Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2016 - Back to the future

Vintage Report: Bordeaux 2016 - Back to the future

Thursday 13th April 2017
by Tom Jenkins

Tasting back to back vintages like 2015 and 2016 is fascinating. These are both exceptional years, although polar opposite in style. It is perhaps hard to be as loquacious about the 2016s as we were about the sumptuous 2015s. 

This is in no way a barometer for the vintage – 2016 is certainly as good as 2015, probably better, but the wines are generally less expressive and generous at this early stage. The 2015s were a sheer joy to taste - 2016s are more cerebral, introverted, structured, serious and profound. In most cases, and particularly on the Left Bank, there is a reserve and classicism that makes one think of ancient vintages with huge tannic profiles and long-term aging potential. Certainly, the best Chateaux have flexed their technical know-how and have produced wines with stunning purity of fruit and precision, but there’s no getting away from the fact that 2016s are real vins de garde.

The extraordinary growing season and Mother Nature have combined to produce something remarkable. There are many contributing factors to the success. After the early season deluge the drought and heat of July and August were welcomed by all. Old vines and soils with some clay component were best placed to benefit from the conditions. Critically, during harvest, there were dramatic day/night temperature differences. This helped the grapes to mature, but retain acidity, and also kept alcohol levels exceptionally low, a key feature of 2016s.

Bunches contained lots of tiny berries, full of material and colour, packed with flavour and acidity. Then it was down to wine-makers to hold their nerve and harness the potential of the crop. It fascinated us to see the different interpretations of 2016. At chateaux like Margaux, Lafleur, Montrose, Lafite, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus, Pichon Lalande, La Mission Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild, winemakers have harnessed all the power and tension of the vintage with a purity, fluidity, finesse and elegance that is quite ravishing. These truly felt like modern day incarnations of great vintages but with the added benefit of 21th century wine-making - the tannic profiles in the best are sublime. Some estates couldn’t resist the temptation to go big and only time will tell whether these wines will find a balance. Fortunately there is no need to take the gamble as there are so many wines that clearly capture the very essence of 2016. The whole Guinaudeau range was spellbinding; the wines of Denis Durantou were electric. There were superb showings from Smith Haut Lafitte, Chapelle de la Mission, Duhart Milon, Clerc Milon, Reserve de la Comtesse, Rauzan Segla and many more that won’t break the bank.

At the sub £25 per bottle level, as we have already mentioned, Grand Village and La Chenade are both spectacular. We’d also highly recommend: Lacoste Borie, Lafleur Gazin, Fonbel, Grande Maye and Picque Caillou.

2015 vs 2016

Collectors should not think of this brace as an either or choice. 2015s are extrovert and will make for wonderful drinking throughout their lives. The more we taste these wines, the more convinced we are of their class. The flavour profiles are, to our mind, more enticing and striking than the 2009s. 2016 offers something completely different. These wines will be coming into their own as the 2015s go into decline. There is real energy, power and substance here – this is a vintage that harks back to the glory years of the past, but is made in a modern style with precision and focus. 2016 is totally unique – it looks to the future with its feet firmly placed in past.

Continue reading the UGC blog posts: Day one, Day two