When I go wine-tasting in Bordeaux, I travel, taste and write alone, so my notes are not influenced by other commentators or merchants. I simply jump into my car and whiz from château to château for five days. It is somewhat mad, but it helps me to understand the vintage in no time at all.
Luck was certainly on the side of the vines in 2016. It was a year like no other in terms of climatic conditions. Didier Cuvelier at Château Léoville Poyferré, in Saint-Julien, told me that it was a miracle vintage because “the rains filled the water table, missed flowering and refreshed the vines before harvest”. Château Smith Haut Lafitte, in Pessac Léognan, said 2016 was “the catastrophe that never was”. My favourite quote of the week was from Ronan Laborde, owner of Château Clinet in Pomerol, who accurately stated that on 13 September, when 24 hours of rain fell uniformly across a parched region, it was “raining wine”.
The water table was certainly replenished in early 2016 – it simply didn’t stop raining, making January to June the wettest for 20 years. What makes it all the more bizarre was that this rain stopped in time for a good, even flowering in late May, early June. Thereafter it was hot and very dry – the driest summer for 16 years. The weather graphs so beloved of the châteaux look like a child has scribbled a fanciful doodle over the long-term average.
These dry conditions continued and worry set in that this was going to be a repeat of the doom-laden 2003 vintage. They were right to be worried because many of the vines shut down on account of the hydric stress, but this happened, crucially, after the skins had gained much of their colour and flavour. Robust skins, slightly smaller grapes and intense juice are great ingredients for wine and, while the vines were suffering, and the leaves were failing to function, the nights were cool and this meant that the grapes retained their crucial acidity.
Then, out of nowhere, 35-40mm rain fell on 13 September – this was remarkable timing because it gave the vines exactly what they needed at exactly the right time. After this date, the weather was perfect, with the vines relishing their boost of water and most estates harvested at will, parcel by parcel, right the way into mid-October. Bunches that made it through to this period were in tiptop condition with intense juice, fit skins and keen acidity. Now all that the wineries needed to do was to gently extract the juice and sensitively add oak.
I can report that 2016 is a finer and more classic vintage than the much-vaunted 2015 vintage. The wines are calm, long, aromatically intriguing, succulent, relatively low in alcohol and spiked with crunchy acidity. I adore this shape of wine. Many seem precociously fruity and welcoming, but they flatter to deceive. This is a long-lived vintage which looks superb in the top châteaux of Sauternes, Graves and also Pomerol, Saint-Emilion and the rest of the Right Bank, but it looks incredible in the cabernet sauvignon-dominant wines of the Médoc, where luck was truly on their side.
Is there any chance of the prices being fair when they are released? No, of course not, but you must buy some wine, so below are ten epic examples of no-upper-limit indulgence and ten wines which will hopefully be stunning value for money. I have scored no fewer than 32 wines 19/20 and above in this vintage so it is clearly a landmark year and if you would like to download my full 26,000-word report I would be delighted to direct you to MatthewJukes.com.
|Ten of my highest scoring 2016 red Bordeaux, with scores out of 20|
|1. Château Léoville-Las Cases (2ème Cru, Saint-Julien) 20|
|2. Château Haut-Brion (1er Cru, Pessac-Léognan) 19.5|
|3. Château Mouton Rothschild (1er Cru, Pauillac) 19.5|
|4. Château Margaux (1er Cru, Margaux) 19.5|
|5. Château La Conseillante (Pomerol) 19.5|
|6. Vieux Château Certan (Pomerol) 19.5|
|7. Pétrus (Pomerol) 19.5|
|8. Château Pontet-Canet (5ème Cru, Pauillac) 19.5|
|9. Château Trotanoy (Pomerol) 19.5|
|10. Château Montrose (2ème Cru, Saint-Estèphe) 19|
|Ten “great value” 2016 red Bordeaux assuming prices are fair|
|1. Château Branaire-Ducru (4ème Cru, Saint-Julien) 18.5|
|2. Château Beychevelle (4ème Cru, Saint-Julien) 18|
|3. Château Angludet (Cantenac, Margaux) 17.5|
|4. Château Cantemerle (5ème Cru Macau, Haut-Médoc) 17.5|
|5. Lacoste-Borie (2nd wine of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac) 17.5|
|6. Château Tronquoy-Lalande (Saint-Estèphe) 17|
|7. Château La Serre (Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Emilion) 17|
|8. Château Capbern (Saint-Estèphe) 17|
|9. Petit Cantenac (2nd wine of Clos Cantenac, Saint-Emilion) 17|
|10. Château Pibran (Pauillac) 17|