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 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.