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2016 BORDEAUX: EARLY CRITIC & EXPERT OPINIONS

Bordeaux is one of the only regions in France likely to increase its yield versus 2015. Early opinions from experts and critics are optimistic, suggesting that the 2016 vintage should be firmly on everybody’s radar…

 

“Bordeaux has reversed its recent trend line… with a very solid 2014 and potentially even better ’15, things are looking up. And here comes 2016, perhaps even better still… The [2016] wines look to be marked by ripe fruit, serious tannins and ample energy – in drawing comparisons, producers recall the racy, tannic spines of 2000 and 2005.” – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

 

“Bordeaux 2016 is being described in the most glowing terms.” – Adam Lechmere, Wine-Searcher

 

“While it’s easy to say that 2016 was a great year, we shouldn’t forget that there was a lot of rain and then a lot of drought. It means some terroirs will have done better than others. Thierry Valette at Clos Puy Arnaudt hinks that fresh terroirs that could retain water in the drought will have been favoured – so clay (he expect some very good petits châteaux in Entre deux Mers) or limestone (calcaire à Asteries). Expect good results in St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Barsac, St-Emilion, Castillon, Fronsac, Francs.” – Jane Anson, Decanter

 

“While there may not be some of the peaks of 2015, there will probably be more consistency. It has turned out much better than most winegrowers had expected or hoped for, which is good news.” – Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak

 

“Bordeaux, like much of the south of France, has experience an incredibly long, warm, dry summer.” – Jancis Robinson

 

“Quality and quantity… Nature has been kind to Bordeaux this year. A bumper crop for many, and a fine harvest… It’s the third year in a row – 2014, 2015 and now 2016 – when there’s been minimal rot on the reds… Other vintages with minimal or no rot? 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.” – Gavin Quinney, Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages

 

“Wines from Northern Médoc – from Pauillac farther north – seems superior in 2016. That’s why my most exciting wines so far hail from these appellations. Wines such as the Lafite Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Lynch-Bages, and Calon-Ségur are destined to be modern-day classics.” – James Suckling

 

Bordeaux 2016: a great vintage in the making / 2016 unites the characteristics required for giving birth to a great vintage:

– uniform flowering at the origin of good pollination,
– substantial lack of rainfall during the summer combined with abundant sunshine and evenly-occurring veraison.
– ripening took place in bright sunshine accompanied by wide ranges in temperature.
– finally, the Indian Summer led to optimal ripeness in each plot and grape variety; harvesting was conducted very smoothly.

Dry whites:

the very young dry white wines are aromatic and lively with a tightly-knit structure and lovely freshness.
Harvesting for dry whites began as from September 5th with Sauvignon grapes and continued with the Muscadelle then Sémillon varieties.
 

Reds:

as the harvesting for red wines is about to end, it is worth noting the outstanding quality of the grapes: crispy, both full of sugar and fresh, with intense aromas of small black berries. The skins are rich in sweet tannins; the seeds have a nutty taste.
The vintage’s first red wines: intense color, very high concentration of anthocyanins, nose of small black berries (blackcurrants, mulberries, blueberries), powerful and structured length, round tannins. Superb potential!
Harvesting of rosés and reds began around September 24th, on the earliest ripening terroirs, for the Merlot grape variety. They continued with Cabernet Franc and around October 12th with Cabernet Sauvignon being harvested the latest.
Semi-sweet and sweet wines are displaying a lot of concentration and great aromatic freshness.
Harvesting: the first selective successive pickings began in late September.
Consequently, a vintage of great quality is in the making and there should not be any lack of quantity either. The 2016 harvest should amount to over 5.5 M hectoliters (estimate because harvesting is still ongoing to date). The actual figures will be released in the official harvest announcement, in late November.

 

"Everybody is happy now, but the beginning was a nightmare… Spring was so rainy, every day… The first real miracle was the flowering, which was under perfect conditions…. Then harvest we had three to four weeks of perfect weather, so you could wait and decide easily when you needed to pick… In the end, if you add up the degree days, 2016 was colder than 2013 or 2002, so the freshness and acidity is there… Of the great vintages in Bordeaux, ’16 has perhaps the highest acidity. It’s higher than 2005 and those two vintages are similar, but there is better freshness in ’16.” – Stéphane Derenoncourt

 

“2016 was a miracle, it’s like a mix of two great vintages, 2009 and 2010… Everything about the balance, complexity, the density of the wine in balance with the flesh, the precision of the tannic structure. It’s a full and complete wine, and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic.” – Nicholas Glumineau, Pichon Lalande

 

“I think we will end up with good, fresh wines, with better acidity than 2015… the flavours are exotic, which is something we don’t usually find at this time. The aromas when we were devatting were remarkable. We get that at Le Pin sometimes, but not usually at Vieux Château Certan.” – Guillaume Thienpont, Vieux Château Certan

 

“We can start to guess what they will be like: a bit lighter than the 2015s, less massive than the 2009s and, by their relatively low pH, less vivacious than the 2014s but, by the finesse and purity of their concentration, they will certainly qualify for a position among such vintages, rather in the same way as the very fine 1988s did among the fuller-styled 1989s and 1990s.” – Bill Blatch

 

Climatology and phenology

 The first quarter of 2016 was mild and especially rainy.

 April: temperatures close to normal and rainfall 25% lower than the 30-year average

 May: Several storms – a rainy month, in particular over the last ten days – shortage of sunshine and temperatures close to the seasonal norm.

 

In the vineyards :

violent hailstorm from Saturday to Sunday, May 28th-29th with damage to the vine leaves and branches. The hardest hit appellations were those along the Dordogne river. The Graves de Vayres AOC suffered damage ranging from 20% to 60%

Very first blossoms appeared in late May

 June: sunshine shortage; rain and few very warm days.
In the vineyards: flowering truly began in the first few days of June. Flowering occurred quickly and evenly.
 July: July weather was summery, with substantial sunshine, a period of heat and scarce rainfall.
In the vineyards: the very first berries changed color in late July.
 August: a dry, warm and sunny month. This August, it rained only 2 days instead of the usual 7 days. The whole month was sunny, with the sun shining 71 hours more than usual.
In the vineyards: veraison was late and uniform (August 10th: start of veraison – August 23rd: end of veraison)
 September: the first 13 days of September were in keeping with August: warm, dry and sunny. After weeks of drought, rain finally came on September 13th in the Bordeaux vineyards where 30 to 60 millimeters of rain fell. Then the sun returned with mild temperatures. Ripening continued in a very sun-filled context associated with wide temperature ranges. These ideal conditions foretell a very promising 2016 vintage.

 

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Vintage Report

Burgundy Report by Clive Coates

July 1st 2016

At the start, the weather in June continued the rather unprepossessing pattern we have experienced since April: rather too much rain, hardly enough sun, and an absence of real warmth. But finally, at the time of the equinox, which was also a full moon, there were a few days of real, proper heat. Those with swimming pools rushed out to take advantage. Since then, if not nearly as hot, life has been pleasant, and the forecast for the first ten days of July is promising. The flowering has been protracted, but there has been, thankfully, no further damage to the vines. A small crop, in many cases tiny, is expected to be ready around the 20th of September.

 

June 1st 2016

To add insult to injury – following the frosts at the end of April – May has been exceedingly unpromising. Normally we can expect at least one week of sunny, warm weather. This year the temperatures have struggled to exceed 20° C, and only for a brief afternoon on the 28th did it reach 25°. (And then there was thunder, lightning and torrential rain in the early evening.) It has also been depressingly wet, with storms when it wan't just drizzling, and some hail, though this seems to have confined itself to Chablis and the Beaujolais. Given the early start to the season, we are still on track for a flowering at the normal time, that is around the 10th of June. But it would be nice to have some blue sky.

 

May 1st 2016

More bad news from Burgundy, I'm afraid. After several years of hail damage – 2015 being a welcome exception – we have now had frost. After a very mild winter; the warmest since 2010 – April was distinctly cold, and on the night of 26/27 April temperatures descended to zero. This was enough to freeze off the just-emerged buds, and not only on the lower slopes, but further up. Losses are serious. It will remain to be seen what percentage of a normal crop will eventually result. But hopes are low. Inevitably prices of the 2015 will rise further, and they were already high. More worryingly, in the longer term, will be the effect yet another small crop will have on the smaller, less financially secure domaines.

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Vintage Report

Five Things to Know About Napa Valley’s 2016 Vintage

Winemakers share their thoughts as attention turns to the cellar following a challenge-free growing season that has resulted in another outstanding wine grape harvest

Here are five things every wine lover should know about Napa Valley’s 2016 vintage:

 # 1 - This year has the potential to be another outstanding Napa Valley vintage.

Napa Valley wines from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 are coming into the market to accolades and critical acclaim. Is it possible that 2016 will be the fifth great vintage in a row for Napa Valley? “I don’t know what to say other than somebody up there really loves us,” commented Linda Neal, owner of Tierra Roja Vineyards in Oakville.

Kristin Belair, winemaker for Honig Vineyard & Winery, summed up the growing season and harvest this way: “We had cooperative weather and problem-free fermentations which are resulting in intense, balanced wines.”

 #2 - Technology and people combined to create high quality wines.

In the winery, more vintners are using optical sorters to ensure only the best grapes become wine. A few machine destemmers are popping up on the crush pad, gently processing grapes faster than before, creating efficiencies that allow vintners to bring in their fruit at the exact moment it's ready to be picked.

 “We brought in new equipment that did a great job of gently destemming all of our reds in a timely manner,” said Melissa Apter, winemaker at Antica Napa Valley – Antinori Family Wine Estate. “We were able to pick as much as we needed to in a day, even more than our past maximum tonnage, and it processed the fruit faster and in a higher quality than ever before. It was the star of the season.”

In the vineyard, evapotranspiration sensors help vintners and growers determine how often and how much to water their vines, information critical to efficient water management. Other vintners are experimenting with drones that can pinpoint vine vigor and identify areas that might need special attention during the growing season.

But, at the end of the day, according to Jon Ruel, CEO of Trefethen Family Vineyards, it’s still the people who make a difference: “It is the men and women of our vineyard and winery teams that deserve the credit for crafting yet another fantastic vintage,” said Ruel. “We still do so much by hand and, when checking fermentations, by nose. And we are not looking to change that any time soon.” 

#3 - The grapes may be picked, but the work isn’t over yet.

“The grape harvest is, first and foremost, getting the grapes off the vine and to the winery,” said Dawnine Dyer of Dyer Vineyard. “It is replete with the unique question of ripeness, the status of the vineyard and the urgency of weather. It's always a relief to have the crop in the winery where we begin the slower, more controlled, process of making the wines.”

Throughout Napa Valley, harvest duties have transitioned from 24-hour days and seven-day weeks in the vineyard to ‘pump-overs, punch-downs and barreling down’ in the cellar, terms that refer to the next phase of the winemaking process. “This is the tough time of year where the excitement of harvest wanes but there is still so much to do,” said Tom Farella, winemaker at Farella Vineyard. “I call it the ‘post-crush blues’ where motivation is difficult but so many details and tasks remain.”

Outside, vintners and growers are planting cover crops, installing straw in the vineyards and cleaning and putting away equipment so it’s ready for next year. According to Alexander Eisele of Volker Eisele Family Estate, “We are seeding cover crops within the rows and adding erosion control seeds in the vineyard roads as well as straw and silt fences; everything we can do to keep our precious soil from washing away.”

#4 - The first wines from this harvest will be on store shelves by early next year.

Aromatic white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, will be the first Napa Valley wines to be released in early 2017. Rosé wines are typically the next to follow, just in time for spring and early summer sipping. Lighter reds, like Pinot Noir, will start entering the market by late summer and early fall of next year. The region’s renowned Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other red wines that require barrel aging will make their debut beginning in 2018.

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Austria’s Wine Harvest 2016 – reduced quantity, top quality! 

There is hardly any way that a wine harvest in Austria could have more variation to it than this year’s vintage. While in the Steiermark and Burgenland, harvest shortfalls from 50 to 80 per cent due to late frost at the end of April can be lamented, in large parts of Niederösterreich the yields were good, even above average. The combination of factors caused grape and bulk wine prices, especially Grüner Veltliner, to soar to unforeseen heights. This prompted the Ministry of Agriculture to raise the maximum yield per hectare by 20 per cent for the entire country, in order to bring a degree of stability to the market. The outstanding quality of the wines, characterised by particularly delicate fruit-driven aromatics and fresh acidity, is extremely gratifying.

 

Weather conditions in 2016: late frost, hailstorms, warm September
The 2016 vintage in Austria had a number of surprises in store: a mild winter with the second-warmest February in 250 years was followed by a dry month of March and an unsettled April. At the start of the month, Mittelburgenland reported summer-like temperatures of more than 27°C – but in the second half of April, between the 26th and the 29th there came three nights of extreme frost, and some snow even fell on the early-sprouting shoots – this had catastrophic consequences for vineyards and viticultural operations, above all in the Steiermark and in Burgenland. 
Late spring and the summer months were characterised by sultry weather, with a great deal of rainfall and scattered periods of heat, so that both winegrowers working conventionally and those working organically were equally challenged in matters of vineyard management. But in contrast with 2015, the thermometer did not climb above 35°C this year.
In the end, an uncommonly warm, sunny and dry September provided the vintage year with a somewhat conciliatory conclusion: this enabled the clusters to achieve very good ripeness, while cooler nights toward the end of the month effected optimal aromatic development. A good further course of weather with occasional rainfall in autumn permitted a rather relaxed harvest without time constraints, ensuring development of grape material with pronounced ripeness and a good supply of nutrients. In the cellar, growers could thus concentrate on optimising and stimulating the quality that had been delivered, without being obliged to resort to any special oenologic tricks. 
The 2016 vintage is already showing a varietally typical, fruity aromatic profile and good body, supported by a solid backbone of acidity. The moderate alcohol content of this year’s wines will also make for pleasant and enjoyable drinkability.

Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)
Overall, harvest estimates for 2016 come in at a satisfactory 1.6 million hectolitres, some 20 per cent higher than the previous year, even if the wine-growing regions Wachau, Carnuntum and Thermenregion had their harvests diminished by from 13 to 23 per cent, owing to the late frost in April. Persistent periods of rain during the summer constituted a special viticultural challenge, making the spread of Peronospora inevitable to a certain extent, despite intensive implementation of countermeasures. 
This year’s harvest began some two weeks later than last year, but by and large proceeded without encountering any adverse weather conditions or time constraints. Volume deficits in other Austrian federal states led to great demand for grapes, along with correspondingly rising prices. 
All in all, the 2016 vintage – apart from the frost – will remain a pleasant memory for winegrowers: very fine quality along with mostly trouble-free operations during the harvest and in the cellar – a nicely matured and aromatic vintage, which the cool nights also blessed with a lovely depth of fruit. Fresh Welschrieslings and peppery Veltliners will gladden the hearts and the palates of winelovers!

Burgenland
Frost damage, above all in Neusiedlersee’s sub-region Seewinkel, and the hailstorm at the end of June in the area of Gols and in Mittelburgenland led to harvest shortfalls amounting to 50 per cent of the normal volume. Contrasted with Niederösterreich, the start of the harvest took place even somewhat earlier than in the previous year, coming to its conclusion relatively early as well, and not only in the adversely affected areas. 
The grape material that was harvested definitely brought good news: a satisfying level of maturity with lovely ripe acidity as well as low pH-values permitted a very clean vinification, even with the red wines’ microbiologically complex fermentation on the skins. 
The result of this year’s efforts amounts to very fruit-forward and varietally typical wines with good body, though not over-opulent. This is true for the prime red varieties Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch as well as for the white wines. A lovely and well-balanced acidity supports the fruitiness, while moderate alcohol content provides for pleasant drinking.

Steiermark (Styria)
The three nights of frost in April and a hailstorm in mid-August caused massive losses to the harvest, so severe that the yield this year barely reached 20 per cent of average vintage volume. In addition, the summer’s downpours presented a further challenge to crop protection in the Steiermark, particularly for estates working with organic viticulture.
Secondary growth on the damaged vines after the frost meant an initial delay of one and one half months in the vegetation process. But this could be made up over the course of ripening, so that the timing of the harvest was not essentially different from that of the previous year, and good quality grape material could be delivered to the fermenters.
This year, very lively and pleasurable wines are maturing in the cellars, with lovely body, not-too-high alcohol values and good fruit. The aromatics are additionally supported by a fine backbone of acidity, regardless of the variety: Welschriesling, Muskateller or Sauvignon Blanc. As far as Schilcher goes, given the extremely meagre volume, one is well advised to make early arrangements to secure their personal supply!

Wien (Vienna)
The wine-growing region Wien remained for the most part unharmed by this year’s meteorologic catastrophes. Thanks to the appropriate measures taken in the vineyards, winegrowers were able to cope with all weather conditions in the nation’s capital. According to forecasts, this paid off with yields just below average in quantity, with well-organised and easily planned harvesting. Splendid weather in September also provided for grapes with good ripeness as well as consistently satisfactory health. Like in the other wine-growing regions, cellar procedures in Vienna also proceeded without appreciable difficulties. 
The success of these efforts has demonstrated itself already in the first presentation of young wines at the end of October. The ‘Junge Wiener’ show themselves very fruit-driven and easily drinkable, offering a foretaste of a ripe vintage with moderate acidity and heft. Not only the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC – first available in March – excites eager anticipation, but the wines that will soon be ready to be tasted – both white and red – will certainly afford pleasure to lovers of wine.

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2016 BORDEAUX: WINEMAKER OPINIONS

2016 will offer the first completely organic Château Latour, and if the positive – almost bullish – rumblings from the Bordelais are anything to go on, there will be a lot more excitement to follow:

“The grapes are already very ‘tasty’ and the analytical readings are of a good level, progressing day by day. We are very confident!” – Guinaudeau Family, Lafleur

 

“Deep vintage… If I’m right, they will age forever.” – Thomas Duroux, Palmer

 

“We had perfect weather conditions during all the harvest. No rain, sunny days, cool nights. So we were able to wait for the perfect phenolic maturity.” – Pierre Graffeuille, Léoville Las Cases

 

“The wines are more restrained in character than in 2009. For me it’s closer to 2010 although a little lower in acidity. In some cases it is better than 2015, certainly more even across the region.” – Hubert de Boüard, Angélus

 

“It is a vintage with good ripeness at harvest, giving us very beautiful raw material, but with a racy structure.” – Bruno Rolland, Léoville Las Cases

 

“The fact is dry vintages are always quality vintages.” – Kees Van Leeuwen, Cheval Blanc

 

“The 2016 vintage is a bigger style than 2015. I have tasted them side by side. In 2016 the acidity is higher.” – Jean-Christophe Mau, Brown

 

“The concentration in the grapes in this vintage was amazing.” – Jean-Michel Comme, Pontet-Canet

 

“It is clearly a great vintage… between 2005 and 2009 in style.” – Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton Rothschild

 

“We never could have imagined back in June that we would be harvesting such a promising vintage under these perfect harvest conditions.” – Pierre Lurton, Cheval Blanc

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Australia Vintage 2016 Report / The Australian wine sector recorded increases in the average purchase price of winegrapes and its overall crush this year, according to the Vintage Report 2016 released today by Wine Australia, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and Wine Grape Growers Australia.

In what many in the sector were calling a sensational vintage for Australian fine wine, this year there was an increase of 6 per cent in the national crush to an estimated 1.81 million tonnes. The report also shows that the average price paid for wine grapes grew by 14 per cent to $526 per tonne across Australia, the highest average price since 2009.

The increase in the weighted average purchase price was supported by an increase in the amount of fruit sold in the top graded categories of above $1500 per tonne. Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said it is encouraging to hear reports of outstanding quality translated into an increase in the average purchase price. ‘In the last 12 months, we’ve seen Australian wine exports grow to $2.11 billion and the strongest growth has been in wines of $10 or more per litre FOB. This increased enthusiasm for our fine wines internationally is helping to support a stronger demand for premium fruit in Australia,’ Mr Clark said.

‘The positivity for Australian fine wine is resonating within our key export markets and we’ll continue working closely with our grape and wine community to increase the demand and the premium paid for Australian wine.’

 

The report shows that the amount of premium fruit sold for more than $1500 per tonne increased to account for 7 per cent of the total crush this year. Premium Shiraz in the top graded categories of more than $1500 per tonne rose to 13 per cent of the variety’s total crush and the national average price per tonne for Shiraz increased by 14 per cent. Similarly, premium Cabernet Sauvignon in the top categories grew to 9 per cent of the variety’s crush and its national average price increased by 17 per cent.  Overall, the average price paid for red winegrapes increased 13 per cent to $651 per tonne and white winegrapes grew 12 per cent to $398.

Winemakers’ Federation of Australia Acting CEO Tony Battaglene said that Vintage Report 2016 shows that the weighted average price has increased over the last two vintages. ‘It’s not uncommon to see peaks and troughs across vintages due to different factors such as fluctuations in demand. However, this year, there is an increase in pricing for the second consecutive year and an increase in the overall crush, which is encouraging. We need to remain pro-active as a sector to continue to grow demand, particularly in our key export markets of the United States and China,’ Mr Battaglene said.



Vintage Report 2016 shows that the average purchase prices for winegrapes increased across most Australian wine regions. The warm inland wine regions increased 8 per cent to $313 per tonne and cool/temperate regions grew 4 per cent to $1,196 per tonne.
Wine Grape Growers Australia Executive Director Andrew Weeks said the increase in average prices is a positive development for the Australian grape and wine community.

‘There is still much work to do, but with recent improvements in key markets and firming in wine grape prices across the nation, there is reason for cautious optimism. It is vital that this positive trend continues and that all in the wine sector are focused on continuing to build demand in key markets.’ The crush decreased overall in warm inland wine regions, with a 2 per cent increase in the Riverland offset by a 2 per cent decline in Murray Darling–Swan Hill and 4 per cent decline in Riverina.

The overall national increase in the crush came from growth in many cool/temperate wine regions, including a 57 per cent increase from Langhorne Creek, 27 per cent in Tasmania, 9 per cent from Margaret River, and 2 per cent from King Valley.

The data for the Vintage Report 2016 was collected by Wine Australia through the Wine Sector Survey 2016 and gathered responses covering an estimated 88 per cent of the crush. The report provides price dispersion read-outs and average purchase prices for varieties in more than 40 Australian wine regions.

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2016 Bordeaux in Review  “A Paradox”

by Andrew Caillard MW

The 2016 Bordeaux vintage will be remembered as one of the great years of the 21st Century. I have not been so excited about the prospects of such young wines since the remarkable back-to-back 2009 and 2010 vintages. At that time China was at the zenith of its extraordinary fine wine ascendency where the very top estates, particularly Chateau Lafite, had become a baksheesh currency. Every man and his dog, with a connection with government, curried favour or accepted gifts with Grand Cru Bordeaux, particularly First Growths. During this extraordinary time, the prices of Bordeaux started to move up at a more rapid speed than Sydney Real Estate. When we were filming Red Obsession in 2011 the Bordeaux wine market had become a classic bubble, even though the main actors still believed otherwise. Self-entitlement and denial always go hand in hand. Nonetheless, it has taken five years for the market to reset itself. Bordeaux is more confident again. Even interest from China has grown again. The market is now around 280 million Euros annually, which illustrates the resilience, power and track record of Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux wines.

 

The 2016 Primeurs is also very different from previous years. There is a changing of the guard with new generations beginning to make their mark at all levels of wine business and production. Philippe Bascaules has returned to Ch Margaux from California. Eduard Moueix of JP Moueix is clearly on the ascendancy, and the owners of Ch Angelus have handed over duties to the next generation. This energy, renewal and enthusiasm is great for Bordeaux. Chateau owners, winemakers and business leaders seem to be more enlightened and interested in the world about them, even Australia.

 

This very contemporary all-gleaming 2016 vintage seems to reflect the freshness and vibrancy of a new age of wine. Even Chateau Pavie, once the poster-child of the Robert Parker era, has raised the white flag. It’s long dalliance with soupy overly plush wine is over, it seems. The 2016 against the 2015 is like comparing a racehorse with a sloth, even though vintage conditions would normally stump up something similar in style. The affable consultant oenologist Michel Rolland, the grand master of taste aesthetics, has clearly moved on with the times. There is no longer a clear individual to impress.

Nonetheless with Robert Parker now pretty well off the scene there seems to be a jockeying of position among ambitious American wine critics particularly. The hard working James Suckling and Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth, like the horses of the apocalypse, have already crashed through the starting gates and made their prophesies known to the world. All indications suggest an early campaign, but it will probably go on for ever, such is the tactical outlook and the hierarchical nature of this beast. 

It is worth pulling everything into context. The primeur tasting takes place generally after the wines have finished their malolactic fermentations.  Tasting any earlier could in theory compromise or skew opinion. This is arguably a growing issue with key wine writers trying to out smart each other. Nonetheless it doesn’t take a genius to understand the quality of a very good vintage. Colour, aromatic complexity, concentration, tannin quality, oak and acidities are key elements and we are all looking for a patterned balance, an individual voice or something to believe in. With so many wines the nuances can be infinitesimal, certainly from a language point of view, and therefore difficult to truly differentiate. An understanding of track record, winemaking house style and sub-regional characteristics also helps bring an overall impression. Cultural references, experience, language, personal loyalties etc. will also throw up varying opinions. Fear of not getting it right, might be a factor as well. And of course there is the 1855 Classification, which can have a moderating effect. For instance would a wine critic dare to give a fifth growth a greater score than a First Growth?

 

Bear in mind all of the tastings are of unfinished wines, with still a good 8 months to 20 months or longer of barrel aging. Ch Roteboeuf for instance sees around two-year oak maturation and many top chateaux elect to have their wines in barrel for 18 months. Some wine are tasted at negociants on a Monday – which may mean that samples can be slightly stale when reviewed. Many old world wine critics don’t pick this up. Atmospheric conditions also play a remarkable part in how a wine looks on the day. The weather conditions during the 2016 primeurs tastings was classic with perfect warm Spring weather and beautiful conditions to taste.

Increasingly there is less opportunity to taste blind. It is incredibly challenging to make the appointments necessary to do the full coverage. More and more chateaux are insisting that their wines are tasted in their cellars, and finding time slots is not easy. It should be pointed out, therefore, that most or all of the tasting notes given by Bordeaux opinion leaders are open-tasted. Not even the Union des Grands Crus offers the option of blind tasting these days. On balance this is not a bad thing. What is the point of looking at wines without emotion or connection? How many wine reviews are written with completely the wrong conclusion? And how often is wine quality over-exaggerated?

As the premier wine auction, and broking house in Australia, it has always made sense to provide our collectors and buyers with a primeurs offer. Over the last 15 years or so, we have been working with several of the top Bordeaux negociants. This has enabled us to bring in several exclusivities or joint exclusivities including Ch Petrus, Ch Lafleur, Ch Lafleur Petrus and Chateau Latour à Pomerol and Ch Batailley. Our buying patterns are geared to our own tasting reviews and a few international opinion leaders, particularly Neal Martin (Robertparker.com), James Suckling and Jancis Robinson. All in all, it is worth reading around a bit, because wines can look a bit different depending on the day.

 

Although a strong cabernet sauvignon year, the 2016 Bordeaux vintage is generally exceptional for red wine. All red grape varieties, including merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot have achieved good flavour and phenolic ripeness (The same for white varieties semillon, sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris). The left bank has performed brilliantly across all sub-regions including St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, Margaux and Pessac Leognan. The lesser known Moulis and Listrac appellations, usually representing pretty good value, have also stumped up generous wines. The right bank is just a little patchy, perhaps reflecting the fragmented state of investment and resources. Nonetheless the very top estates have made wines of exquisite quality. St Emilion and Pomerol, both reliant on merlot and cabernet franc have stumped up some real gems. Wines with cabernet franc/ cabernet sauvignon in the right bank blends have an extra zip and freshness. So this is a year where price will largely determine buying patterns. The overall quality is so impressive, it is unlikely you will make a mistake, not with our recommendations anyway.

After nearly six months of wet weather, Bordeaux enjoyed perfect warm to hot dry (some say drought) conditions from early summer onwards. Cool temperatures over night allowed grapes to retain natural acidities and freshness. Flowering was very good resulting in great potential yields. Some mildew pressure and vigorous canopy development during early Spring resulted in some green harvesting and leaf plucking. Few chateaux experienced any significant heat loads during harvest. By all accounts the fruit arrived in most cellars in very good, if not perfect condition. Viticultural practices played an important part in the end result. There is a significant correlation between vineyard investment and wine quality. Hence it is often the wealthiest producers who have been able to achieve that extra 1% difference. The growing season has been compared to 2012, but the results are vastly different, illustrating the mystery of life and the magical quality of wine. And every chateau has a slightly different take on what happened.

 

The resources available to winemakers is astonishing. Over the last twenty years, particularly, there has been a revolution to winemaking approach. Many of Bordeaux’s most prominent Chateaux have invested millions of Euros into the reconstruction of their wineries. Ch Calon Segur, Ch Beychevelle and Ch Pontet Canet are just a few that have been recently completed or in progress. These have followed more high profile examples including Ch Margaux with its Sir Norman Foster designed winery, Ch Petrus, Ch Cheval Blanc, Ch Latour and Ch Montrose. Vineyard mapping drones, Grape hydro-coolers, sorting machines, gravity fed contraptions and stainless steel vats looking like large nespresso capsules are some of the expensive playthings of contemporary winemaking. Yet this equipment, rather than industrialising the process of vinification, is all about personalizing individual plots of land and taking a gentle approach to handling the fruit.

 

This attempt for individuality is followed down various pathways. One of the more extreme proponents of modern viticulture and winemaking is Alfred Tesseron at Ch Pontet Canet. His investment in biodynamic viticulture, horse-drawn vineyard work and amphora (made from earth from the vineyard) maturation, shows an ideal that is steeped in protecting and emphasizing the personality of the landscape. The 2016 vintage possesses a natural energy, vibrancy and richness while showing classic Pauillac lines of pure cassis fruit and fine grained tannins. The underlying theme of goodness and sustainable farming has a charming appeal. More and more Chateaux are adopting organic, biodynamic or low input philosophies. This approach can be seen across the whole Bordeaux region and especially with Grand Cru Classé producers.

At Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, also in Pauillac, the vineyard workers have been snapping pheromone-infused plastic capsules on supporting wires in preparation for the arrival of the butterfly season and to combat grape worms. Rather than using sprays these capsules are employed to emit pheromones that attract male butterflies and confuse them from mating with females. One winery director at an estate on the right bank, told me (in all seriousness) that “the problem with sexual confusion is that if your neighbours are not doing it, it doesn’t work.”

The 2017 growing season is on its way with a glorious early Northern European Spring. The butterflies are already flying in peculiar zig-zags, mirroring the driving habits of over 2500 visitors as each person hurriedly moves from one appointment to another. Through the benefit of hindsight of tasting reviews, the 2016 Bordeaux vintage is in every way a paradox. The red wines possess superb freshness, definition and structure and they will simply not disappoint.

Reds

  • St Estephe

At the northern end of the Medoc, this sub region sometimes struggles to achieve the exacting phenolic ripeness expected today. In 2016, it has enjoyed another classic year with many wines possessing bright glossy fruit, fine vigorous, yet ripe tannins, generous volume and fine clear acidities. Top performers are Ch Calon Segur, Ch Phelan Segur, Ch Tronquoy Lalande, Ch Montrose, Dame de Montrose & Ch Cos d’Estournel.

  • Pauillac

A fabulous vintage for all the three First Growths and most of the Grand Cu producers. Deep colours, intense inky black currant aromas, fine grained tannins, attractive mid-palate richness and indelible long acidities are marks of great quality. Ch Mouton Rothschild is a stand out, but Ch d’Armailhac punches well above its weight. Ch Batailley, Ch Grand Puy Lacoste, Ch Lynch Bages, Ch Pontet Canet, Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and Ch Pichon Longueville Baron are standouts. The lesser known Ch Pibran, next door to Pontet Canet is an outlier worth looking at as well as Lynch Moussas

  • St Julien

Very generous wines with deep colours, fresh pure dark fruit aromas, supple textures, ripe, firm chalky tannins, beautiful fruit density and persistent mineral length are hallmarks of the 2016 vintage. The Second Growth Ch Leoville Lascases is a remarkable wine and completely illustrates it’s natural right for a greater Classification. But of course this will never happen because of politics and social order. It’s second label Clos de Marquis has always been a favourite and this year it performs at a very high level. Ch Ducru Beaucaillou is very contemporary and alive. Ch Beychevelle, Ch Leoville Barton and Ch Gruaud Larose are lovely wines.

  • Margaux

A great vintage but varying from elegant to understated power. Perfectly ripe fruit, generous concentration, fine grained, sometimes chocolatey or sinewy, tannins and impressive mineral length are a frequent theme. My personal favourite is Ch Palmer which is in no doubt a classic with superb tension, density and freshness. Alto Ego, another expression of the same terroir is a very good looking wine too. Ch Margaux, in the midst of a transition, has made a lovely wine. The volume is quite small this year. Only 28% being the first wine. Ch Angludet, Ch Giscours, Ch Rausan Gassies and Ch Rauzan Ségla are great. Outliers which could represent really good value are Ch Labegorce and Ch Prieuré Lichine.

  • Listrac, Moulis and Haut Medoc

Ch La Lagune and Ch La Tour Carnet are the champions this year but there is a lot of value to be found in this region including Ch Poujeaux, Ch Chasse Spleen, Ch Belgrave, Ch Cantemerle, Ch Ch Cartillon, Ch Citran and Ch Lamarque etc.

  • Pessac Leognan

Undeniably a great year for Pessac Leognan. The wines have beautiful concentration, chocolaty textures and fresh linear acidities. Ch Haut Brion has made a really good wine, but I prefer Ch La Mission Haut Brion because of its superb density and bouyant fruit quality. Not far behind is Ch Smith Haut Lafitte. The Cathiards really should be given a big shout out for their commitment to this estate. At first they followed the Parker circus, but over the last six or seven years, it has emerged as one of the sub region’s most beautiful and consistent wines. Ch Haut Bailly is also spectacularly good and lives up to its early 20th Century reputation. La Parde de Haut Bailly, Domaine de Chevalier, Les Carmes Haut Brion and the very dependable and relatively inexpensive Ch Latour Martillac have done really well too.

  • Pomerol

Olivier Berouet of Ch Petrus describes 2016 as “a vintage that is only comparable to itself.” The clay substrata played an important role in maintaining sufficient soil moistures. Typically the wines are round, supple and richly flavoured with beautiful aromatic complexity, fine plentiful tannins, superb fruit definition and mineral length. The wines have incredible dimension and balance. Vieux Chateau Certan is in a league of its own with its very clear inimitable house style and luxurious quality. Ch Petrus, Ch Lafleur, Ch Lafleur Petrus, Ch Latour a Pomerol, Ch L’Evangile and Ch La Conseillante are lovely.

  • St Emilion

The wines of St Emilion are quite varied but many have a dark inky quality with superb pastille-like fruit and fine chalky textures. Ch Cheval Blanc is very impressive this year and is clearly one of the wines of the vintage. Ch Figeac is slightly more vigorous than its neighbour, but it has made one of the best wines in twenty years, presumably because of the high proportions of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Ch Pavie is also impressive and it is just great to see this legendary marque actually produce a wine in keeping with it’s status. Ch Pavie Macquin, Ch Pavie Decesse, Ch Canon, Ch Tertre Rotebeouf and Ch Troplong Mondot are all worth seeking out

  • Sauternes Barsac

The dry growing season ensured that both semillon and sauvignon blanc reached full maturity but the lack of rain was not encouraging. When it finally fell on the 13th September the humidity in the vineyards began to promote botrytis cinerea (noble rot). Further rain on the 30th September and a very helpful soaking on the 10th October ensured a normal vintage. The results are mixed but the top estates all produced pretty good wines. Ch d’Yquem is quite classic but will not be released during this en-primeur campaign. Ch Caillou, Ch Climens, Ch Coutet, de Myrat, Ch Doisy Daene, Ch Guiraud and Ch Lafaurie Peyreguey, Ch Rieussec and Ch Sigalas Rabaud all made very good wine.

  • Dry White Bordeaux

The dry white wines across the region are also generally very good. The fruit has developed very good ripeness and so many have very clear lemon curd, sometimes tropical fruit aromas, flinty/ yeasty complexity and very good natural acidities. Many come across being quite racy and taught. Ch Haut Brion Blanc and Ch La Mission Haut Brion Blanc are marvellous but what a price for the experience. Ch Pape Clement and Ch Smith Haut Lafitte made very lovely wines too. Ch Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc is also worth seeking out.

 

 

 

 

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The best wines of the 2016 vintage

Name Tb Producer Location
1 Château Mouton-Rothschild 98.6 Château Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux, France
2 Lafite-Rothschild 98.6 Château Lafite-Rothschild Bordeaux, France
3 Le Pin 98.4 Le Pin Bordeaux, France
4 Cheval Blanc 98.3 Château Cheval Blanc Bordeaux, France
5 Pétrus 98.2 Château Pétrus Pomerol, France
6 Château Latour 98.1 Château Latour Bordeaux, France
7 Vieux Chateau Certan 97.7 Vieux Château Certan Bordeaux, France
8 Lafleur 97.6 Château Lafleur Bordeaux, France
9 Château Haut-Bailly 97.5 Château Haut-Bailly Pessac Leognan, France
10 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 97.5 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux, France
11 Léoville-Las Cases 97.5 Château Léoville-Las Cases Saint-Julien, France
12 Château Cos d'Estournel 97.4 Château Cos d'Estournel Bordeaux, France
13 Château Ausone 97.4 Château Ausone Bordeaux, France
14 L'Eglise-Clinet 97.3 Château L'Eglise-Clinet Bordeaux, France
15 Château L´Evangile 97.3 Château L´Evangile Pomerol, France
16 Château La Conseillante 97.3 Château La Conseillante Bordeaux, France
17 Montrose 97.2 Château Montrose Bordeaux, France
18 Château de Figeac 97.2 Château de Figeac Saint-Emilion, France
19 Château Palmer 97.1 Château Palmer Bordeaux, France
20 Château Margaux 97.0 Château Margaux Bordeaux, France
21 Château Climens 97.0 Château Climens Bordeaux, France
22 Tertre Roteboeuf 97.0 Château Tertre Roteboeuf Bordeaux, France
23 d'Yquem 97.0 Château d'Yquem Bordeaux, France
24 La Mission Haut Brion 96.9 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
25 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 96.9 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron Bordeaux, France
26 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 96.9 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux, France
27 Château Haut-Brion 96.8 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
28 Château Pontet Canet 96.7 Château Pontet Canet Bordeaux, France
29 Château de Valandraud 96.7 Château Valandraud St.Emilion, France
30 Pavie 96.6 Château Pavie Bordeaux, France
31 Château Canon 96.5 Château Canon St. Emilion, France
32 Château Clinet 96.5 Château Clinet Bordeaux, France
33 Château Troplong-Mondot 96.3 Château Troplong-Mondot Bordeaux, France
34 Château Angelus 96.3 Château Angelus Bordeaux, France
35 Château La Fleur-Pétrus 96.1 Château Lafleur-Pétrus Bordeaux, France
36 Clos Fourtet 96.0 Clos Fourtet Bordeaux, France
37 Le Dôme 96.0 Le Dome Bordeaux, France
38 Château Violette 96.0 Château La Violette Bordeaux, France
39 Château Smith Haut Lafitte 95.8 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Bordeaux, France
40 Château Haut-Brion Blanc 95.8 Château Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
41 Château Caillou 95.7 Château Caillou Barsac, France
42 Château Léoville Poyferré 95.7 Château Léoville Poyferré Bordeaux, France
43 Château Calon Ségur 95.7 Château Calon-Ségur Bordeaux, France
44 Château Pavie-Decesse 95.7 Château Pavie-Decesse Bordeaux, France
45 Château Pavie-Macquin 95.7 Château Pavie-Macquin Bordeaux, France
46 La Mondotte 95.7 La Mondotte Bordeaux, France
47 Bélair Monange 95.7 Château Bélair Monange Bordeaux, France
48 Trotanoy 95.6 Château Trotanoy Pomerol, France
49 Château Doisy-Daene 95.5 Château Doisy-Daëne Bordeaux, France
50 Chateau Beausejour Duffau-Lagarosse 95.3 Château Beausejour Duffau-Lagarosse Bordeaux, France
51 La Mission Haut Brion Blanc 95.3 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Bordeaux, France
52 Château Beychevelle 95.3 Château Beychevelle Bordeaux, France
53 Chateau Leoville-Barton 95.3 Château Leoville-Barton Bordeaux, France
54 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 95.3 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac Leognan, France
55 Château Rauzan-Ségla 95.2 Château Rauzan-Ségla Bordeaux, France
56 Château Petit-Village 95.2 Château Petit-Village Bordeaux, France
57 Château Rieussec 95.0 Château Rieussec Sauternes, France
58 Château La Confession 95.0 Château La Confession Bordeaux, France
59 Château Brane-Cantenac 95.0 Château Brane-Cantenac Bordeaux, France
60 Vieux Château Mazerat 95.0 Château Teyssier Bordeaux, France
61 Chateau Lynch-Bages 95.0 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac, France
62 Chateau La Lagune 95.0 Château La Lagune Bordeaux, France
63 Château Pape Clément 95.0 Château Pape Clément Bordeaux, France
64 Château Larcis Ducasse 95.0 Château Larcis Ducasse Bordeaux, France
65 La Gaffelière 95.0 Château La Gaffelière Bordeaux, France
66 Château Cantenac-Brown 95.0 Château Cantenac-Brown Bordeaux, France
67 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling 95.0 Penfolds South Australia, Australia
68 Château D´Issan 95.0 Château D´Issan Bordeaux, France
69 L'interdit de Valandraud 95.0 Château Valandraud St.Emilion, France
70 Château Coutet 95.0 Château Coutet Sauternes, France
71 Chateau Certan de May 94.8 Château Certan de May Bordeaux, France
72 Le Gay 94.8 Le Gay Bordeaux, France
73 Château Trottevieille 94.8 Château Trottevieille Bordeaux, France
74 Domaine de Chevalier 94.8 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac Leognan, France
75 Château Lascombes 94.7 Château Lascombes Margaux, France
76 Château La Croix-de-Gay 94.7 Château La Croix-de-Gay Bordeux, France
77 Château Malescot-Saint-Exupery 94.7 Château Malescot-Saint-Exupery Bordeaux, France
78 Chateau Bellevue-Mondotte 94.7 Château Bellevue-Mondotte Bordeaux, France
79 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 94.7 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Bordeaux, France
80 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 94.7 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Bordeaux, France
81 Château Guiraud 94.7 Château Guiraud Bordeaux, France
82 Fleur Cardinale 94.5 Château Fleur Cardinale Bordeaux, France
83 Château Hosanna 94.5 Château Hosanna Bordeaux, France
84 Château Phelan-Segur 94.5 Château Phelan-Segur Bordeaux, France
85 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 94.5 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Bordeaux, France
86 Clos du Marquis 94.5 Clos du Marquis Burgundy, France
87 Château Giscours 94.5 Château Giscours Bordeaux, France
88 Latour-à-Pomerol 94.4 Château Latour-à-Pomerol Bordeaux, France
89 Château Suduiraut 94.3 Château Suduiraut Bordeaux, France
90 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière 94.3 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière St.Emilion, France
91 Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild 94.3 Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild Pauillac, France
92 Château Gazin 94.3 Château Gazin Bordeaux, France
93 Château D´Armailhac 94.3 Château D´Armailhac Pauillac, France
94 Château Pape Clément Blanc 94.0 Château Pape Clément Bordeaux, France
95 Blanc de Valandraud No. 1 94.0 Ets Thunevin Bordeaux, France
96 Belle Brise 94.0 Belle Brise Bordeaux, France
97 Château Corbin-Michotte 94.0 Château Corbin-Michotte Bordeaux, France
98 Chateau Seguin 94.0 Chateau Seguin Bordeaux, France
99 Château Corbin 94.0 Château Corbin Bordeaux, France
100 Château La Croix Saint-Georges 94.0 Château La Croix Saint-Georges Bordeaux, France

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