Bordeaux 2016 Redux
Having published the final instalment of my report on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage yesterday, I am already occupied with the arrangements for my trip back to the region in April to take a first look at the 2018 vintage. But before I really get down to that, I think I need to spend a few final minutes reflecting on the wines of this vintage.
It was pretty clear to anybody who tasted the wines at the primeurs back in April 2017 that the 2016 vintage was special. There were brilliant wines in St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien, and excellent wines in Margaux, albeit with a slightly broader spread of quality. On the right bank there were superb hotspots of quality in St Emilion and Pomerol, and there were great successes in Pessac-Léognan too. I think praise for the vintage was fairly uniform, and no one critic can claim to have ‘called it’ before any other. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet, for once.
Looking at the wines today, they have lived up to this early promise, in some cases more than lived up to it. On the left bank the wines are vigorous, fresh, energising and lively, from the top to the bottom of the Médoc. The first growths and super-seconds of the Médoc have all put in steller performances, and one wine ‘maxed out’ with a perfect score from me. I don’t dish out such scores easily, as I abhor the hyperbole that surrounds the marketing of wine, but in a vintage such as 2016, with many high-ranking châteaux having made their best wine for many years, and with all of these wines jostling for position at the head of the pack, it was perhaps almost inevitable that one of them stepped over the line. Compared to my original score ranges, most châteaux scored at the centre or top of their primeurs range, an indication that I liked the wines at least as much (and sometimes more) as I did at the primeurs. I wound back my score on just one wine which just didn’t seem to cut it. Aside perhaps from the appellation of Margaux, where 2015 was excellent, 2016 is clearly ahead on the left bank.
On the right bank (where, during my tasting trip in December 2018, I photographed this remarkable sunrise at Château Quintus), I have to say I was even more impressed than I was during the primeurs. At the time I felt that the left bank had the edge a little. That was not to say I thought it was a left-bank vintage, just that those wines were slightly more convincing. Now I would say there is no pulling apart right bank from left; I rated many right-bank wines in their primeurs range, but some of the very best wines show even better than they did during the primeurs, their palates brimming with savoury black fruits but also sinew and tension, and their scores have edged upwards accordingly. And two wines here were simply breathtaking, literally so in the case of one which I struggled to spit as I tried to absorb and comprehend the joy it radiated. I simply didn’t want to let go of it; it was one of those wines that left me shaking my head, dumbfounded at the quality within. That was my perfect score in St Emilion, and I also gave one such score in Pomerol, to a classically styled wine that seemed perfect from every viewpoint. The 2015 and 2016 vintages on the right bank will give great drinking for decades to come, but in strongly contrasting styles, 2015 rich and velvety, 2016 dense but sinewy and fresh. Unlike the left bank, we have here back-to-back great vintages.
There were also brilliant wines in Pessac-Leognan among the reds, stunning efforts with an increasing number of châteaux here haranguing the long-accepted appellation leaders with the sheer quality of their wines. Among the whites, the wines have delicious flavours, but not the acid cut or freshness of a truly great vintage. This is no re-run of 2003 though, so the wines are worthy of our interest, indeed if you prefer softer acidity they are delicious. But if you enjoyed the twang of acid we had in 2002, 2006 or 2013 (to name just three examples) then this is not a vintage for you.
In my reports (for subscribers), which start here with my introduction, I present ten regional views with 222 accompanying tasting notes. After my en primeur reports I usually publish some ‘favourite’ lists, my top wines, and top bargains, so today I thought I might publish my dozen most memorable bottles from my tastings in December 2018. These aren’t, obviously, simply the most high-scoring wines, but wines that nevertheless deserve a nod, for quality, or consistency, showing improvement, or simply because they offer great value for money.
● Château Calon-Ségur: an estate on the up in new hands.
● Château Pichon-Baron: an estate that combines stunning quality with great consistency now, over multiple vintages.
● Château Beychevelle: the new cellars appear to be paying dividends already, although no doubt the vintage has helped.
● Château Branaire-Ducru: just one of many over-performing châteaux in this commune which has clearly enjoyed a great vintage in 2016.
● Château Saint-Pierre: see my comments on Château Branaire and Château Beychevelle, above.
● Château Palmer: the haunting perfume which is the Palmer trademark in full flow here.
● Grand Vin de Reignac: everybody loves a bargain.
● Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte: one of several châteaux punching in the same category as the first growths – well done.
● Château Pavie-Macquin: it is hard to know were to start in St Emilion, but here is one savvy buyers should be checking out.
● Château La Dominique: another estate on an upward trajectory at the moment.
● Château La Conseillante: quite certainly the best La Conseillante I have tasted – better even than the 1945 (which I have tasted – so there!).
● Château Montlandrie: see my comments re Reignac, above.
Right, while subscribers hopefully check out my reports, I am off to book my next flights to Bordeaux.