By Panos Kakaviatos for MacArthur Beverages
2016 Bordeaux exudes such a singular style that scores of international writers invited to taste last month marveled at its combination of ripeness and juicy freshness. Tasters felt greater exuberance this year, as compared to last year. Official statistics showed, too, that more people traveled to Bordeaux to taste the barrel samples. I noticed more people at trade tastings, and estates like Château Margaux and Haut Brion both reported more visits.
Of course, the wine trade hypes every vintage, each time the next barrel (tasting season) rolls around. But 2016 is unique. From top flight estates, to more humble ones – from the Left to the Right Bank – informed enologists who are not linked directly to the trade, and who do not have a vested interest in hyping the vintage, sing its praises. Take Nicolas Vivas of Bordeaux University, who told me that the combination of ripe tannin and freshness is “quite exceptional” in 2016.
Indeed in nearly 15 years of tasting from barrel, I don’t recall a vintage that managed to combine such high tannin levels with both freshness and ripeness so consistently. Usually when you have high tannin and with relatively high acidity, the wines can come off a bit hard. This is not – generally – the case in 2016. It is not really like 2010, which packed more muscle and exuded a higher sense of tannin. It is not as evidently structured as 2005, either, but neither is 2016 as opulent as 2009. The hallmarks of the best wines from barrel in 2016 include juicy density and magnificent lift on the finish, which, overall, lifts the vintage higher to me than the very fine 2015 vintage (in many cases). Certainly it completes the best trio in Bordeaux of consecutive vintages (2014-2015-2016) since 2008-2009-2010 if not 1988-1989-1990.
Two examples in very different price ranges include Château Le Crock in Saint Estèphe and Château Léoville Poyferré in Saint Julien. The former has an unheard of IPT index of 94, which measures tannin. Yet it came across as the most lip smacking, juicy wine that I have ever tried from this economically priced cru bourgeois estate. There was depth to the palate and fantastic fresh lift on the finish. “It’s all about freshness,” said owner Didier Cuvelier. By the same token, his second growth Château Léoville Poyferré gave off even more impressive juicy density on the palate with wonderful fresh lift: I gave it my highest ever from barrel rating, easily rivaling the pristine balance of the 2005 vintage.
This month’s issue of the influential French wine magazine La Revue du Vin de France claims that “sumptuous Cabernets” give the Left bank the decisive edge over the Right Bank – particularly in the Médoc. I disagree in the sense that Pomerol was superb, too, if somewhat forebodingly tannic, coming across every bit as “big” as in 2010.
Indeed, 2016 is less a matter of which bank performed better. While not all appellations were consistently great, 2016 seems to have more consistency than 2015, in the sense that “weaker spots” of the vintage were not as weak as weaker spots from 2015 were. Take the clearly patchy performance of Saint Estèphe in 2015 as an example. Margaux in 2016 did not live up to the heights of 2015, but it cannot be compared to the patchy Saint Estèphe of 2015.
I agree that the northern Médoc was superb, as you can see in my short video interview from Château Latour, but excellent wines abound – in all price points – from other major regions, including Saint Emilion, Graves and Pessac-Léognan and the southern Médoc.
Indeed, quality straddles both Left and Right Banks, as Pierre Graffeuille director of Domaines Delon explains, in this short video interview with him during a visit to Washington D.C. last month. Graffeuille directs not only the famous second growth Château Léoville Las Cases (one of top 10 wines of the vintage), but also the highly rated Pomerol Château Nenin and the excellent Médoc cru bourgeois Château Potensac, the best ever from barrel that I can recall ever trying.
The whites were not as "star studded" as the reds, because the hot and dry summer challenged white grapes more. But I tasted excellent dry and sweet whites, with greater successes found in cooler terroirs like the forest-surrounded microclimate of Domaine de Chevalier, or in the cooler soils of Barsac, such as Château Coutet and Château Climens.
As ever, it came down to top–notch terroirs, attentive viticulture and vinification. As you can see in this video, Château dYquem director Pierre Lurton says that freshness was also a hallmark for the best whites in 2016.
You can read more about Panos´s impressions from 2016 in his website wine-chronicles.com