Bordeaux 2016: elegant, ethereal and outstanding
Author: Peter Newton
Up until two and a half years ago, the Bordeaux en primeur model was perceived to be in a certain state of recovery, still reeling from the after-effects of two monumental vintages, 2009 and 2010, and the relative collapse of the Chinese fine wine market. Subsequent vintages had to be cheaper no matter what the quality. But with 2011, ‘12 and ‘13 not even coming close to ’09 and ’10 the en primeur market stumbled. The 2014 vintage had some very attractive, juicy offerings, and ‘15 started to reignite interest, but the real turning point was the release of the ‘16 vintage.
What makes 2016 stand out is not just that it is a truly exceptional vintage, but that it provides a new stylistic reference point for Bordeaux-lovers. The ‘16s are not like either ‘09 or ‘10, they have the concentration and consistency but are marked more by their elegance and freshness. Some see this as a welcome return to pre-Parker Bordeaux, with less over-ripeness and extraction. But for me, 2016 is unlike any vintage I have experienced in my 20-year career. With modern vineyard management and winemaking techniques, the top wines will not only last decades, but will make delicious early drinking too.
Blockbuster vintages like ’09 and ’10 are fantastic and worthy of their reputation, but I would absolutely rank 2016 as their equal. When we tasted at Cos d’Estournel, our host put it well, assessing that the wines gained more from the terroir than the vintage in 2016. And when our Bordeaux Buyer, Max Lalondrelle, went on record saying this is the finest vintage he has ever tasted en primeur – and potentially the finest vintage he has ever tasted, one has to sit up and take note.
Now that these wines have had a couple of years in bottle, the more forward styles are beginning to drink beautifully. Soft tannins align with silky freshness to make for some irresistible drinking; now is certainly a good time to acquaint yourself with this most elegant and ethereal of vintages.
Three 2016s to try
2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd St Julien by Château Léoville-Las Cases: This is the first vintage of our own-label St Julien to be made by the team at Léoville-Las Cases, one of the finest properties in Bordeaux. Broodingly deep, dark and glossy in the glass, this superb wine will repay a year or two in the cellar, but is hard to resist now.
2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd Pauillac by Château Lynch Bages: Made by the Cazes family (of Château Lunch-Bages), the 2016 vintage is arguably the finest we’ve tasted. The key to this vintage is its balance, which shows on the long, elegant finish. Gorgeous now, this will cellar impeccably for a couple of years.
2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd St Emilion by Château de Fonbel: This is a predominantly Merlot-based wine from a small Grand Cru property managed by one of the best winemakers on the Right Bank, Alain Vauthier. The quality of the vintage really shines through here.