2018 Bordeaux Barrel Tasting: Top-Scoring Reds (Wine Spectator)

Editor’s note: Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth is in Bordeaux to taste the 2018 vintage from barrel to determine the quality and character of the young wines, in order to inform wine lovers who may be considering buying them en primeur, or as futures. New notes will be posted regularly throughout the tastings.

While spending a few weeks in the region, Molesworth visits numerous châteaus, interviews many vintners and evaluates hundreds of wines. These visits are crucial to understanding the character and quality of the vintage. However, all official wine ratings come from our own independent blind tastings. Châteaus that decline to submit samples to these blind tastings are not reviewed for this report. This list contains the highest-rated Bordeaux reds reviewed in his latest tastings.

As these are unfinished wines, they are scored in 4-point ranges (e.g., 94–97 points) to indicate that the ratings are still preliminary. When the wines are released in bottle, they will be reviewed with their peers in blind tastings and given a final score.

Top 2018 Bordeaux Reds

CHÂTEAU FIGEAC St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 97-100
This is pretty gorgeous, with a velvety texture that lets nearly exotic cassis, plum and blackberry fruit reduction flavors roll through. Has a beautiful baseline of warm earth and smoldering tobacco notes all while keeping its sensational mouthfeel. The encore on the finish makes you realize this is the serious gourmet stuff. One of the highlights of the vintage.—James Molesworth

CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE LAS CASES St.-Julien 2018 Score: 97-100
This is backward and dense, with thickly layered plum, blackberry, fig and blueberry reduction flavors wrapped liberally in warm ganache and melted licorice notes. A long echo of smoldering charcoal emerges at the very end. There's a lot to resolve here as the rich and austere sides are still melding, but the extra amplitude doesn't distort anything; it just all goes to 11.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PALMER Margaux 2018 Score: 97-100
The level of glycerine sets this apart, giving the cascade of plum, currant, blackberry and black cherry fruit extra oomph, while seeming to heighten the purity at the same time. Beautiful violet, incense and juniper notes flash in the background. This is packed with iron-laced grip, but remains seamless and extremely long. I suspect this will be one of the most talked about wines of the vintage.—J.M.

This one nails it in 2018, with saturated, almost sappy kirsch, plum and blackberry preserve flavors at the core, inlaid with sweet tobacco, singed vanilla, worn cedar and fresh earth notes. A bolt of graphite provides support. Concentrated, long and very complete. One of the high water marks of the vintage.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU TROTANOY Pomerol 2018 Score: 97-100
Gorgeous, showing hefty structure throughout, carrying waves of tobacco- and charcoal-coated cassis, steeped plum and warm fig fruit. The dense finish is packed together now and seriously long. A very complete wine that helps set the bar in this vintage.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU BEAU-SÉJOUR BÉCOT St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Juicy and forward in feel, with fresh plum, blackberry and anise notes. Dense, but still silky and refined in feel, revealing a long mineral echo through the finish. This is so pure, it seems almost too easy to drink already, just as you realize how ridiculously long it is.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU BÉLAIR-MONANGE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Ripe and dense in feel, with layers of plum, fig and boysenberry fruit. The structure is decidedly stony, revealing a long echo of tobacco. Among the more backward wines at this early stage, but seriously long and well-built.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU CALON-SÉGUR St.-Estèphe 2018 Score: 96-99
Delivers a laser beam of cassis, bitter plum and cherry reduction notes, with an extremely fine-grained structure carrying this through a long finish. Accents of iron and violet are piercing in their purity and definition. A very complete and precise wine.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU CANON St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Features a gorgeous core of plum and black currant fruit, deeply inlaid with tobacco notes and chalky minerality. Everything melds wonderfully through the finish, which is refined in feel.—J.M.

CLOS FOURTET St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Dark plum and boysenberry fruit is laced with tobacco and chalk notes, while the fleshy grip slowly builds through the finish. This is seriously long, and though the fruit is gorgeous, the minerality steals the show in the end.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU DUCRU-BEAUCAILLOU St.-Julien 2018 Score: 96-99
Another rock 'em sock 'em St.-Julien here, brimming with nearly exotic blackberry, plum, blueberry and açaí berry reduction notes, bristling with brambly energy and racing through a graphite-edged finish. Shows gorgeous perfume throughout, despite the fairly obvious level of concentration.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LA FLEUR-PÉTRUS Pomerol 2018 Score: 96-99
A brick house, featuring steeped currant and plum fruit, scored by tobacco, bay leaf and charcoal notes. A great tug of earth lurks underneath, but there's plenty of fruit to handle it. This is a big one.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE BARTON St.-Julien 2018 Score: 96-99
A stunner, showing a great degree of purity, with long flavors of cassis, plum and blackberry preserves, seamlessly integrated with the graphite structure. A very vivid, defined, precise wine.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LYNCH BAGES Pauillac 2018 Score: 96-99
Dark cassis, plum and cherry fruit flavors stream through in this red, harnessed well by bolts of iron along the way. Sweet tobacco detail echoes through the finish, which is seriously long. An extremely rock-solid wine in the making here.—J.M.

LA MONDOTTE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Intense raspberry and plum compote flavors show juicy energy, backed by a liberal dose of roasted apple wood notes. Grippy and still a bit chewy, but the drive is there, along with a buried mineral edge that lingers.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PAVIE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
Gorgeous from start to finish, offering lush layers of raspberry, cassis and plum sauce flavors entwined with licorice, apple wood and rooibos tea notes. There's a serious grip through the finish but this is focused and pure in feel. The encore of fruit detail at the very end is impressive.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU RAUZAN-SÉGLA Margaux 2018 Score: 96-99
Very concentrated, atypically so for Margaux, with sappy kirsch and plum reduction notes that are well-defined and luxurious in feel, draping beautifully over a graphite underpinning on the finish. Very long.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU VALANDRAUD St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 96-99
This is richly fruited, with waves of fleshy raspberry, boysenberry and red currant cruising through, inlaid with singed vanilla and apple wood notes along the way. Shows density and cut through the finish, with a tug of tobacco at the end. This is dialed up to 11.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU ANGÉLUS St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
Very gutsy in feel, with lots of tobacco leaf, loam and espresso notes swirling around a core of steeped black currant and warm fig fruit flavors. The muscular finish is a jumble right now, but there's ample acidity coiled within. A wine that clearly wants to stand out from the pack.—J.M.

Showy, with boysenberry and plum flavors liberally laced with red licorice notes. The fruit is flamboyant, but this reveals honest grip and solid energy through the finish.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU CANON-LA GAFFELIÈRE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
A bright, mineral-driven style in the making, with the chalky aspect leading the way, quickly followed by a racy stream of red currant, raspberry and cherry coulis flavors. Has the grip of the vintage, but this is piercingly focused in feel.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LES CARMES HAUT-BRION Pessac-Léognan 2018 Score: 95-98
This throws off a stream of cassis, cherry preserves and raspberry fruit that is pure and bright, laced with a racy mineral edge through the finish. Stands apart from the pack for its purity and finesse. Really beautiful.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU L'ÉGLISE CLINET Pomerol 2018 Score: 95-98
Lush in feel, with boysenberry reduction and crushed plum flavors, carried by a polished, solid structure. A mineral hint filters through on the finish, adding length and cut.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU GRAND-PUY-LACOSTE Pauillac 2018 Score: 95-98
This captures the style of the vintage to a T, with vividly ripe cassis and plum fruit, carried by solidly built but fine-grained structure. Lots of graphite and tobacco accents hang in the background for now. A firmly grounded wine.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU HOSANNA Pomerol 2018 Score: 95-98
This has a strong tobacco and loam aspect, with lots of black currant, fig and bitter cherry fruit. Shows heft and muscle throughout. Dense and built for the cellar.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE POYFERRÉ St.-Julien 2018 Score: 95-98
This is brimming with plum, blackberry and blueberry reduction flavors, backed by grippy, energetic bramble, licorice and apple wood notes. Chockablock with stuff but defined and balanced. A no-brainer for the cellar.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PAPE CLÉMENT Pessac-Léognan 2018 Score: 95-98
This is really well put together, with waves of steeped plum, currant and raspberry fruit, bolts of licorice and tar and a long apple wood accent on the sappy finish.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PAVIE MACQUIN St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
Packed with very expressive boysenberry and red currant paste aromas and flavors, this is dense and fleshy in feel, but has the energy to easily carry it off. Lots of chalky cut on the long finish. Rock-solid.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PAVIE-DECESSE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
Well-endowed, with creamed boysenberry, fig and loganberry flavors, this is a step ahead of the pack. As lush as the fruit is, this shows admirable grip and some flashy spice and toast notes filling in throughout. A head-turner in the making.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PEBY FAUGÈRES St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
Offers layers of dark fig, boysenberry and cassis fruit, with alluring black tea and anise notes. The long, smoldering finish is carried by a graphite edge. Dense, but with serious cut and detail. A classic in the making.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU PICHON BARON Pauillac 2018 Score: 95-98
Warm, dense and fleshy in feel, featuring cassis, plum and cherry compote flavors infused with tobacco and worn cedar details. Seriously long, with a well-buried iron note, though the purity of the fruit is the dominating feature overall. This cuts a pretty broad swath as it moves along. A big wine.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU SMITH-HAUT-LAFITTE Pessac-Léognan 2018 Score: 95-98
Ripe and lush, with delicious waves of plum, blackberry and black currant preserve flavors laced with subtle charcoal, tobacco and licorice notes. There's a long flow through the finish. Beautifully rendered, capturing the ripeness of the vintage in spades without being heady at all.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU TROPLONG MONDOT St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 95-98
This offers a lovely display of boysenberry, cherry and plum fruit, yet stays refined and focused, relying on purity as this glides through. Has weight but feels silky, with a flinty mineral hint adding cut on the finish.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU BEYCHEVELLE St.-Julien 2018 Score: 94-97
Ripe and concentrated, but very sleek, with a remarkably pure beam of cassis and plum reduction flavors. Sweet spice, violet and apple wood notes are thoroughly embedded throughout. Polished and very long.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE-DUCRU St.-Julien 2018 Score: 94-97
This is well-packed, with blueberry, açaí and blackberry fruit flavors and licorice snap and fruitcake notes. Long and refined despite the copious fruit, showing polish and poise through the finish.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU CANTENAC-BROWN Margaux 2018 Score: 94-97
Winey and dark in profile, with steeped currant, plum and blackberry fruit, buttressed by ganache, smoldering tobacco and warm earth notes. Accents of bay leaf, alder and mineral are in reserve. Delivers a beguiling feel despite the concentration. A very strong showing.—J.M.

DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER Pessac-Léognan 2018 Score: 94-97
This is flashy, with mesquite, licorice, black tea and fruitcake aromatics leading the way to a frankly ripe core of steeped raspberry and plum flavors. Seems pretty liberal with the toast, but this has what it needs to come together in the end.—J.M.

CLOS DE L'ORATOIRE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 94-97
Features seamlessly layered dark currant, fig and boysenberry fruit, infused liberally with a tobacco note and backed by a long, smoldering finish. Latent energy keeps this going. An impressive young wine.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LA GAFFELIÈRE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 94-97
Features a beautiful beam of cassis, bitter cherry and raspberry fruit streaming through, laced with chalky minerality and backed by floral and spice accents, all allied to a polished, luxurious feel that doesn't sacrifice definition or drive.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU LARCIS DUCASSE St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 94-97
A solid wine, with raspberry and red currant fruit adhering to chalk and iron notes, while ample grip drives underneath. Reveals a mouthwatering tobacco accent at the end.—J.M.

CHÂTEAU MONBOUSQUET St.-Emilion 2018 Score: 94-97
Lushly fruited, with creamy boysenberry and plum preserve flavors gliding through, this is going to be for the hedonist crowd. Extra anise and spice notes fill in, revealing steady grip through the finish.—J.M.