starting to recognise the quality of the vintage, but burgeoning inflation is raising prices, too.

Château Haut-Marbuzet bordeaux 2019 wine
Château Haut-Marbuzet, in St-Estèphe, is one of the better value wines of the Bordeaux 2019 vintage (photo: Panos Kakaviatos)

As for the (dry) whites of Bordeaux 2019, they are better than one might expect, given the vintage’s solar aspect. While some lack enough balancing acidity, many show freshness and crispy ripe fruit, due in part to cooler summer evenings that enabled grapes to retain their acidity. Successes include fine dry Médoc whites such as Les Arums de Lagrange and especially the recently introduced dry white of Château Brane-Cantenac, with pronounced freshness and density. The famous Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations offer much quality. Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, for example, reveals supreme finesse and refinement; its cooler microclimate excels in increasingly common warmer vintages like 2019. Château Smith Haut Lafitte also shines brightly, as if on a tightrope between verve and creamy texture. Less expensive wines such as Château Carbonnieux and Château Olivier are worth seeking out.  In terms of the sweet wines, while some late harvest Sauternes and Barsacs lack the panache of a great vintage, gems among those tasted include Châteaux Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Guiraud, Raymond-Lafon and Suduiraut.