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Bordeaux 2016 News


Who’d be a farmer...The growing season kicked off being one of the wettest, coolest periods on record. In fact the vintage was shaping up as a disaster. Even those vineyards with excellent drainage were feeling the pressure. As a consequence flowering was delayed, the flow on translating to a later harvest date, in effect possibly placing the grapes in harms way at the end. Thankfully when flowering did occur it was under kind conditions. As a side, Bordeaux fortunately missed the damaging frosts/hail that impacted so many French Vineyards during 16.   

And then...Mother Nature being the chameleon she is, saw a complete turnaround by the end of June. What followed was one of the driest periods ever experienced in Bordeaux.  A run of warm dry days and cool dry nights pushed on through to harvest with only a few intermittent showers that provided beneficial refreshment to the red vines, as the whites had already been picked. The  result,  close to perfect red grapes landing on sorting tables. The resulting Indian summer had allowed the reds to mature slowly and impart concentration, purity and one of the defining Vintage traits : freshness! Note, this ‘freshness’ is not the ‘spin’ that gets dished up in weaker Vintages where fruit and concentration are sadly lacking, where the real culprit is dilution....No, in 2016 the holy trinity descended, this year is the real deal for REDS!   

As for the whites of 16, the vintage was not too bad however most were picked before the beneficial last showers of the season (that the reds soaked up before harvest). So in effect they saw no moisture for approx. 80 days... meaning they’re more linear and not as aromatic as they could be, although solid results have flowed through.     

Turning to Sauternes, a similar waiting game to their dry counterparts where patience was the key in allowing noble rot to take hold. The upside was the lack of grey rot (the baddy). The lack of grey rot translated into higher average yields, with the resulting wines expressing more power but with less acid and aromatic prominence than desired. But as always, the Estates with the better sites resources performed well. Sadly it’s been a soft market for Sauternes in recent times, consequently many lesser Estates have not had the means to inject the same level of investment and detail into their Estates compared to their bigger brothers. The safe bet in 16 is to follow the tried and trusted names who have achieved some excellent results.   

But the story of 2016 is painted Red! And wow, Chateaux appear to have made a significant paradigm shift this year! Although the Vintage presented an opportunity to push the pressed juice into high impact styles of epic proportions, surprisingly a certain degree of restraint has been employed...There appears to be a common thread where the wines ‘identity’ is the defining character, the spot light illuminating personality of site, heritage and linage. Absent are the intoxicating bombs where wave upon wave of gluttonous and hyper stimulating sensations are offered up. The wines have a certain transparency to them whilst also providing all the other goodies expected in an exceptional Vintage. Indeed, at the previously blockbusting estate Cos d’Estournel, there’s been a move to actually increase yields to push out ripening and obtain a better balance. If fact the past foe, the lack of sun has now become something to embrace! Cos’s alc in 2016, a 13.07% :> Clive Coastes MV notes “Cos is really quite a different wine from any other Saint-Estephe....somewhat softer and more elegant.. both the power and finesse, both the body and delicacy, both the backbone and the fruit." and Aymeric de Gironde of Cos notes while commenting on 16s in general  “We think the era of wines with 15 per cent alcohol is over...The consumer is looking for something more refreshing.” Hallelujah!   Chateaux have made a conscious effort in 16 to express the nature of their treasured sites rather than being lead by the nose by those who have in the past been espousing  the internationalisation of the Bordeaux style. Even the likes of acclaimed oenologist Michel Rolland seems to have moderated his hand, bringing grace and elegance to his work. Indeed, moderate alcohols (with some excepts – Merlots of Fronsac), sensitive extractions etc... it even sounds a little like the wheel has come full circle, even a nod to Burgundy. Indeed a silver lining rising out of pushing Bordeaux expressions since 2000, in effect testing the limits.     

Right & Left Bank spotlight : It’s certainly a year where Cabernet has excelled so it’s arguable that the Left Banks’ have grabbed a little more attention in 16 although not all of it. As Jane Anson from Decanter points out... ‘The Right Bank 2016 wines (predominantly Merlot/Cabernet Franc) are not as immediately sexy as the 2015 vintage, but they are still voluptuous and beautifully structured, with perfectly ripe fruit and clear potential for long ageing.’...The alcohols are lower than in other recent exceptional vintages – in many cases a full percentage point below the 2015s, 2010s and 2009s, but the construction is perfectly in balance, and the fruit strikingly juicy.” The fascinating thing about the vintage is how few of the red wines have failed to deliver in en primeur tastings so far. The more you taste through them the more you realise the quality – there are exceptional wines at all price levels, with particularly impressive wines from the limestone plateau.”Acclaimed Bordeaux authority Bil Batch also chimes in “The Merlots just loved the long, dry summer and autumn and turned out very black, quite dense, occasionally even sumptuous, equal if not superior to 2010.”     

In the end, Leading US critic James Suckling has called  it  “a Left Bank year”, noting that “vineyards in the Medoc and Graves, St. Estephe and Pauillac benefited the most from the turn in the weather. “Wineries using predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon made the best wines, as they harvested later than the more precocious and Merlot-based areas.”  Also interestingly as James Molesworth points out  “A late but fast-ripening variety, [Petit Verdot] excelled in the 2016 season in general, and more producers have included it in their blends, which should help define the vintage’s distinct signature as the wines develop(extra tannin, colour as well as  flavours of exotic flowers, olives and blueberry).” Regardless of what side you’re on, it’s obvious that exceptional red wines have been made from both sides of the river!  

Ultimately with the benefit of hindsight since 2000, coupled with accumulated benefits and insights of their investments in technology, Chateaux appear to have reached a zenith in their journey, respecting both heritage and modernity and the sensitive and appropriate balance between each. The outcome is manifest with the 2016 Reds, wines of exquisite refinement and beauty!   

 A new chapter dawns, Bordeaux’s Belle Époque !

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