It is early Wednesday morning as I write this, and so I am already halfway through my week of primeur tastings. Finding the time to sit, think and write a few words on the 2016 primeurs has been a challenge. Hooking up my laptop to some dodgy wifi provision has also been a challenge. The only think that hasn’t been a challenge is tasting the barrel samples of this young vintage.
I read a comment somewhere which was along the lines of “I feel sorry for anyone having to taste raw, unfinished, tannic barrel samples”. Let me assure you visitors to the 2016 Bordeaux primeurs need no such sympathy. Putting the dry white and sweet wines to one side and focusing solely on the red wines, these are the easiest barrel samples to taste that I have ever experienced. The only thing about them that is unfinished is the élevage; in every case where I have had the opportunity to ask, I have been tasting the finished blends, which were generally made in late-December or early-January and put into barrel thereafter. And in every case this finished blend included the press wine, a significant contributor of tannins to the wine.
And there is certainly nothing raw about these samples. The aromatics are pure, perfumed, fruit-driven but also floral, and certainly ripe. The archetypal 2016 palate has what feels like a medium body, with beautiful fruit ripeness, but the tannins rarely pop out to say hello until after the finish. Only in a handful of ambitious wines, selected first growths and super-seconds on the left bank, for example, do the tannins make their presence known through the palate itself. This is despite the fact that the wines do have a firm structure, with plenty of tannin, but somehow it remains hidden behind the rest of the palate. And to mirror that aromatic freshness on the nose, the wines show bright, lifting acidity throughout, giving the palate a light-footed character. No, these are very complete wines, much more harmonious than many barrel samples I have tasted in my time.
The schedule so far has been Sauternes on Saturday, followed by the right bank including some visits to Jonathan Maltus, Château Pavie-Macquin and Château La Dominique on Sunday. Monday was a day in Pessac-Léognan, Graves and Sauternes, starting out at a very foggy 8am (as pictured above) at Château La Mission Haut-Brion and heading south, ending up at Château Climens and Château Raymond Lafon. Tuesday was a left-bank day, threading my way from another 8am start at Château Calon-Ségur down to Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, with just about every significant name you care to mention in between. Those that I didn’t squeeze in I will visit today, Wednesday, as well as other properties in Margaux and the Haut-Médoc. Then it will be over to the right bank for Thursday and Friday tastings. If I can find another semi-reliable wifi connection, I might even be able to make another blog post before the end of the week.