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Fresh from the tasting: Bordeaux 2020 En Primeur

The build-up to tasting Bordeaux En Primeur is always exciting. Usually, the final flurry of preparation involves finalising itineraries and flights; this year, with Covid continuing to call the shots, tasting 2020 was going to be different.

Early on, our Buyer Max Lalondrelle started working with the châteaux and the négociants to put a plan B in place. The ambition was to create a tasting that would allow the full team to get the most accurate impression of the vintage generally, and of individual properties’ success specifically. This meant preparing, collating hundreds of freshly drawn wine samples and couriering them from Bordeaux to Basingstoke as swiftly as possible.

 

The first precious pallet, containing six samples from each producer, made its way through customs over the weekend and arrived in time for the wines to be prepared on Monday. The room temperature was set to 17 degrees; the wines were organised, and the team was split into small groups to taste throughout the day.

The wine samples had to be handled carefully: each bottle was opened, assessed, and then disposed of within a relatively small timeframe to ensure the contents was at its best. Where a sample was found to be unusual or atypical of a property, it was put aside and another opened.

 
 

Compare and contrast

“It’s a very different way of tasting,” commented Max. “When we are in Bordeaux we would, for example, visit all of St Emilion – 10 or 15 properties – in a day, which is about 30 to 35 wines, and you would have time in-between tastings to discuss and assess the wines. When we’re tasting here, we are tasting a whole bench of St Emilion next to each other, and one after the other.

“This means here you are able to compare each château to the others – to compare and contrast very easily. But the disadvantage is that when you’re tasting one wine after another, they can sometimes be very different in style, which makes it more difficult.”

Certainly, the minimalist environment of the Basingstoke tasting room gives a more clinical element to the tasting; there’s no risk of the team being influenced by the emotive surroundings of a pristine château, an atmospheric cellar or an ebullient winemaker.

 
 

First impressions: tasting 2020

What, then, was Max’s impression of what he tasted? “It’s very good; it’s not something I’ve tried before.” To give context, Max has been tasting En Primeur since 1993, so has a fair few vintages under his belt. “Compared to a more obvious vintage like 2016, which was all very fresh, very intense, almost crunchy, this has that kind of freshness to it too. But then, in the middle, you’ve got this kind of mellowness, which comes from the heat of the vintage. So, you have the freshness and the heat all together in one vintage It’s quite interesting.

“I think the vintage for me is going to be approachable; it’s not an aggressive vintage, there’s no saturation of tannins; there’s no dry tannins. It’s a vintage of buvabilité; it’s drinkable and thirst-quenching. You’ve got this early drinking freshness and smoothness on top. The wines are not as intellectual as 2010 or 2016; instead, I would say they sit very comfortably with 2018 and 2019. Overall, it’s a very good vintage.”

 

Over the coming days, we will bring you thoughts from the team as they give their first impressions and favourite wines from the tastings.

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