Bordeaux 2016: first impressions


With just a month to go before the Bordelais unveil their 2016 wines, Buying Director and Bordeaux Buyer Max Lalondrelle shares his first impressions of the vintage

Every year, long before the en primeur tastings in early April, I visit Bordeaux to check on the quality of the vintage. These visits, the first during the harvest in mid-October and the second in mid-January when I get a chance to taste the early juice, are important in helping me understand the wines. This gives me the freedom to form an early impression of the vintage and to visit the areas that are most exciting.

It is quite clear that in 2016 the overall health of the vineyards was extremely good. The vintage produced a large harvest with much bigger yields than in previous years. The average yield this year is between 45 and 50hl/ha; this is not far off levels seen in 2004 which was one of the largest vintages in recent years. Even better, the quality is very good – in some cases, excellent.

The growing season was marked by a warm and wet winter with rain continuing into the spring. This meant that some areas suffered from coulure after flowering, but this shouldn’t have any effect on the overall quality of the vintage. The summer was hot and dry and stretched right into September and October, with good weather during the harvest. Despite the drought at the end of August, the fruit was both abundant and healthy, the most abundant I can recall for some time. Walking through the vineyards and picking off a few grapes you could eat the ripe pips. Usually when you crunch into the berries at this time of year, they could be astringent and bitter, but in 2016 there wasn’t that bitterness. This indicates that the tannins are mature and ripe.

Tasting the early juice I would say stylistically that the 2016s are going to be marked by having lots of body and dark juicy fruit, think flavours such as blackcurrants and cassis, but finishing with a huge amount of freshness. In many ways it is a unique style of vintage – lower in alcohol than 2010 but with more drinkability and freshness. The wines possess all the ingredients of a hot vintage, huge body and ripe fruit, but they have ripe tannins and are fresh.

The Bordelais know they have a very good vintage under their belt, but they are also aware of the market conditions and the external pressure in terms of economics. The feeling is come and have a look at what we have and we can discuss the prices later. Is it a great vintage? It is too early to tell, but 2016 could be quite close.

Our team will be out in Bordeaux in the first week of April, tasting the wines and talking to the producers: look out for daily updates on the blog with their thoughts on the vintage.