2020 Pauillac, with all the high scores in this vintage, it is easy to see this is an exceptional vintage. With the exception of the First Growths, we were able to taste every great 2020 Pauillac. When I am in Bordeaux in April, to taste the 2022 vintage, I will taste and report on Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and Chateau Latour as well as Chateau Pontet Canet and Chateau Haut Bages Liberal.
So, how did 2020 Pauillac turn out so well? The growing season for 2020 Pauillac was in large part the result of the hot, sunny, and extremely dry summer with drought conditions, as Jean-Charles Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages recalls.
“The vintage in Pauillac was characterized by relatively high temperatures in the growing season with very little rain between mid-June and mid-August. That ensured top concentrated cabernet with low yields. Perfect ripeness with moderate alcohol content.”
In the drought conditions found in 2020 Pauillac, the harvest brought grapes that were small, concentrated, juicy, and sweet. In the most favored vineyards, the skins, seeds and even the stems ripened. The berries have thick skins, and high levels of tannins, and the skins were dark. But that is not the case everywhere. In fact, the size of berries varied not just from vineyard to vineyard, but parcel to parcel, and in the individual grapes as well according to Jean-Rene Matignon of Chateau Pichon-Baron.
“The size of the berry was different in terroir to terroir and in the grapes as well. From Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon. Something else, the number of seeds was higher than usual, as well.”
As we mentioned, the summer drought shaped much of the vintage’s character. But that is just a quick summary. To fully understand how 2020 Pauillac developed its personality and style, you need to look at the climatic conditions for the entire growing season.
The winter months were mild. Conditions remained mild in Bordeaux through February. In fact, a few days in February were quite warm, reaching up to 23 Celsius, 74 Fahrenheit. Things changed considerably in early March with periods of torrential rains.
Temperatures heated up by the middle of March, and bud break began taking place. But the bud break was not homogeneous. It varied, and it did not happen rapidly, taking over two weeks or more, depending on the terroir and conditions. April brought hot weather, accelerating the growing season. April 2020 was hot enough to have recorded the 3rd highest temperature recorded in 50 years. April was not only hot, but it was also wet, with downpours taking place from April 17 to April 20.
May was warm and wet. May 2020 entered the record books as the 4th warmest month in eight decades! At its peak, temperatures rose to 30 Celsius, 86 Fahrenheit, hastening the pace of the vintage. Flowering took place 10 days faster than usual, making 2020 Bordeaux an early vintage. June was cool and rainy, with less than average hours of sunshine, slowing down the growth cycle. At this point, some growers had issues with mildew.
The summer proved was marked by drought conditions, which continued through to August. Here is where the differences in terroir came into place. Water-retentive clay and limestone soils were able to nourish the vines. Vineyards with dry, warm gravelly soils suffered from vines that stopped their growth cycle. Young vines as you would expect suffered the most.
Following the heatwave that hit in the middle of August the combination of cool nights and the much-needed rain from August 9 to August 14, falling shortly after véraison, unblocked the vines that needed moisture.
However, the rain did not fall evenly across Bordeaux which factored into the 2020 Bordeaux vintage’s quality. Depending on the vineyard, rains in the northern Medoc and Pauillac received as much as 110 mm (4.3). The August rains were incredibly beneficial. They were able to reenergize the vines, reigniting the growing season, and prevent severe water stress. Though, it may have been too much water for some vineyards.
Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was surprised at the quality of the 2020 Pauillac vintage, after the challenging growing season.
“What we find extraordinary is that in this roller coaster of a year, 2020 Pauillac turned out with so much harmony and balance.”
September started out as hot, sunny, and dry, with cool nights, allowing the red wine grapes to continue their maturation. These good conditions lasted until September 20, when the weather cooled down. It was as if fall weather conditions started to kick in with temperatures in the daytime dropping to almost 12 Celsius, (54 Fahrenheit!) in the northern Medoc. The unseasonably cool temperatures continued through the harvest period.
Picking began for young Merlot vines in the early part of September, which is quite early. For the most part, Cabernet Sauvignon was picked after the Merlot. But that was not always the case. Many Left Bank vineyards were picking Cabernet while Merlot was still being harvested starting in early to mid-September.
Finding the exact day to pick proved to be one of the keys to the vintage, according to Nicolas Glumineau, Chateau Pichon-Lalande.
“At the very moment of the harvest, we took a lot of care to keep the state of the freshness in the Merlot. That was important to express their floral and fruity complexity.”
While the Cabernets in some vineyards did not achieve full ripeness, the berries were intense and concentrated with massive amounts of tannins and anthocyanins. This allowed for high-quality wines with great color, aromatics, and refinement, but without the levels of concentration and intensity found in 2018. That being said, the 2020 Bordeaux vintage should age quite well.
2020 Pauillac required a soft touch in the cellars during the extraction process recalls Eric Kohler of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
“With 2020 we immediately understood the high richness and extraction of the 2020 vintage. Thus we used soft vinifications. Also, the very rapid alcoholic fermentation of the vintage required us to pump over more often, but for shorter periods of time.”
2020 Pauillac wines at their best are deeply colored, highly-perfumed with strong floral expressing dark red and black fruits. The wines showcase concentration, richness, silky tannins and long creamy, finishes. While the vintage is precocious, the wines can age for decades. The wines also feature lower levels of alcohol than you find in 2019 and 2018, making 2020 a modern classic vintage. Emeline Borie of Grand-Puy-Lacoste agrees with the term “ modern classic” for 2020 Bordeaux.
“It’s a vintage more “classic” in terms of structure. 2020 has more of the signature of GPL with a real Cabernet Sauvignon flavor!” To read reports on the 2020 Bordeaux vintage in every appellation, as well as a 2020 Bordeaux vintage summary and analysis, please see The 2020 Bordeaux Complete Guide
The following 2020 Pauillac wines were all tasted in my home office in non-blind conditions.
2020 dArmailhac – Pauillac – Blackberries and black currants define the nose, palate, and character of this classy Pauillac. The wine offers vibrancy, chewy textures, and nuances of mint, tobacco leaf, cedar, peppery spices, and tobacco wrapper. Classic, classy, refined, and with ample layers of sweet, lush, dark fruits with the tannins to age, this will drink well early, yet it will also evolve quite well. Drink from 2026-2050. 93 Pts
2020 Batailley – Pauillac – Sporting a deep hue, the wine pops with its display of black currants, blackberries, espresso, cedar, cigar wrapper, and mint leaf. The wine is full-bodied, round, and concentrated, with layers of ripe, polished, dark red pit fruits, and berries, creamy tannins, and vibrancy, all of which make you go back for sip after sip. Drink from 2027-2055. 95 Pts
2020 Clerc Milon – Pauillac – The nose opens with a display of flowers, cherry pipe tobacco, spices, and currants. Medium-bodied, elegant, fresh, crisp, and clean, there is a nice sense of purity to the array of red fruits along with a touch of spice, and vibrancy in the refined, soft, mildly, dusty finish. This is going to be gorgeous to enjoy in its youth, although it clearly has the ability to age and improve for 2-3 decades with ease. Drink from 2025-2050. 94 Pts
2020 Clerc Milon Pastourelle de Clerc Milon – Pauillac – Flowers, cherries, and tobacco leaves are what you initially notice before moving on to the sweet, fresh, waves of soft, polished, elegant, red fruits with their spicy edge. This is perfect for sharing in casual bistros, and cafes. Drink from 2023-2034. 90 Pts
2020 Croizet-Bages – Pauillac – Wow, they have really upped their game at Croizet-Bages. This is a beauty packed with layers of supple-textured, ripe, dark red fruits, freshness, silky tannins, and a chewy, red berry finish that shows off its purity, leafy herbs, cedar, tobacco, and spicy edges quite nicely. Drink from 2025-2045. 93 Pts
2020 Duhart-Milon – Pauillac – Red pit fruits, flowers, cedar, and plums with a touch of tobacco leaf, and create the nose. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, vibrant, soft, and energetic with an air of elegance, refinement, and silky textures which feel great on the mid-palate, and in the finish. This is the debut vintage produced in their new cellars which helped shape the wine as it allowed the team to vinify for the first time on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Drink from 2024-2045. 93 Pts
2020 Fonbadet – Pauillac – Tobacco leaves, barbecue, cedar, spearmint, currants, and blackberries create a nose worth putting your nose in. On the palate, the wine is fresh, supple, polished, and firm, with layers of crémé de cassis, coffee bean, black cherries, plums, spice, and creamy tannins. This is even better in the bottle than it was from the barrel. It can for at least 20 years if you let it. Though I will start drinking my bottles much earlier. Drink from 2025-2045. 93 Pts
2020 Fonbadet L’Harmonie de Fonbadet – Pauillac – Black currants with a touch of jam, licorice, and spice open this medium-bodied, forward, bright, fresh, and pliant, red berry-filled wine that is perfect to enjoy while waiting for its big brothers to develop. Drink from 2023-2032. 89 Pts
2020 Grand Puy Ducasse – Pauillac – One of the best vintages of Grand Puy Ducasse ever produced is packed with multiple layers of ripe, fresh, creamy, salt-infused, blackberries, currants, spearmint, cigar box, cedar, and lead pencil. There is volume, balance, freshness, length, and a fruit-filled finish that holds your focus. This is a top vintage for Grand Puy Ducasse that will age for 2-3 decades. Drink from 2025-2050. 94 Pts
2020 Grand Puy Ducasse Prelude – Pauillac – Medium-bodied, forward, spicy, fresh, earthy, red currant packed wine that is already displaying nuances of cedar, and tobacco leaf, in the spicy, crisp, red berry finish. You can easily enjoy this while waiting for the Grand Vin to develop. Drink from 2023-2030. 89 Pts
2020 Grand Puy Lacoste – Pauillac – Cassis, cigar box, dried flowers, spice, herbs, and blackberries crowd into the perfume. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, concentrated, and rich. There is a lushness to the fruits, along with a softness, and polish to the tannins that is perfect for the wine, and the vintage. Length, purity, complexity, and a seemingly, endless, creamy finish caps everything off. This is the finest vintage ever produced at Grand Puy Lacoste. Fans of the estate, and Pauillac should be all over this wine. Drink from 2026-2060. 97 Pts
2020 Haut-Bages Monpelou – Pauillac – Cedar, cigar box, and black currants are found at the core of this medium-bodied wine. The wine is fresh, polished, and soft, with a cool touch of salt that comes in on the end note along with its sweet currants, and spice. Drink from 2023-2035. 90 Pts
2020 La Fon du Berger – Pauillac – Spicy red, and black currants, polished, round-textured, red fruits, and a polished, easy-to-like finish all work rather well here. Plus, it will drink well on release too. Drink from 2023-2032. 87 Pts
2020 Les Sadons – Pauillac – Cedar, black pepper, currants, bay leaves, and cigar box aromatics open the perfume. The medium-bodied palate is vibrant, elegant, and juicy with a hint of espresso, and dusty tannins in the spicy finish. 2023-2035. 89 Pts
2020 Lynch Bages – Pauillac – The first vintage made in their brand new, state-of-the-art cellars pops with its showy display of peppery spices, mint, cigar box, cassis, blackberries, cedar, and creme de cassis. The wine is full-bodied, fresh, long, deep, intense, powerful, and chewy, leaving you with an ocean of sweet, ripe, pure cassis to chew on. This refined-styled vintage of Lynch Bages will age for decades. Drink from 2027-2060. 97 Pts
2020 Lynch-Moussas – Pauillac – Classic, firm, and fresh with a solid core of sweet, chewy, dark cassis, tobacco, cedar, and a touch of spearmint which adds more freshness. The fruits are refined, crisp, and juicy, with a firm, bite of Cabernet Sauvignon, and tobacco leaf n the palate, and in the finish. Drink from 2026-2050. 93 Pts
2020 Pauillac – Pauillac – Quite floral in nature, you also find nuances of espresso, tobacco leaf, chocolate, blackberries, and currants. On the palate, the wine is polished, lush, and loaded with fresh, sweet, ripe, supple, dark fruits. The finish is soft, polished, sweet, and fresh with a creamy-textured endnote. Drink from 2025-2050. 93 Pts
2020 Pedesclaux – Pauillac – The first thing you notice is the beautiful sense of purity in the red fruits before finding all the flowers, and leaves of tobacco. On the palate, the wine is vibrant, firm, fresh, and layered with crushed rocks, currants, blackberries, and spice. The tannins are soft, and ripe, with a gentle polish to the lifted, red fruits in the elegant finish. Give it a few years in the cellar, and enjoy it over the following 2 or more decades. Drink from 2025-2050. 93 Pts
2020 Pedesclaux Fleur de Pedesclaux – Pauillac – Medium-bodied, fresh, bright, crisp. crunchy, chewy red fruits with a touch of bitter cocoa on the backend that is perfect for ordering in a cafe or bistro, and it is clearly ready to go on release. Drink from 2023-2032. 90 Pts
2020 Pibran – Pauillac – Medium-bodied, vibrant, and packed with currants, blackberries, chocolate, and cedar. The wine is fresh, crisp, and spicy, with a dose of sea salt that comes in at the end of the chewy finish. Drink from 2025-2040. 90 Pts
2020 Pichon Baron – Pauillac – With an intensity of color that matches the intensity you taste, and feel, here you find a wine that coats your palate with its multiple layers of rich, dark, deep, black, and dark red fruits coupled with smoke, tobacco, Cuban cigars, spice, dark chocolate, and burning oak embers. This incredible wine is perfectly poised on the corner of power, and intensity with an almost, endless, seamless, regal, and refined finish. This is clearly going to be one of the all-time great vintages of Pichon Baron. Drink from 2028-2065. 98 Pts
2020 Pichon Baron Les Griffons dePichon Baron – Pauillac – Highly perfumed, notes of tobacco, flowers, dark chocolate, blackberries, and black currants pop with little effort in the nose. On the palate, the wine is medium/full-earthy, rich, lifted, and forward. It’s round in the mouth with ripe, polished tannins, and a creamy finish. Les Griffons de Pichon Baron is produced from a vat selection made before the final blending. Drink from 2024-2040. 92 Pts
2020 Pichon Baron Les Tourelles de Longueville – Pauillac – Flowers, smoke, cedar, black, and red currants, and tobacco with a hint of cocoa from the perfume. The wine is medium-bodied, elegant, soft, sweet, fresh, and loaded with ripe, clean red fruits. The mid-palate and finish serve up sweet, creme de cassis in every sniff, and sip. Les Tourelles de Longueville is always produced from a parcel selection created to offer a baby Pichon Baron experience. This is a fabulous Pauillac that will offer pleasure for 2 decades. Drink from 2024-2040. 91 Pts
2020 Pichon Lalande – Pauillac – A riveting wine in every sense of the word, the perfume grabs you with its array of flowers, spices, tobacco, currants, smoke, cedar, and roasted plums. There is intensity, purity, precision, and length, which is perfect for allowing you to experience all the layers of silky, sensuous fruits, and freshness. The finish crosses the 50-second mark with ease and never looks back. With time in the bottle, this gem could hit triple digits, it is that good! Drink from 2027-2065. 99 Pts
2020 Pichon Lalande Pichon Comtesse Réserve – Pauillac – The attention-seeking bouquet pops with its notes of flowers, tobacco leaf, spearmint, cocoa, and sweet, ripe, red fruits. The wine is elegant, refined, soft, and complex, with a finish that is long, refined, complex, and gentle. This is a fabulous example of a baby Pichon Lalande that will drink beautifully on release while offering pleasure for up to two decades. As the quality here continues jumping in class every year, this is becoming a true Pauillac brand, instead of a second wine. Drink from 2023-2040. 93 Pts
With close to 950 wines from the 2020 Bordeaux vintage, tasted, and rated, it is easy to get a good idea of the year. Bottom line, 2020 Bordeaux is the perfect cap to the historic trio of 2018, 2019, and 2020. Bordeaux lovers will want to find the wines that fit their style preference and budget and grab some of these gems for their cellar. I will be back in Bordeaux in a few weeks to taste the 2022 vintage. It is going to be a busy spring.