2016 Bordeaux: It’s Now or Never, Baby
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | APRIL 25, 2017
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The 2016 growing season presented château owners with plenty of challenges, but ideal weather at the most critical time of the year made up for the early struggles of the vintage. The best 2016s are deep and intense, yet also pulse with a real sense of energy. For the 2016s to be successful in the market, however, owners will have to be sensible with prices. That’s why for Bordeaux It’s Now or Never, Baby.
The 2016 Growing Season
The 2016 growing season did not get off to an auspicious start. Rain during the first three months of the year was three times the historical average. Warmer than normal temperatures led to an early budbreak, which is always a concern, as it exposes the vines to severe damage in the event of frost. Temperatures dropped into the spring and vegetative growth slowed. A window of serene conditions opened just in time for flowering, which took place under benign conditions that allowed for a fast and even set. Potential yields, which are always determined by the pre-formation of clusters in the previous year, looked to be abundant.
Temperatures soared above historical averages during the summer months, especially during July and August, both of which saw the vines receive more sunlight than either of the two preceding vintages. Rain, such a constant during the early part of the season, was essentially non-existent in July and August. Curiously, while daytime temperatures were above historical averages, nighttime temperatures were cooler than average, which is an unusual combination. Heat and lack of rain took the vineyards into hydric stress and caused sugar accumulation to stop.
Rains in mid-September could not have been more opportune. Parched vines responded positively and ripening resumed. By this time, daytime highs began to moderate while the nights remained cool. Average temperatures had moved to below historical averages. One of the key elements of 2016 is that the final phase of ripening took place in September and October, a time of year when the days are shorter and the nights are longer than they are in July and August. In 2016, this phenomenon was accentuated by wide diurnal shifts between daytime highs and nighttime lows. Strong diurnal shifts are essential for the development of color and aromatics.
In most years, rain and disease pressure start to become an issue in the fall, but in 2016, conditions remained stable throughout the end of the season, which gave winemakers and vineyard managers the luxury of harvesting at their choosing. The late harvest allowed for the full maturation of tannins, one of the many hallmarks of the 2016 vintage. Most properties brought in their fruit from late September to mid October.
As predicted, yields were generous across the board. One exception is Cabernet Sauvignon. A number of winemakers commented that by the time much of the fruit came in, the berries were small and the juice yields were lower than expected. Quality in many cases is exceptional, but one result of the lower yields in Cabernet is that a number of wines in the Médoc have less Cabernet in their blends than normal.
2016 Bordeaux: A Game Changer?
The 2016s are absolutely remarkable wines. The word that comes to mind, unfortunately so often overused, is balance. In technical terms, the 2016s boast off the charts tannins that in many cases exceed those of wines from massive vintages such as 2010. And yet, the best 2016s are absolutely harmonious, with the tannins barely perceptible at all. The 2016s also have tremendous energy and bright, acid-driven profiles, with many wines playing more in the red-fruit area of the flavor spectrum. One of the results of the unusual growing season is that alcohols range from 0.5% to 1% lower than what has been the norm in recent years.
From a stylistic standpoint, the recent vintage that comes to mind is 2014, also a late-ripening year, but the 2016s have more mid palate depth and greater density. Some observers have suggested that 2016 is a hypothetical blend of 2009 and 2010, but I fear that is mostly an attempt to recreate the hype of those two highly speculative vintages. The 2016s don’t have the opulence or volume of the 2009s, and although they are very tannic, they feel nothing like the overtly powerful, structured 2010s.
Intuitively, it makes sense that a late-ripening vintage might favor Cabernet Sauvignon, especially given the intense heat of the summer that cause sunburn and overripeness in some of the Merlots. But a more in-depth analysis reveals that 2016 has much to offer on both banks. Excellence is highly correlated with quality of site, regardless of whether those vineyards are on the Left or Right Banks. Specifically, moisture-retentive sites and older vineyards with deeper root systems fared best.
Not all Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines are overachievers, while many Right Bank wines are.
Many producers opted for longer macerations (time on the skins) than normal, but at lower temperatures and with gentler extractions than in the past. It will be interesting to see if one of the outcomes of 2016 is a move towards greater finesse and less overt power than in the past. Almost all of the winemakers I spoke with told me they think the 2016s are more a reflection of the vintage than in any large scale changes in philosophy and that the next time a riper vintage presents itself the wines will once again be built on opulence. I am not so sure. Two thousand sixteen is a vintage that will be thought provoking on many levels for years, and probably decades, to come.
Reviews and Ratings
The 2016 Le Dôme is simply magnificent. Silky, lifted and nuanced in the glass, it possesses superb aromatic freshness and textural finesse. Readers will have to be patient, as the 2016 will need at least a few years to fully come together, but it has all the right elements to develop into a superb wine.
The 2016 Les Astéries is the most intriguing of Jonathan Maltus' three small single-parcel Saint-Émilions. Brilliant aromatics, vibrant acidity and layers of dark red fruit power this expressive, driven wine. Pliant and energetic, not to mention impeccably balanced, the 2016 hits all the right notes, and then some. Here, too, the sense of energy is terrific.
The 2016 Pontet Labrie is deep, powerful and intense. Even with all of its overt fruit and intensity, it also has plenty of tannic underpinning. Bright acids lift this dark, powerful Saint-Émilion. Readers should note that Pontet Labrie was formerly known as Le Pontet.
Vieux Château Mazerat
Notwithstanding the significant presence of Cabernet Franc (35 percent), 2016 Vieux Château Mazerat is one of the richest, deepest wines in the Maltus range. Black cherry, plum, chocolate, cloves and new leather infuse this unctuous, super-ripe Saint-Émilion. Bold and flamboyant, the 2016 captures all the intensity of the year in spades. All of the Maltus wines are opulent, but Vieux Château Mazerat is arguably the most overt of the group.
Sweet red cherry, plum, spice, espresso and wildflowers give the 2016 Laforge an attractive upper register to play off the rich, dense fruit that is typical of Jonathan Maltus' style. The 2016 is 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, with the Franc very much in evidence in the wine's aromatic profile. Laforge emerges mostly from vineyards in Saint-Émilion's Saint Sulpice district.
The 2016 Le Carré, 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, exudes depth, power and intensity. The flavors are deep, dense and boldly sketched in this voluptuous, racy Saint-Émilion from Jonathan Maltus. Most of the wine's appeal is up front, as some of the intensity tapers off on the midpalate and finish. A rush of plum, bittersweet chocolate and dark spice punctuates this bold Saint-Émilion. Le Carré is also the biggest of Jonathan Maltus' three small-production, single-parcel Saint-Émilions.
From a site rich in sand near Monbouquet, the 2016 Teyssier is soft, pliant and supple. Dark cherry, plum, chocolate and dark spice are front and center. As always, Jonathan Maltus has a rare ability to produce a delicious, fruit-driven Saint-Émilion in sufficient volume to be widely available at a fair price. Readers should expect a succulent, opulent style. The 2016 is a gorgeous Teyssier.
The 2016 Le Nardian is an exotic, luscious white. The inclusion of 20% Muscadelle, along with low yields and the natural richness of the vintage, yield a decidedly luscious, intense white wine. Super-ripe orchard fruit, white flowers, honey and chamomile lead into the oily, racy finish.