Published: 7th May 2021
The first scores and impressions of the Bordeaux 2020 vintage are starting to emerge, and there seems to be a marked preference for the Right Bank.
James Suckling and Jancis Robinson MW have given some initial verdicts on the wines they have tasted. Both have expressed the opinion that 2020 is a vintage that has played into the hands of the Right Bank or those other appellations that use high proportions of Merlot, and sit on water-retentive soils.
“It seems to be a Merlot vintage to me,” said Suckling in one of his write-ups. This should, in part, come as no surprise. Although there was a hot summer in 2020, with a drought lasting 54 days between 18 June and 11 August, a lot of rain fell in April and early May.
Those vineyards on clay and limestone soils on both banks therefore will have had good reserves of water to draw upon during the worst of the summer heatwave. Being an earlier ripening variety, Merlot had the advantage of being picked before a further heat spike in September which was followed by a cool and rainy end to that month, which in turn had an impact on the Cabernets.
If any variety was going to shine in 2020 therefore, it was Merlot and this in turn broadly favours the Right Bank. Robinson wrote, “in very general terms, this most recent vintage seems to have been more successful, or at least more consistent, there than on the Left Bank”.
She singled out the wines of Saint-Emilion for particular praise. To her, 2020 marks continued progress in the AOC towards fresher, purer wines and moving further away from the high extraction, oak, and alcohol of previous vintages.
Although the Right Bank communes may have the edge, “this doesn’t mean that great Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines were not made in 2020 or that the Medoc did not make terrific young wines,” said Suckling.
So far, Suckling has given more 99-100-point scores to Left Bank wines than Right in fact. He even said that Haut-Brion might be his wine of the vintage while the Lafite, he said, “harks back to the great wines of the 1990s and 1980s”.
As mentioned above, the growing conditions certainly suited Merlot but also those appellations with soils capable of holding water. Appellations such as Pessac-Leognan home to Haut-Brion and where Robinson also found great consistency.
Before tastings began there were concerns that this was a good but heterogenous vintage. It increasingly seems that while there are excellent wines everywhere, if there is heterogeneity it is perhaps more localised in the Left Bank’s communes.
Neal Martin in his recent in-bottle report on the 2018s remarked on how it was a vintage that showed the gaps between the “haves and have-nots” when it came to terroir and cellar wizardry and it is possible that a similar comment could be made of the Médoc in 2020.
We shall see what further critics have to say in the coming weeks.