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Château Bel Air Perponcher Bordeaux Réserve 2016

Château Bel Air Perponcher Bordeaux Réserve 2016

I have been preparing for a forthcoming Bordeaux 2016 report, now that all the wines (well, the vast majority of them) are in bottle. I first revisited the vintage back in October, at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in London, but things really began to get serious earlier this month when I spent the best part of a week in Bordeaux, visiting as many of the top châteaux of Pessac-Léognan, the Médoc communes, St Emilion and Pomerol as I possibly could.

While I will keep my opinions on individual wines for the full report, I have to admit there has never been a vintage I have enjoyed revisiting as much as I have 2016 Bordeaux. This is a very successful vintage for the region, superior to anything that Bordeaux has given us since the 2009 and 2010 vintages. And 2016 stands up well to both of these years, as the wines possess a freshness and balance which neither 2009, a much more voluptuous and texturally rich style, nor 2010, in which many wines carry a huge weight of tannin, managed to achieve. And for anyone questioning my failure to mention the 2015 vintage, while this was fabulous on the right bank, rains provided some complications to the Cabernet harvest and, as good as they are, few of the left bank wines are a match for their 2016 counterparts.

Château Bel Air Perponcher Bordeaux Réserve 2016

As well as my tastings in Bordeaux, which included many wines from more peripheral corners of the region, such as the various Côtes de Bordeaux appellations, I also recently published a report on the 2016 Cru Bourgeois wines. Both encounters with the vintage have proved to me that the old maxim of grand millésime, petit château is alive and kicking in Bordeaux; in a great vintage such as 2016 the less-well known châteaux of the Médoc, Haut Médoc, the St Emilion plain, Fronsac and so on can provide some superb drinking, combining both quality and value (the Bordeaux holy grail). By contrast, I believe the opposite maxim of petit millésime, grand château is probably dead in the water. The notion that we should seek out the wines of great châteaux in weaker vintages, such as 2013, surely no longer applies. Bordeaux prices simply don’t reflect the reduced quality of weaker vintages any more, probably not since the great-value releases of 2002. Spend up (a little or a lot) for a much better vintage, or spend down for a minor appellation in a good year, is my advice.

This weekend’s wine is a very fine example of grand millésime, petit château, from the wonderful 2016 vintage of course. The unfamiliar name of Château Bel Air Perponcher doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but this an estate worth getting to know. The proprietors, siblings Thibault and Basaline Despagne, have made a name for themselves extracting deliciously drinkable wines from vineyards located on the triangle of land between the Dordogne and the Garonne, under labels such as Château Mont Pérat, Château Tour de Mirambeau and the turbocharged Girolate. Château Bel Air Perponcher is located on the banks of the Erganne, a minor tributary of the Dordogne, which places it just ten minutes away from the vineyards of St Emilion which lie on the opposite bank of the river. The 2016 is a blend dominated by Merlot, at 85% of the total, with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon for a little bite, vinified with no significant contact with oak, and this makes a delightful showcase for the quality of the fruit in 2016. In the glass it displays a good, dark, claretty hue, barely translucent. The nose is all spiced red cherry, with blackcurrant and currant, and little touches of cigar, vanilla and black pepper. The energy of the 2016 vintage comes across nicely on the palate, with grained, savoury, cherry skins and currants, framed by a fresh and vibrant acidity. It reveals flavours of succulent cherry stones, with a touch of toasty currant, and a little seam of ripe, tightly grained, peppery tannins in the finish. A delicious wine for drinking now, and over the next year or two. 92/100 (17/12/18)

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