Bordeaux 2016 Vintage report

Following a week tasting in Bordeaux and much time researching the vintage, the following is my vintage report for the 2016 vintage;

The growing season for the 2016 vintage was not typical. Come end of summer there were grave concerns for the vintage, then, at just the right moment, some rain fell. The flowering was challenged with a complicated weather pattern in spring. From the later part of June through to September 13th, it was very dry; an incredible drought, the days were very sunny and dry, though not hot (like in 2013). The fruit ripened well, though the berry sizes were very small. Then it rained, the berries enjoying the moisture and becoming more plump. With moisture, botrytis could have been an issue, though was not due to the drying winds. The nights were very cool at this time, which assisted with botrytis pressure at this point. The high diurnal temperature difference and cool nights? part of the reason for the freshness and vibrant acidity in the wines. The settled weather after this welcome rain also allowed Cabernet to be left on the vine to mature; hang time is essential for Cabernet. Young vines did not enjoy this vintage, for many the drought provided too much of a challenge.

The overarching character in all the 2016s is balance; simply put, everything is in its place. The fruit is not too much or too little; the acid lively, adding freshness; the tannins super ripe and well structured. This is a balanced, excellent vintage.

The alcohol levels generally are lower, around 13%. The extraction has been toned back; these are not super concentrated, extracted wines. The acidity and freshness a key factor.

The left bank wines are excellent; Cabernet did enjoy these weather conditions. There’s a purity to the wines, the very best are going to be long lived wines. In some of the recent vintages, it has been a little hard to taste the young wines and imagine them as old wines; not quite sure how the ripe fruit will evolve, or the atypical nature of them will evolve. Not so with the 2016 wines; these are wines that, even tasted at this very early stage, I could imagine as beautiful old wines. The very best express their terroir expertly, almost as if text book examples from the region. There are many great wines on the left bank; those of St. Julien stood out, particularly Léoville Las Cases, which stopped me in my tracks, as did Chateau Mouton Rothschild. These would have to be my top wines of the vintage.

On the right bank, the wines are equally good, though do require a little more concentration, their brilliance not as obvious as the wines on the left. The cooler nights at the end of the vintage has resulted in very fragrant, attractive wines. This side of the river not quite as harmonious; potentially it could have been, though there seems a few châteaux that have still over extracted the grapes and this has led to concentrated, syrupy wines.

2016 is certainly a great year for reds, not so for sauternes. There are great sweet wines, though this won’t be long lived sauternes, the acidity and freshness not quite enough. Noticeable exceptions to this general statement include Coutet and Suduiraut, the latter exceptional this year.

This is a year where quality exists broadly through the region and price points. There are many of the value Medoc that have over delivered their status and price point. These are wines that will be well worth seeking out and buying volume of.

Bordeaux – a turning point?

The 2016 vintage is very distinctive in character and somewhat different to the recent vintages coming out of Bordeaux. The question I was left pondering is whether the change is due to climatic conditions, market influence or a shift in the make-up of the commentators.

The overarching character one encounters in the 2016 wines is balance. Simply put, everything is in its place. The fruit presence is not too much or too little, the lively acid is adding a noticeable freshness and the tannins are decidedly ripe and well structured. This, then, is a balanced and excellent vintage. The alcohol levels are generally lower at around 13% and the extraction has been toned back; these are not overly-concentrated or extracted wines, the balancing acidity and freshness providing a key component.
So, did these factors and this freshness emerge from the drought, the sunny summer and the late-arriving rain, or was there another influence? When listening to those winemakers we visited within Bordeaux, one common theme that emerged was caution around not over-extracting. It led me to consider whether this was due a deliberate intent on their part not to draw overly upon the ripe, concentrated fruit the drought had provided, or whether they were reacting to a change in the overall make-up and opinions of the critics.

Robert Parker has had so much influence on Bordeaux and its wines; he has, indeed, been a key component in the success of many of the producers there. One thing is certain: in general, the bolder the fruit, the concentration and the flavour, the higher the Parker score. This, to me, does seem a somewhat short-sighted view; Bordeaux is a region with so much history, and yet much of what is being recalled and feted has been confined to relatively recent events. Many of the greatest Bordeaux I have tasted have been old wines, often bearing little resemblance to their younger counterparts from recent vintages. The difficulty in correlations aside, in tasting the 2016s, I could imagine them to be old wines.

The change that was apparent in Bordeaux may, in fact, have come from the vintage; these are, after all, many of the very best vineyards and châteaux in the world. Whatever it is that has resulted in these impeccably balanced wines, I do like them. If this is a turning point for Bordeaux, the region should continue at speed in this direction; for me, it’s the right one.

Bordeaux En Primeur 2016

This year’s En Primeur campaign is just around the corner, Vintage 2016. This year fortunately looks to be following in the path of the 2015 vintage; whilst it is still early days, indications are that sensibility may just prevail. Now, if you’ve been an En Primeur customer for a while, you might be reading this and thinking ‘Yeah, right, we’ve heard that before.’ What is apparent and being confirmed day by day as the International media and trade taste in Bordeaux, the vintage is very good indeed. In fact, it appears that this vintage is one to make a song and dance about and to ensure you have in your cellar.

So what’s the talk of sensibility and comparison to the 2015 vintage? Similar to last year, whilst the vintage is looking to be exceptional, we are not seeing these statements in lights with grand claims that this is a vintage of a lifetime or such things. There is far more sensibility around how the vintage is being presented, as the reality is that the market is just not the same as when the 2009 and 2010 vintages were sold in vast quantities globally. The rise of the new markets and interest in Bordeaux through this period drove prices to new levels. Since then it has been a case of the market finding its balance once again.

Which of course leads to the next fascinating piece in this puzzle and where we need to see further sensible approaches. The prices for these wines are yet to be determined and time will tell as the Chateaux owners release their wines on the market. What we do know now is that these will need to be realistic and in line with the current market. Early conversation indicates this is where the vintage is heading.

 Putting all that aside, the 2016 by all reports is looking excellent. Of course, we are not going to take the reports for granted and will be presenting to you our views from tasting the wines. This year I will be tasting a little later in Bordeaux, tasting the week after Easter. I’m heading to Bordeaux with a full schedule of tastings over the week. I’ll be keeping you up to date with how the wines look on Twitter (#lizziewine). You’ll also be able to follow things via the Glengarry Facebook page and on our blog site – www.aboutwine.co.nz

 Our 2016 Vintage Report and recommendations will be online post my tastings and we’ll be back in touch as the wines start to be released.

If this is all new to you, do check out our En Primeur FAQ page or feel free to contact the team, who are all very happy to assist you with general En Primeur enquiries, preparing your wish list or anything else fine wine-related.