2020 Bordeaux En Primeur


Last year’s en primeur campaign was like nothing the market had ever seen. It was impossible for most critics and merchants to visit Bordeaux, prior to the release of the wines. Here we are, a year on and it’s deja-vu. Reports from the Bordeaux Negociants I’ve spoken with are encouraging and initial reviews from early bird critic, James Suckling support the impression that we have a third successful vintage in a row.

Indications are that we can expect a short and intense campaign, with releases having already started. An attractively priced early release from Cheval Blanc sold out rapidly and sends good signals. Let's hope other chateaux are similarly pragmatic.

Indications are that we can expect a short and intense campaign, with releases starting mid to late May. Second guessing pricing at this stage would require a crystal ball. Recent frosts have devastated many vineyards in France but it remains to be seen how much the prestigious Bordeaux properties have suffered. An anticipated shortfall in production in 2021 could result in chateaux pushing up prices for the 2020 releases.

A key takeaway for me from the last campaign was the sheer number of different wines we sold. At the more modest end of the price spectrum, Bordeaux still has lots to offer. I’ll be sure to highlight the best of the value releases from 2020.

2020 Growing Season

Bordeaux 2020 “ended up being a really good but variable year with wines of outstanding potential for many Bordeaux estates” according to Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer, Gavin Quinney.

The preceding winter was exceptionally mild. Much like 2016, 2018 and 2019, a wet spring was followed by a dry, hot summer that culminated in a warm, dry harvest. Unlike 2016 and 2019, it was an early vintage, more akin to 2018. The heavy rains of spring raised the water table and helped mitigate the arid months of summer. Clay-heavy soils in the Northern Medoc and communes favouring earlier ripening Merlot are likely to have fared best. Almost two full months of drought from mid-June to mid-August led to a reduction in yields at some properties. Most of the red grapes were picked in September, narrowly missing October’s rain.

Whilst frost and hail were less of an issue in 2020 than is sometimes the case, the heavy spring rainfall brought considerable risk of mildew and growers needed to pay careful attention to applying treatments to deter this. Those who are Certified Organic will have found this more challenging. This too will have contributed to lower yields.

In Summary

The best vintages of Bordeaux are often about taking things to the wire and 2020 certainly did that. Conditions were delicately balanced and provided the opportunity to produce wines of tension and freshness. We can anticipate plenty of high-quality wines, albeit in reduced volumes. The 2019 en primeur campaign saw many buyers return to the market after prolonged absence. If prices remain roughly in line with last year, there will be strong interest again.
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