The Merchant’s Critic of Choice – Neal Martin rates Bordeaux 2020 an excellent vintage

Voted by Liv-ex merchant members as the most trusted quality guide on Bordeaux En Primeurs, Neal Martin has published his critical scores on the latest Bordeaux offering, providing a key quality guide on the 2020 vintage for fine wine investors.

Neal Martin – “2020 is an excellent vintage” and “the truth is that generally 2020 does form the third in a trilogy of great vintages after 2018 and 2019”.Neal Martin

As with the other major critics, most of the key Bordeaux Chateaux shipped barrel samples to Neal Martin for tastings with the exception of a notable few who have refrained from tastings at this stage, preferring to wait until reviewers can travel to the region later this year.

Neal Martin’s key observations on Bordeaux 2020: 

Overall, the Vinous critic rates Bordeaux 2020 as better than the 2018 vintage in quality but its peaks don’t quite reach some of the best of 2019 at en primeur stage. Where other critics have referred to Bordeaux 2020 as a “Right Bank vintage” Martin’s view is that each wine should be looked at individually and focus on the soil, vine age and weather affecting each estate.

  • The vintage strengths include the ageing potential of the wines and “excellent acidity levels that engender fresh wines with ample tension”
  • “unlike the 2019s, the 2020s should be afforded several years in bottle, which is refIected in my drinking windows… the best 2020s merit long-term cellaring”
  • “The 2020 vintage was one of the lowest-yielding vintages in the last decade”
  • “Lower alcohol levels on the Left Bank than Right” – this can reveal “greater expression of individual terroirs”
  • “Consensus is forming that 2019 may turn out to be the best [of the trilogy]. At first glance 2020 does not match 2019 but the difference is marginal.” However, Martin also states that a number of 2020 wines “will surpass 2018 and 2019.”

Neal Martin’s advice: Don’t fall into the trap of believing it’s a Right Bank or Merlot vintage – 2020 is far more nuanced and complicated than that. … This is a vintage where great individual terroirs were central in producing the best wines”

Neal Martin – Top Bordeaux 2020 En Primeurs:

Bordeaux 2020 Wine Classification Appellation Score
La Mission Haut Brion Graves 1959 Pessac Leognan 97-99
Margaux 1855 – First Growth Margaux 97-99
Trotanoy Unclassified Pomerol 97-99
Canon Grand Cru Classe B St Emilion 96-98
Figeac Grand Cru Classe B St Emilion 96-98
Haut Brion First Growth Pessac-Leognan 96-98
La Conseillante Unclassified Pomerol 96-98
Lafite Rothschild First Growth Pauillac 96-98
Mouton Rothschild First Growth Pauillac 96-98
Pichon Lalande Second Growth Pauillac 96-98
L’Eglise Clinet Unclassified Pomerol 96-98
Leoville Las Cases Second Growth St Julien 96-98
La Gaffeliere Grand Cru Classe B St Emilion 96-98
Vieux Chateau Certan Unclassified Pomerol 96-98

Source: Vinous.com

Martin observes the key influences on the vintage being heavy Spring rainfall, resulting in challenges with mildew for many estates, storms mid-August were a key factor in the growing season with the heaviest rainfall in the Northern Medoc. Extraordinary heat in September forced earlier harvest which did not impact on earlier ripening Merlot, but many estates were challenged with drought management and shrivelled berries. The clay-based soils of St Estephe provided a theoretical advantage, where the deep gravel-based soils of Pauillac were tough to manage and the mid-August rains were a “God-send”. Pessac-Leognan was blessed with the optimum rainfall and the limestone soils of St Emilion supported some of the best results of the vintage.

Neal Martin  –  2020 Highlight En Primeurs by Appellation:

Appellation Neal Martin’s “Jewel in the Crown”
St Estephe Chateau Phelan Segur 2020– kudos to the team at Phelan Segur who really pulled out all the stops in 2020”
Pauillac Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2020 – “Simply for being nothing else but Lafite-Rothschild” – Neal Martin

“ …the third in a trio of classic vintages” – Eric Kohler Head Wine Maker

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2020 – “Cool and classic in style” – likened to the classic Mouton Rothschild of the 1920s

St Julien Chateau Leoville Barton 2020 – Choose [Leoville] Las Cases for longevity or Poyferre for opulence, but this Barton has everything you wish from an estate with a spring in its step.”
Margaux “ The appellation of Margaux is one of the success stories of 2020… this year when Margaux hits the sweet spot, it is very sweet indeed.”

Chateau Margaux 2020 – is their best vintage since 2016 and may even surpass it.”

Martin selected Brane Cantenac 2020 as his “jewel” of Margaux and that the 2020 was its finest vintage barrel tasting for him

Pessac-Leognan Also blessed with optimum rainfall and completion of harvest before the mid-September heat.

Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 2020 Martin’s ‘Jewel of the Appellation’ this vintage

St Emilion “Clearly in 2020 the best St Emilions stand out as some of the snow-capped peaks of the vintage”

Chateau Canon 2020 – “took full advantage of its limestone soils”

Chateau Figeac  2020– “is a magnificent and seductive Figeac

Pomerol “In 2020, the most revered vineyards yielded some of the vintage’s potential greatest wines” – this with the iconic Petrus and Le Pin still to taste.

Chateau Trotanoy –“candidate for wine of the vintage, perhaps one sample where I came closest to considering a potential perfect score”

Vieux Chateau Certan –“one of the stars of 2020”

Sauternes “The priority for many wine estates in this appellation can be summed up in a single word: “survival”

L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daene – “This 2020 competes the trilogy of vintages”.

Source: Extracted from Vinous.com

In summary, Neal Martin sees 2020 as an excellent, complex vintage that requires close examination, estate by estate and fine wine investors should avoid the temptation to generalise, e.g. “a Merlot vintage”. At en primeur stage Martin has not yet granted the perfect 100-point score, but there are some key wines yet to be tasted including Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Petrus and Le Pin.

The outstanding key messages for fine wine investors is that 2020 offers the chance to own an outstanding trilogy of wines with the 2018 and 2019 vintages and that this is a vintage of lower supply.

Martin’s parting comment perhaps puts it all into perspective “2020 was born in a tumultuous world. Let’s pray that these wines will be enjoyed when we can return to sharing them together.”

The Chateaux have started to release allocations. For more information on investing in the Bordeaux 2020 En Primeurs contact our team on 0203 384 2262 and register here.