I tasted a good range of Côtes de Bordeaux at the annual Grand Cercle tastings during primeurs, held at Château Montlabert in St Emilion. First impressions of Bordeaux 2016 on the right bank was of a vintage defined by impressive texture and freshness with slightly more modest alcohols than usual. It is an interesting companion piece to the beautiful 2015 vintage. Excellent flowering conditions [in an otherwise damp start to the growing season] encouraged a good fruit set. The drought conditions which occurred in the high summer were relieved by period of brief but productive rain on 13 and 20 September. October was sunny and dry. Castillon stood out for me with very impressive efforts from Château Alcée, Château Cap de Faugères and Château d’Aiguilhe in particular, but there are some very good wines in all the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations. I was also struck by the quality of the wines in Francs from Nicolas Thienpont at Château La Prade and Château Puygueraud, as well as at Château de Franc. There a few wines that were characterised by comparatively high acidity and grip. I think these will settle nicely though and I’d be interested to see them further down the track.
Last year 2015 was wildly heralded. The wines had beauty. The year produced wonderful wine on the right bank, but the picture was a little muddier on the left. Bordeaux 2016 brings greater homogeneity. Excellence is achieved at all levels and in all appellations for the reds. In the Médoc and the Haut-Médoc, the qualitative heights to which the wines soar are remarkable. In that sense it is undoubtedly a great Cabernet year. With the possible exception of 2014 in St Estèphe and 2015 in Margaux, 2016 should probably be seen as the best vintage on the left bank since 2010. But what is particularly exciting about 2016 is that in a great many cases it is a far easier vintage to understand than 2010 at this young stage. The alcohols are significantly lower and the tannins, which are up there with 2010 [and in a few cases even more considerable], seem much more succulent and textured. There is freshness too – and the aromatics are beautiful. The vintage also excels in St Emilion, Pomerol and in Pessac-Léognan. Cabernet Franc has done extremely well, but so too has Merlot. There are exceptions. Firstly the vines struggled with the drought on the lighter soils and in younger plots. Secondly, the hot and dry conditions were not always favourable to some of Bordeaux’s dry whites, the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in particular. Yet for the reds I came away from many of the tastings during primeurs with the same excitement as I had back in 2009 and 2010. 2016 is potentially great and concludes a trilogy of fascinating vintages for the region.
The joyride around Bordeaux 2016 culminated once again with some remarkable wines in the Haut-Médoc. These were led by Château Palmer, which in 2016 has produced a Margaux to rival last year’s beauty. Overall you would have thought that the dry and hot conditions would have been difficult on some of the gravelly and lighter soils in both Margaux and in Pessac-Léognan, the two key appellations in which I dedicated a large part of my final day tasting. While I did notice a little more variability (some jam/raisin qualities in a couple, over-extraction in others] I was generally very impressed with a great number of wines. Once again the aromatics, the fruit tones and seductive qualities of the tannins were remarkable at the top end. I also explored the Haut-Médoc appellation in some detail. There are a great many wines of interest here in 2016 for the consumer. The vintage appears to rival 2009 and 2010. Stylistically it is almost a hypothetical blend of those two vintages [perhaps with some 2014 thrown in], but with generally more moderate alcohol levels. Time will tell as to 2016s precise place in the pantheon, but it’s obviously a very exciting vintage. Still, dark Brexit clouds mean that this vintage will obviously be released into an uncertain and possibly very different future.
Day three was spent in the northern left bank, principally St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien. Having tasted many of the top estates I was left in no doubt that Bordeaux 2016 has produced some of the most remarkable wine since the 2009 and 2010 vintages. I’d even go as far as saying that I prefer this vintage at this stage. The aromatics are beautiful, the wines packed with fruit and extract, the acidity is as fresh as 2010 but the tannins are as succulent as in 2009. Importantly alcohols are more moderate [well under 14%] which makes for wines of exceptional balance. Château Calon-Ségur, Château Montrose and Château Cos d’Estournel have all made remarkable, deeply coloured St Estèphe. In Pauillac Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Pontet-Canet and Château Lafite-Rothschild have made their most exciting wines since 2009. Leading St Julien’s Château Léoville-Poyferré, Château Léoville-Las-Cases and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou [in particular] in different ways, leave you speechless. At this level 2016 in the northern Haut-Médoc looks to be a breath-taking vintage that exhausts the superlatives.
I spent a second day in St Emilion, starting at Château Pavie-Macquin to taste the range of wines that Nicolas Thienpont crafts as well as listening to a review of the climatological aspects of the vintage. It was an opportunity to hear Stéphane Derenoncourt discuss his thoughts on 2016 as a ‘miracle’ vintage. He sees it as the third in a trilogy of impressive vintages starting in 2014. Next up was Château Angélus to look at their stable of wines and discuss the vintage with Hubert de Boüard as well as examine the expanding range that he consults for. This gave me an opportunity to taste the first of a series of seriously impressive wines from the left bank in Pauillac and the Haut-Médoc. I then completed tastings at the Grand Cercle held at Château Montlabert. Here I assessed a dozen or so St Emilion Grand Cru Classés [generally exciting and homogeneous] as well as tasting more wines from the left bank appellations St Julien, Pauillac, Margaux and the Haut-Médoc. My overall feelings was how exciting this vintage is for both right and left bank, perhaps left especially.
Well, there is no doubt about it. 2016 is a fascinating red wine vintage in Bordeaux across all the appellations. The quality of the wines took me by surprise, as it did Bordeaux’s vignerons themselves. The growing season proved to be the proverbial game of two halves. Spring was very wet indeed with variable weather, save for a perfect flowering period. Remarkable drought conditions then followed, with sun and heat, though the high summer days had a considerable diurnal temperature range, with cool nights. The lack of rain was a real worry by the beginning of September [with rising vine stress], but the vintage was made [saved?] but two bouts of essential rain in September. This allowed the grapes to achieve final ripeness [beautiful ripeness in many cases] which has resulted in a range of concentrated reds, with remarkably succulent tannins, fresh acids and reasonable alcohols [ie under 14 degrees]. At the top level the balance seems better than in 2009, and less obviously tannic than 2010 at this early stage. Amongst the wines l managed to taste, the vintage seemed more homogeneous too than 2015 [the 2016 vintage succeeds on both the left and right banks]. Some properties may have made perhaps their best ever wines [though only time will tell]. 2016 didn’t seem to be an exciting vintage for dry whites, though many were well made considering the challenging drought conditions, they didn’t leap out of the glass. I’ll be writing a more detailed overview in the coming week but here are my first thoughts as I began my tastings last Saturday in St Emilion.