I was last in Bordeaux in December 2016, just three months ago. I am not a ‘primeurs only’ or ‘Vinexpo only’ visitor to the region, because – as I know I have said so many times before – I don’t go to the region for the parties, but to try and get under the skin of the châteaux, the winemakers and the wines. It’s a matter of ethics; are you there to provide impartial review of the wines for readers (or subscribers in my case) or simply to have a wine-based holiday with plenty of schmoozing along the way?
Anyway, I know I sound like a broken record on this. But it is important to me.
After my December trip I did start giving space on the Winedr blog for opinions on the vintage from the region’s leading directors and winemakers, starting with Jean-Michel Comme back in January, but this series of posts then faded away as I got caught up in a series of Loire-themed trips, including the first to my house (which is – if you will excuse the quick advert – available for rent in the summer if you are looking for a place to holiday in the Loire Valley), then to the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers, then to Vinovision in Paris, all in the space of a few weeks. I could hardly remember my name at the end of it all, never mind where I was up to with news on Bordeaux 2016.
My mind is now brought back into focus by the looming primeurs week. This year I hope not to get stranded in Gatwick Airport for 48 hours, and to avoid injurious bed collapses – if I can pull just that off then I think I will label the trip a success. So before I head out to begin putting together my independent and impartial report, this week I will give space for a few more opinions from the shop floor in Bordeaux, starting with Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer.
Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2016?
TD: The 2016 vintage was a challenging one, but with a happy ending. We had a difficult spring with a lot of mildew pressure, and as we follow biodynamics it wasn’t easy. We lost maybe 20% of the crop at this time. Then the summer came, and the weather through to September was exceptional. From July to September we had no rain. The drought was a bit difficult for vines on low-clay-content soils though, and it had some impact on the young vines too, but these are minor concerns. The plateau which has clay and gravel managed well.
Me: In view of your biodynamic philosophy and this bad start to the season, what about your yield in 2016?
TD: The result in this vintage is 30 hl/ha. We had super-small berries. Others will perhaps have higher yield, but this is of no concern.
Me: And what about quality?
TD: We have incredible quality in this vintage. There are two key points to the vintage. The first is the timing of the harvest decision – there has been a lot of variation across the region I think, and when you decided to pick could have a very big impact this year. The second brings us back to yields. I am convinced that having low yields – between 30 and 35 hl/ha, or at the very least less than 40 hl/ha – really makes a difference to quality. I saw just one of our parcels give a yield of 52 hl/ha, and the wine was just not of the same quality.
Me: Can you make any comment on the character or style of the vintage?
TD: Well, we will do the blends next week, so I will have a better idea then. But I can say now that the wine seems to have less flesh than the 2015 vintage, but it is more sophisticated. There was not one variety favoured over any other. So I feel about 2016 a little like i did about the 2012 vintage. Then there was a big contrast between the Merlot and Cabernets, the Merlot ripe and rich, the Cabernets very precise and sophisticated. The combination of the two in 2012 was fantastic. We have something similar in 2016.
Me: Thanks again.
These early Bordeaux 2016 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2014s for a report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor, for just £4.50 per month (or £45 per annum).