Elizabeth Gabay MW
Jun 2021

Finding value-for-money in Bordeaux 2020

We went into Bordeaux 2020 with mixed expectations. Our final conclusion from 2019 was that there was outstanding value to be found, especially in the Right Bank, but that overall many wines were paying the price of climate change with high alcohol and jammy fruit. We were expecting something similar from 2020’s wines, but were pleasantly surprised by the lightness and freshness we found, especially on the Left Bank.

We’ll leave it to a Bordeaux specialist to dissect the vintage’s weather in detail, but overall a hot August and a cool end to September is what we believe gave earlier-ripening Merlot its stodginess and the Cabernets their fresh intensity. Spring was warm, but early summer was cool and wet, which kept clay-heavy soils and early-ripening parcels safe from excessive water stress in the hot late summer. Here are 19 pages of top-notch analysis from the ISVV.

As increasingly with every year, so many of these wines are practically ready to drink already today. A small handful were still shy and closed, and a smaller handful yet were brash and raw, but on the whole tannins were supple, fruit very open, and many were gorgeously drinkable already. Unsurprisingly, this was especially the case with second wines, which this year in particular feel like a different style of equal quality, rather than second-tier wines, unless of course long ageing is a priority. In some cases, wines that excelled today but that are still destined for months or years in oak might even lose some of their charm. Exactly as with Bandol, Bordeaux, once made to be undrinkable for its first 20 years, is now perfectly delightful almost at release. Is this a change in style or simply better tannin management?

Excessively high alcohol is still a growing problem in many of the wines we taste, with this year’s crown going to a red with 16.1% abv (Chateau Plain-Point in Fronsac), with some runners-up in the high 15s. For cool-climate grapes in a cool-climate region, this was unthinkable a few decades ago. As with last year, Saint Émilion was the major culprit. With a few notable exceptions, these wines were exactly what you’d expect - soupy, jammy, excessive. That being said, this can’t exactly be attributed to Merlot vs Cabernet, as so many Left Bank wines seem to be Merlot-dominant today that it seems harder than ever to distinguish between the two banks and their respective blends and styles.

One trend that really reversed itself was price. We were incredibly pleasantly surprised at how fantastically good value-for-money 2019 Bordeaux was, both through covid pressures bringing prices down, and vintage conditions that allowed inexpensive producers to shine. For better or for worse, the ‘buy cheap’ guidance doesn’t apply at all to 2020, with a lot of the inexpensive producers struggling to achieve the same balance as last year, and sought-after, prestigious wines justifying their price tags and (sometimes) classifications, whilst nudging prices slightly higher.

On the bright side, the past few vintages are fantastic proof that wine critics are not out of a job quite yet in Bordeaux - there is so much vintage variation that finding a good wine and buying it every year just doesn’t cut it in our opinion. Even making allowances for weather and climate change, it's a little shocking just how unpredictable some of the wines are, even if a handful do still impress year-on-year.

As always, our tasting notes and scores focus on value-for-money for the average consumer. Last year, we went over a really gorgeous cluster of high-quality wines around €15, while this year we’re doing things a little differently, and presenting our top value recommendations at every price point to include as many of the gorgeous-but-expensive wines that we feel deserve their spotlight so much more this year. Long-term cellaring is of course at the back of our mind, but we’re also aware that most wine is bought and consumed very very young. This, and the consideration we give to value-for-money means that second wines and mid-range cuvées tend to do particularly well, and particularly fine wines crafted to peak in 20+ years do not feature heavily in our recommendations.

Last year we talked a bit about wines we didn't like, but this year we're only including our top recommendations. Because of covid restrictions, we were only able to taste roughly 130 wines, so this list is by no means exhaustive! Lastly, we refuse to submit to score inflation - there's no 100pt wines here, and 94 is not the new 90 as far as we're concerned. The scores given are roughly on par with other scores we give, rather than those of other critics. Without diving too deeply into the statistics, the average was approximately 1pt higher than the average in our rosé buyer's guide (see, and about 1pt lower than red Bandol, but for which we primarily taste older vintages. Twitter, of course, has the answer. Who would have thought a simple Bordeaux vintage report would lead us to question the very existence of scored en primeur tastings?

For further reference, here is an abbreviated version of our 2019 report.

Our 2020 Bordeaux recommendations

€5-12 retail - budget-friendly supermarket options

Château Talmont 2020, Bordeaux

Very inky on the nose. A little herbal, fruity. Touch of plums and sundried tomato. Dry, grippy tannins. Intense black cassis, liquorice, fresh and black tea. Salty, fresh acidity. Blue-black minerality, very fresh. Great value. 87

Château Bel Air 2020, Bordeaux

Perfumed, hint of black pepper, although altogether delicate. Soft juicy cassis, a touch of lime acidity and elderflower perfume. Blue flowers, a little soft despite a fresh minerality. For the price, a no-brainer. 87

Cuvée Divine Du Château Bel Air 2020, Bordeaux

Soft black fruit aromas, bursting with freshness, juiciness and sweet spice. Very supple, black juiciness. Opens up to some vegetal, leafy black tea. Grippy tannins accompany the gentle dark fruit. Really supple, mineral, saline creamy finish. Really quite love it. 89

Château L'Eperon 2020, Bordeaux Supérieur

Intensely fruit-forward, ripe, jammy, blue floral, touch of fresh leafiness which continues on the palate with fresh mineral-leafy acidity. Nutty, jammy, blue-black juicy fruit. Soft, floral tannins that crescendo towards a slightly woody finish. Very nice - either for now or in a few years. Doesn't have pretensions that take away from its lovely accessibility today. 89

Leroy Beauval 2020, Bordeaux Supérieur

Cedar, pot pourri, plums, beautifully perfumed. Juicy, velvety blackcurrants. Smooth, supple, textured. Violets, inky, intense sour plums. Tannins still delightfully youthful, grippy and tight. Hint of sandalwood and sweet spice. Vibrant and fresh acidity. Nutty, perfectly ripe leafiness. Fresh acidity, lovely balance. Lovely fruit, but needs time to open out - allow for just a touch of mellowing with age. 92

€12-20 retail - premium supermarket options

Château Dorleac 2020, Graves

Floral, red fruit, a little fresh quince. Intensely rich orchard fruit, dark chocolate, incense. Fresh with steely intensity - has an almost Syrah vibe to it, otherwise typical Graves. Acidic red fruit, blackcurrants, very concentrated. Fresh and rich, a little 'gras' towards the finish - the oak needs time to settle down. 89

Bourdieu Absolu 2020, Blaye

Bready, almost yeasty nose. Hints of custard and bovril, rhubarb, stewed dark fruit. Rich savoury gamey fruit, lovely and soft, gentle and supple. Long fresh acidity that ends with a hint of gingerbread. Supple tannins, excessively accessible - really delightful and lovely already. Another good year for Bourdieu. 93

Château de Carles 2020, Fronsac

Black cassis fruit, gently smoky, woody, cedar and tobacco. Rich, intense blackcurrant wine gums. Pencil shavings, fine acidity, blackcurrants. Very nice. 90

€20-30 - nice weekend specials

Château Charmail 2020, Haut-Médoc

Rich, honeyed, fresh, toasty, nutty. Black mulberry fruit. Voluptuous black velvet, fresh acidity with just a gentle hint of oak. Perfectly balanced richness and elegance. Tannins still very but have lovely age-worthy freshness and elegance to them. 88

Tour de By 2020, Haut-Médoc

Very fresh, vegetal, capsicum, juicy blackcurrants, a hint of spice and smoke, prunes, sweet spice. Intense. Floral and fresh redcurrants emerge as it breathes. Damsons, a little chalky, leafy, spicy. Powerful and very confident, fresh and crunchy still. Good tannins, good fruit, give it time. 91

Château Laffitte Carcasset 2020, Saint-Estèphe

Cabernet structure showing here. Restrained nose with more oak spice than fruit showing, gentle pencil shavings and woodiness. On the palate restrained wild bramble, ribena, sweet spice and currants in an austere restrained ripeness, juicy acidity giving a long vibrant finish with the tannins coated in black cocoa hinting at richness to come. Love the structure and firmness, promising more in a few years. Rich, full-bodied fruit still very hidden, lurking with black chocolate in the background. Great extraction. 90

Château La Fleur Saint Georges Le Plus 2020, Lalande De Pomerol

Mocha and toast. Lots of toast, almost new world oakiness. Hides some intense fruit, floral and cooked dark fruit. Gentle beeswax. Well-made but definitely a new-world style today, or to be kept for a long while before it settles down. 91

Barrail St André 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Muted nose. Flat, plummy fruitiness, lots of black fruit, brambles, juicy and elegant. Warm, intense, slightly smoky alcohol. Good ripeness, plummy, medium length finish with a gently salty, leafy mocha character. 89

Prélude A Grand-Puy Ducasse 2020, Pauillac

Aromatic Merlot plums with smoky oak notes on the nose and a touch of ribena. On the palate the fruit continues with perfumed violets, fresh black plums and tight wild blackberry fruit, crisp freshness with some oomphy oakiness peeking out. Tannins are firmm dry, slightly textured with long fresh acidity, fresh plums and brambles, violets, gentle pencil shavings. A balanced, classic claret with refined flavours and ticking all the right boxes. Grand-Puy Ducasse's first wine, usually a favourite of ours, felt a little over-Parkerised this year - gorgeously full of fruit, but a bit showy and without the charming freshness of Prélude. 92

Château Magnol 2020, Haut-Médoc

Vanilla, soft juicy oak on the nose. Slightly smoky, juicy. Perfectly juicy, slightly inky, textural bitter tannins, dark chocolate, delicate cacao. Beeswax towards the finish. Long minerality. Tight, fresh, juicy, austere, severe. Balanced and really quite delicious with fantastic ageing potential. 91

Château La Commanderie 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Intense juicy jamminess, pencil shavings, violets, super-chock-full of dark juicy blackcurrants, wild dark berries and sour cherries. A touch of new oak more apparent towards the finish and on the tannins. A benchmark 'grand vin' but that brashly and noisily bluffs its way through life, using high alcohol and sheer ripeness to camouflage its lack of charm and an acidity that falls away a bit too quickly. Will be a crowd pleaser. 89

Clos de Bouard 2020, Montagne Saint Emilion

Bready, spicy aromas. Gentle red fruit, jammy. Dark, cooked fruit with a lovely richness, ripeness of fruit. Really grows on me - nutty, gentle, toasty, perfectly balanced and everything seems so well integrated. Mineral, almost saline austerity. Lovely grippiness and sweet-saltiness on the finish. Not much fruit showing and furry tannins. Still so tight and young though... 89

Château de Bellevue 2020, Lussac Saint Emilion

Lovely classic Bordeaux character on the nose with notes of stony black fruit, capsicum and cedar spice on the nose. These continue on the palate with slightly smoky cedar, mocha and spice notes dominating the fresh red berry fruit, with still very youthful astringent mouth-clinging tannins. Needs time to mellow. 90

Château Haut Surget 2020, Lalande De Pomerol

Oak very evident on the nose already. Vegetal, barnyard, toasty. Delicate acidity that struggles a little bit to cut through the toast and ripe juicy fruit. Well-balanced tannins, very grippy. Lots of intense black chocolate and long fresh acidity. Still powerfully oaky, drinkable now but will mellow with age. 92

Château Deyrem Valentin 2020, Margaux

A delicate, perfumed veil over powerful structure defines this wine. On the nose, perfumed floral aromas with a hint of oak vanilla. On the palate blue violets, tight minerality and dense black hedgerow fruit - sloes, blackberries and cassis slowly emerge. The very tight tannins give a long textured grip structure lifted by fresh acidity and a touch of cedar and menthol. Still very young and youthful and does need ageing. Perhaps lacks the weight and extraction of some other top Margaux, but makes up for it with delicacy with delicacy and floral elegance. 90

Château Sergant 2020, Lalande De Pomerol

A lovely old world Merlot-style. No flamboyant fruit showing, but instead on the nose spicy, pepper and capsicum notes with leafy freshness. Earthy dark chocolate. On the palate the fruit points to intense sloes and sour wild berries with rich, bitter cocoa and fine tannins. The wine has structure and restrained elegance, despite being young and closed with potential to open up to some serious charm. 92

Château de Carles Haut Carles 2020, Fronsac

If looking for a young Bordeaux which can easily be drunk straight away, this wine is perfect. Toasty, juicy, full-bodied blackcurrants, mulberries, voluptuous black fruit. Toastiness and juiciness continue on the palate - lusciously and unctiously full-bodied. Juicy, fruity, balanced, vegetal, intense, powerful. Unbelievably drinkable right now already - juicy blackcurrants right up to mouthwatering, mouthfilling, inky mineral finish. Long fresh acidity. 93

Clos Saint Vincent 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Gently fruity and restrained at first, really opens up to intense fruit, some fresh and juicy, some a little more jammy. Lovely smooth ribena notes, grippy tannins, fresh. Really quite lovely. Lovely fruit, depth makes me think that this will make the most of its remaining time in oak. 90

Château Siran 2020, Margaux

I waxed lyrical tasting this wine. Intense gentle fruit, gently vanillin oakiness. Cedar, woodiness, pencil shavings. Cassis. Pencil shavings continue on nose, intensely extracted, spicily piquant. Hint of saffron. Reminds me (poetically!) of the children's book A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley where the protagonist describes the smells of the 16th century. Woody tannins lurking in the background, not tight but certainly unsure of themselves. Sunkissed mulbierries, firm and inky. Not a delicate wine, but beautiful typicity of southern Margaux, lovely extraction, great ageing potential. Woody, tight, ribena pencil shavings all the way into the end. Traditional. Would happily commit infanticide here. 94

€30-50 - special occasion

Château Tour des Termes 2020, Saint-Estèphe

Dark hedgerow fruit, juicy berries. Dark chocolate, cacao, digestive biscuit and shortbread. Slightly bready, vanilla, lovely fresh dark fruit in the backgroud. Weighty, structural, lovely fresh sour finish. Really delicious - just incredible balance between freshness and toastiness. Cassis and berry fruit take over on the finish, blackberries and just mouthwateringly good. 93

Château Haut-Beauséjour 2020, Saint Estephe

Aromas of perfumed violets and fresh capsicum opening up in the glass, ribena, violets, gently toasty, slightly beeswaxy. On the palate, firm black fruit with perfumed floral notes and fresh capsicum leafiness. Gently saline acidity, digestive biscuit, nutty. Pencil shaving-cedar tannins provide firm grip and elegant structure, intense but delicate chalky tannins. Not a gentle wine, but gorgeously benchmark firm and structured St Estephe, nutty, leafy and woody and nutty and pencil shavings. A big wine that doesn't faff around with jamminess or excess. 94

Château Meyney 2020, Saint-Estèphe

Beeswax, fresh waxiness. Cedar. Ribena, black blue fruit, floral. Woody, nutty, toasty, oomphish. Nutty, fresh, vegetal, creamy with mineral tightness. Surprisingly closed still. Fresh, delicious. Classic, lovely typical tannins of St Estephe and great fruit. Still very bold, elegance will come with age. 89

Clos des Jacobins 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Gently leafy, herbal gently woody. A touch of ribena. Really juicy, jammy, smoky, tobacco. Despite jamminess, there's a lovely woody fresh nuttiness in the background keeping things balanced, fresh blue inky minerality, brambles. The tannins feel like they're having a bad day and are refusing to come out and play - but are strong and intense in the background. Rather lovely, even if it's chosen a slightly weighty, heavy path. 89

Château Beaulieu 2020, Côtes De Bourg

Balanced, sweet juicy fruit on the nose, hint of sweet spice. Lovely ripeness on the palate, brilliant freshness. Nutty, floral, gently herbal. Silky, grippy, nutty, leafy and slightly vegetal. Ready to drink - gorgeous wine. 92

Ségla 2020, Margaux

Gently floral, opens up to intensely juicy, fruit, perfectly ripe, leafy pencil shavings lurking in the background. Almost strawberry jam, but avoids any jamminess and there's certainly restraint and freshness. Incredibly smooth and silky on the palate - it's almost like not drinking anything, the integration is so good. Gentle tannins that are definitely waiting to unfurl, but they're hidden by fresh, juicy acidity and intense roundness and fullness of body that it really, really just slips down. Silky, velvety. Unbelievable. Gently capsicum leafiness on the finish. Perfect today, but has all the hallmarks of age-worthiness too. 96

Château Ripeau 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Lovely juicy black fruit, beautifully extracted, spice. Leads to a hint of smoky, gritty dark fruit. Creamy, touch of plummy, a vague hint of capsicum towards the finish. Amazingly vibrant and fresh with hints of mocha and cedar. Well extracted, opulent fruit that completely avoids soupiness and is just overall beautiful, tannins very firm but approachable, just delicious. 93

Château Montlabert 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Beeswax, oaky, vanilla, lovely warm spice, scented, floral black minerality. Crisp green fruit, touch of red berry. Perfumed, intense, structure dominates. Lovely fresh acidity, inky wild black berries. Really quite lovely - pretty much exactly what I wanted from it, and for those who like their wine young, this ticks all the boxes, but would benefit from ageing. 90

Château Berliquet 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Floral, inky black fruit. Gentle, delicate, floral, delicious. Intensely fresh acidity, cacao, white chocolate, sour cherries. Another class entirely. Sour, classy dark chocolate and bitter orange on the palate, leading to blood orange, more sour cherries and almonds. Fresh acidity, perfectly young-but-supple tannins, gentle piquancy. Our first time trying Berliquet since its 2017 takeover - and what a pleasant experience! A sentiment shared by the rest of our tasting group. 97

Vignobles de Larose Château Arnauld 2020, Haut Médoc

A wine to lay down for a few years, but already delivering on all sides. From the ripe black plum aromas developing into opulent, velvet, black plum fruit and perfumed floral notes on the palate, succulent juicy acidity to the balanced textural tannins. This wine is beautifully mouth-watering, mouth-filling. Mineral, fresh, gently plummy. Velvety and opulent. Lovely freshness of fruit, tons and tons of opulent floral beeswax, juicy and mouthwatering. Textural, grippy, chalky, saline, gravelly. Really intensely textural, extracted. Perfumed and long fresh acidity on the finish. Gorgeous, improvement on 2019 in our opinion. Classic and classy. 93

Croix Canon 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Instant hit of jamminess, some dark cassis. Intense, dark fruit, lovely extraction. Creamy, plummy, ever so slight touch of soupiness but broken up by gorgeous freshness and pop-corn nuttiness. Perfume and spice. Lovely richness, certainly interesting. Freshness fades quite quickly to reveal slightly underwhelming acidity, firm dry tannins. Nice piquancy towards the finish, very typical, but not what I expected from Audebert. After opening up for a short while, displaying more of what I expect from it - closed, tight, discrete, but with sweet juicy fruit in the background and just enough freshness to cut through. 90

Château Fleur Cardinale 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Creamy, leesy, slightly yeasty. Red fruit, dark berries, gentle cassis. Stewed plums. At first seems chocolatey and a little cooked, very tight. Incredibly tight in fact, the tannins are all curled up, the fruit is hiding behind them, the acidity is the only bit just barely poking out. Really gorgeous wine that won't be ready for years, classic and classy. 91

Chateau Emmanuelle de Bouard Mon Jardins des Fleurs 2020, Lussac Saint Emilion

A gentle touch of caramel, warm spiced fruit, otherwise very quiet on the nose. More sweet, juicy caramel on the palate, opulent black fruit, with delicious freshness and slightly bitter-sweet tight tannins. High alcohol really quite evident when you know to look for it, hidden by lovely leafy freshness. Don't open this for a loooooong time, let the sweet fruit and freshness die down and let the tannins uncurl. 90

€50-75 - cellaring for weddings and big birthdays

Château Du Paradis 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Violets, inky quite evident waxy oakiness on the nose that seems to be camouflaging the softly black and plummy fruit. Lovely ripeness of fruit that emerges as the wine breathes for even a split second in the glass. Was expecting jammy soupiness but actually am rather shocked at how well integrated and spicy the wood is, black and inky with delightfully restraining fresh acidity. Beautiful integration, juicy raspberries, nutty, crunchy juicy raspberries with a touch of sweet vanilla towards the finish. Redcurrants too! Grippy, textural tannins, black tea. Really really like this, and can see this drinking well fairly quickly too - although it has the weight and the fruit for the next couple of decades and anything else would be infanticide. A rare example of high-alcohol St Émilion working out. Better balance than their 2019. 92

Château La Pointe 2020, Pomerol

A great example of fine Bordeaux can be fresh and light and still pack a punch in terms of weight and complexity. Fresh red fruit aromas, continuing on the palate with subtle hints of toasted oak Interestingly, although the fruit is not a full-blown fruit bomb, it has enough weight and body to balance the tannins so that their structure is almost hidden. The acidity is long and fresh with an almost saline finish, creating an elegant wine. 93

€75+ - too expensive for impoverished wine writers

Château Rauzan Ségla 2020, Margaux

Gently floral, slightly nutty, cooked wild fruit. Slightly juicy blackcurrants. Lots of layers to the fruit - showing beautiful multi-dimensional layers. Incredibly tight tannins, slightly spicy, hint of wood, sandalwood. Slightly nutty, with leafy freshness. Fresh acidity, lovely balance, fantastically textural. Lovely fruit, but needs a lot of time to open out. Excellent potential. 92

Croix de Labrie 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru

Lots of new oak, lots and lots of new oak! Very jammy, but opens up to crunchy nuttiness and incredible freshness. It lacks a little focus but makes up for it by pushing forward on all fronts - there's toastiness, there's juicy fruit, there's jammy fruit, freshness, weight, tannins that keep the tongue tied, really quite gorgeous. Can see why James Sucking likes it, although it is very oaky and Parkerised. 91

Château Canon 2020, Saint Émilion Grand Cru Classé

Gently plummy, white chocolate. A little woody, gentle. Intensely fresh, gently plummy, round, supple and smooth. Intense, deliciously tight tannins, fresh and citrussy despite excellent ripeness. Very very closed still, not a wine for the impatient. 90