I sneaked into Bordeaux via the Billi terminal, which in itself is a woeful welcome to the region and, for once, thanked my lucky stars that I landed in this corrugated iron annex because the main terminal was in a security lockdown. Luck was clearly on my side and this was most definitely the theme of the week. As you will be aware, I travel alone, taste alone and write alone, so my notes are not influenced by other commentators or merchants. I simply jump into my hire car and whizz from Château to Château every half an hour for five days. It is somewhat mad but it certainly helps me to understand the vintage in no time at all. Unusually, there were very few press releases fired off from Bordeaux prior to this campaign. The Bordelais are always being lambasted for their premature claims of ‘vintage of the century’ every single year, but I wondered why there was so little trumpet-blowing. It turned out that they were, collectively, rather stunned by their own wines. One winemaker said that he had no idea how good it was until he was taking the samples from his barrels the day before our tasting. So what was the story of this beguiling vintage and, more importantly, should you put your name down for a few cases?
Luck was certainly on the side of the vines in 2016. It was a year like no other in terms of the climatic conditions. Didier Cuvelier at Château Léoville Poyferré, in Saint-Julien, told me that it was a miracle vintage because, “the rains filled the water table, missed flowering and refreshed the vines before harvest”. Château Smith Haut Lafitte, in Pessac Léognan, said that 2016 was “the catastrophe that never was”. My favourite quote of the week was from Ronan Laborde, owner of Château Clinet in Pomerol, who accurately stated, on 13th September when 24 hours of rain fell uniformly across a parched region, that “it’s raining wine”. He meant to say that on seeing the skies open at last, that it was raining, so he would be able to make some wine, but it came out of his mouth in such a prescient and poetic manner that he managed to sum up the vintage in just three words.
The water table was certainly replenished in early 2016 – it simply didn’t stop raining, making January to June the wettest for twenty years. What makes it all the more bizarre was that this rain stopped in time for a good, even flowering in late May, early June. Thereafter it was hot and very dry – the driest summer for sixteen years. The weather graphs so beloved of the Châteaux look like a child has scribbled a fanciful doodle over the long term average. These dry conditions continued and worry set in that this was going to be a repeat of the doom-laden 2003 vintage. They were right to be worried because many of the vines shut down on account of the hydric stress, but this happened, crucially, after the skins had gained much of their colour and flavour. Robust skins, slightly smaller grapes and intense juice are great ingredients for wine and while the vines were suffering, and the leaves were failing to function, the nights were cool and this meant that the grapes retained their crucial acidity. Then, out of nowhere, 30-40mm (depending on where you were situated) of rain fell on the 13th September – this was remarkable timing because it gave the vines exactly what they needed at exactly the right time. After this date, the weather was which looks superb in the top Châteaux of Sauternes, Graves and also Pomerol, Saint-Emilion and the rest of the Right Bank, but it looks incredible in the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines of the Médoc where luck was truly on their side.
Is there any chance of the prices being fair when they are released? No, of course not, but you must buy some wine and there are plenty of Châteaux across the region who have performed miracles. There will be a great spread of prices, too, so don’t give up hope and study this whole Report – there are gems on nearly every page.
I have scored no less than 56 wines 18.5/20 (gold medal standard) and above in this vintage and a further 160 wines 17-18/20 (silver medal standard) so it is clearly a landmark year.
SCORING AND TASTING NOTES
(80 Cabernet Franc, 20 Merlot) | 80% new oak | 15% alc. | 1500 cases produced.
Unusually, this is not a showy or flamboyant Dôme, but a reserved, calm, monastic wine with very deep roots of flavour and tannin. The length is phenomenal and the power is exciting, too – it sends a shiver down the spine. It is seems like a negative of the 2015 vintage which was so exuberant – light notes where there were dark ones and dark flavours where there were light ones. It is truly fascinating. The purity of fruit on the nose alone is quite incredible with amazingly plush and layered fruit. This is a stunning Cabernet Franc dominant wine which shows just how serious this grape is in the right hands.
Vieux Château Mazerat
(65 Merlot, 35 Cabernet Franc) | 14.4% alc. | 80% new oak
Very calm and very concentrated this is a wine which has a stunning Cabernet Franc nose and the power behind this is amazing. Once again, there is no dryness or sourness, just Olympian fit tannins with superb, crunchy, sour cherry skin acidity. Very good and very clean, this is a superb wine.
(92 Merlot, 8 Cabernet Franc) | 14.8% alc. | 80% new oak
Very focussed and very intense this is a rich, dark, full wine with more malevolent power and darkness than previous vintages and it is very long, too. The fruit sweetness is evident and the future for this wine is superb. Growing up and spreading its wings this is my favourite vintage to date.
(85 Merlot, 15 Cabernet Franc) | 14.5% alc. | 80% new oak
Very dark and earthy with sooty tannins and charry notes, this is a power-packed wine with good depth of fruit and some bitterness on the finish. The fruit is buried within this wine but the tannins are not masking it so there is a very good chance that it will emerge soon.
(83 Merlot, 17 Cabernet Franc) | 15.2% alc.
Picked on the 17th October, this is the highest level alcohol wine that I have tasted, but you cannot sense this on the palate. Mineral soaked plums with cocoa powder tannins, this is a completely hedonistic wine with huge presence, but none of the astringency which so many of the other estates force from their wines. With eight to ten years needed before you open a bottle I venture that the results will be staggering in due course.
Château Pontet Labrie
(80 Merlot, 20 Cabernet Franc) | 80% new oak | 14.8% alc.
Black olive and espresso notes crowd the palate and this is another spicy, deep wine with grainy tannins and some meatyelements, too. In need of more time than Maltus’s Le Carré, Pontet is a macho, raw style which craves time.
(70 Merlot, 30 Cabernet Franc) | 25% new oak | 14.8% alc.
Slightly more combative and spicy than last year’s wine, the tight acidity here gives it remarkable lift. With silky fruit andnice brambly flavour this is a successful wine and one which will not drink immediately on account of the tannins and fruit concentration, but it will roll for longer at the end of its life.
TO READ THE FULL REPORT CLICK HERE