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.
Posts Tagged ‘Chateau Valandraud’
Let’s not beat about the bush. St Emilion has had a glorious vintage in 2015. I think I’ve scored it even more highly than 2010 in many cases. It’s a different beast of course – in fact more of a beauty. There is a supple quality to the fruit, a seductive aspect. It makes so many of the wines delicious. If they don’t have the prodigious densities achieved in 2010, that’s not a bad thing. Many of these wines are caressing and voluptuous. There’s more apparent freshness too than in 2009. There are far fewer of the jammy over-ripe qualities that affected some wines here that year. I think I’m also detecting a perceptible shift in winemaking emphasis on the right bank too. This new paradigm hasn’t quite arrived everywhere, but I think we are starting to witness the positive results of changes in the approach and sophistication of vineyard management [and an increasing movement to organic methods], harvesting at better combined ripeness [not over-ripeness] and greater sensitivity in the cellar in terms of extraction. For me there is no doubt that these 2015 St Emilions are the most attractively styled primeur wines I’ve yet had from this varied and fascinating appellation.
It’s usually a treat in Jean-Luc Thunevin’s speakeasy cellars, a kind of laid-back hedonistic chaos in St Emilion’s backstreets. Not this year. I was late. My fault trying to cram in too many wines into a shorter schedule. And that evening Jean-Luc seemed in no mood for latecomers. So far, not so good. I quickly worked through the wines. They display his typical brilliance. Thunevin’s pulled a rabbit out of a hat in the last few vintages [including some of the very best 2013s] but give him an exciting year like 2015 on the right bank and he hits the ball out of the park. Château Valandraud is epic this year – it is a wine of extraordinary depth and richness. Do also check out his St Emilion Grand Crus Clos Badon and Château Le Bel Air Ouÿ – the former lush and concentrated, the latter fresh and bright.
So what are the principal characteristics of the Bordeaux 2015 vintage? Firstly there is a real beauty to the fruit tones in the red wines this year. Time after time, especially on the Right Bank but also on the Left I kept writing ‘beautiful,’ ‘pretty,’ and ‘delicious.’ There is freshness, despite pretty high alcohols in the main. The vintage is almost a hypothetical blend of 2009 and 2010, but with less evident structure and weight than those vintages. For me it recalls 1985 in terms of that vintage’s early beauty and freshness – and ‘85 remains in great shape today. But the 2015 vintage is by no means homogeneous. In fact there is considerable variability. What is in no doubt is that ‘15 is terrific in St Emilion. There is concentration and delight in so many wines there this year. It has also been strong vintage in the surrounding Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, especially Castillon and Francs.
Day four on the primeurs trail saw me return to the right bank. There is no doubt that 2015 is at its most consistent and impressive in St Emilion. Arriving at Château Pavie, appropriately enough I thought in a Napa Valley-like fog, it was actually interesting to see how they had opted for comparatively modest extraction here this year. Yes there was substance and extract, but also composure across an exciting range. Pavie itself is genuinely impressive, as is Bellevue-Mondotte [quite ravishing], Pavie-Decesse and Monbousquet [much better than its 2014]. I was also struck by the quality of their Castillon, Clos Lunelles. Château Cheval Blanc was up next. Chalk and cheese of course with Pavie. There is wonderful beauty and elegance here in this 2015 offering from Cheval Blanc, which comes from its unique terrior that borders Pomerol. The wine reminds me of their 1985. Pierre Lurton is very excited by the quality. They are comparing to 2010 and 1998, in terms of the dry, yet cool maturity [more on this later].
Overall 2014 is an impressive vintage judging from what was in the glass in many of the St Emilion’s tasted during primeurs week last month. There is perhaps more weight and structure than 2012 [itself a very good vintage in St Emilion] and, overall, 2014 is probably the best since 2009 and 2010. It also has greater apparent acidity than in those two years. What’s exciting is the combination of the freshness, the aromatics and the depth in the best wines. There are also excellent wines at all levels, not just at the top echelons. That means there is value to be had in 2014, where the price is right. Overall it is undoubtedly an excellent year for Cabernet Franc here. The variety loved the Indian summer. Merlot is also impressive on the best terroirs. It’s a generalization, but the wines seemed less over-extracted than usual, with greater emphasis on proportionality and harmony. This may be the vintage speaking, but let’s hope it reflects more balanced, adaptive winemaking approaches. And even where properties have gone hell for leather, generally the ball stays in the air. The notes on the following 107 wines represents my most comprehensive primeurs tastings yet of the wines of St Emilion.