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.