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Bordeaux 2020: ‘A Merlot vintage’ says Suckling

“It seems to be a Merlot vintage to me,” James Suckling has said of Bordeaux 2020, making comparisons between it and the 1998 vintage.

  • The vintage may not be as heterogenous as first feared, suggests Suckling.
  • It is a vintage that favours the Right Bank and other Merlot-focused appellations.
  • There are still great Cabernet wines and one First Growth he considers, possibly, his “wine of the vintage”.


Suckling has released snippets of his thoughts on the wines over the past few weeks, and he stated early on that he found the 2020s were “less flamboyant” than the 2018s.

His continued tastings have left him “impressed with the overall quality” and he questioned the fears expressed initially that this would prove a heterogenous vintage. He said: “90% of the wines I have reviewed show an outstanding quality level from first growths to petit chateaux, even from simple appellations such as Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superior.”

A Merlot vintage

Nonetheless, he did say that this felt like “a Merlot vintage to me”, which clearly favours the Right Bank communes but also more Merlot-focused AOCs such as Margaux.

Merlot’s preference for clay and limestone soils was an important factor, as they absorbed water from the substantial rains at the start of the year, which proved to be much-needed reserves later on during the long, dry summer.

Furthermore, the Merlot was harvested before the late heatwave and rainstorms of September which affected the Cabernet Sauvignon.

He has so far given top scores to Hosanna, La Fleur-Pétrus and Trotanoy.

Undiluted Cabernet

Jancis Robinson MW in her first impressions noted that there were likely to be estates that struggled to harvest fully ripe Cabernet.

For his part, Suckling said he found no green character in the Médoc wines but said they were certainly lower in alcohol compared to the 2019s and 2018s (Lafite is only 12.8% it transpires). He added that it reminded him of 1998, where the Right Bank and Pessac-Leognan managed to harvest before the rains on 29 September which diluted many Cabernet-based wines.

“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,” he added. Unlike in 1998, the warm but very dry growing season meant berry sizes were small, so the late rains could not cause much dilution.

Haut-Brion, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux and Smith Haut-Lafitte have all been given 99-100-point brackets with Suckling even saying he was ready to give Haut-Brion, “a perfect score straight out of the glass” and it may be his wine of the vintage.

He added that the 2020 Lafite, “harks back to the great wines of the 1990s and 1980s”.

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