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Thoughts on Bordeaux 2016

by David Thomas (Sales Director)

BI Sales Director David Thomas not only has over 20 years experience in the wine trade, but he is one of the few operating at this level in the UK market who has actually studied Oenology and made wine for a living across the world. He is also something of a cynic so when he’s positive, he really means it... here are his thoughts after returning from tasting the Bordeaux 2016s a couple of weeks back.

I have just returned from tasting the 2016 Bordeaux EP, and I hate to hype a vintage but 2016 deserves some serious loving... these are some of the greatest wines I have tasted En Primeur.

A quote I strongly agree with from Giles, who runs BI marketing and PR and has been responsible for the writing of most of the En Primeur content for the past few years, ‘What we can tell you is that if you love Bordeaux, and if you love the way Bordeaux used to taste in the heady days of the great vintages of the 1980s and 1990s but you want to see how far winegrowing has come in the past few decades in terms of precision and purity, you will not want to miss the 2016s.

A little background to the vintage for you. In essence they had a remarkably wet and cold winter – in fact the same amount of rain fell in the first six months as for the entire year in 2015 – but then it all stopped and they had 2 months of drought (middle of June until the 14th August), with only 20mm failing at the beginning of September (in terms of significant rainfall), a welcome break for the stressed vines, and then nothing until the middle of October. However it was the day and night time temperature range during the later stages of ripening that has resulted in such stunning wines. Jacques Thienpont, of Le Pin, commented that it is the first time in the history of the estate that the harvest did not start until October. They experienced very mild temperatures during the days, reaching a maximum of 24 degrees, and then dropping to 5 degrees over night – this allowed the grapes to ripen extremely slowly – with the sugar levels building in parallel to the phenolics (basically tannins and flavours) and the acidity levels dropping extremely slowly due to the low levels of photosynthesis – almost the perfect storm when making wines. They needed to work extremely hard in the vineyards, watching the canopy cover to allow enough sunlight to ripen the grapes but also enough to allow shade, but not too much to over stress the vines and loss of water due to transpiration.

Let me try and explain the significance of this. By allowing the grapes a long, slow ripening period – thanks to the cool days and cooler nights – it results in much higher levels of flavanoids within the grapes – and it is the flavanoids that create the flavours of the wines. But also the length of ripening increases the length of the molecules that produce the tannins in the wines – and the longer the molecules the softer and more mature the tannins. Many of the producers we spoke to commented that they recorded record levels of phenolic ripeness in the grapes. The cool nights helped maintain the levels of acidity in the wines – resulting in massively complex and rich wines, with near perfect tannins and breath taking acidity – wines of near perfect balance.

Think of the difference between a 2 hour Spaghetti Bolognese and a 10 hour Spaghetti Bolognese – some things just take time...

Here are my personal top wines from 2016 – with some simple notes:

Vieux Chateau Certan – probably my wine of the vintage – as near to perfection as a young wine can get
Lafleur – again stunning balance between restraint and power... but very hard to secure
Lafite – maybe the greatest Lafite I have ever tasted EP
Haut Brion – did not think it could get much better than 2015, but the wine is just magical
La Mission Haut Brion – stylistically different to HB as always, tighter and more focused but I feel might have the edge in the long term
Mouton – extraordinary power and complexity – a brooding beast of a wine with the fruit definition of the 1982, but with the restraint and elegance of 1989
Margaux – some of the greatest aromas I have ever enjoyed, maybe just under the 2015 but very close indeed
Pichon Lalande – beautifully elegant and graceful, one of the best in recent years
Lynch Bages – the best Lynch ever made
Leoville Poyferre – on a roll – and they have produced another brilliant wine, could be value for money
Palmer – have not enjoyed Palmer in recent vintages, even with all the hype and big scores, but this year they have pulled it back with acidity and freshness and layers of complexity – bravo
Ducru Beaucaillou – better than the 2015... maybe one of the best ever... we will wait and see
Chateau le Gay – this little property is gaining a massive amount of respect for the work they are doing, stunning fruit balance and beautiful aromas
Le Pin – like the 1982, and then some... magical
Calon Segur – best wine they have ever made, they know it and happily expressed the fact and I agree
L’Eglise Clinet – I do not think it reached the heights of 2015, but still what an extraordinary glass of wines
Leoville Las Cases – a new 1985, but with better structure and weight, beautiful elegance as always but with added depth – great wine

Best value wines of the vintage

Ormes de Pez – from the Lynch Bages stable – 2016 was the best Lynch ever made and most certainly the best Ormes de Pez
Capbern – from the Calon Segur stable – amazing fruit density, balance with beautiful acidity and very elegant tannins... buy in magnum
La Chenade / Les Cruzelles / Saintayme / Montlandrie – from L’Eglise Clinet – once again the standout buys of the campaign
Chateau Grand Village – from Lafleur – if I can get some I’m keeping it myself
Cantemerle – will be brilliant value drinking claret

A very, very exciting vintage.

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