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The call of faraway lands. As mysterious and intriguing as a lone adventurer returning from a solitary sail, Cos d’Estournel is slow to reveal itself. Little by little, it evokes stories of distant places, market stalls brimming with unfamiliar fruits, spices and wares, village festivities warmed by the joy of revelers and the setting sun, and sumptuous visions of ladies and their voluptuous curves. A myriad of scents, colors and tastes appeals to the senses. The Grand Vin of Cos d’Estournel is both demure and deliberately sensuous, a fascinating and elegant nectar.
The vineyard of Cos spreads around the château on 91 hectares.The Cabernet Sauvignon vines (60% of the vineyard) find the soil of their choice in the thin layers of gravely soil situated on the top and on the southern slopes of the hill. On the other hand, the Merlot vines (40% of the vineyard) excel on the eastern slopes and on the slopes where the Saint-Estephe limestone bed shows on the surface.
The percentage of Cabernet and Merlot varies from one vintage to another according to the year weather conditions, benefiting successively to the one or the other. Plantation is extremely dense (8000 to 10000 vines per hectare) and the average age of the vineyard is high (35 years old on the average) in order to enable the roots to extend excessively and to obtain a very slender yield per vine that will create the « Grand Goût »
Each vine grower is in charge of 45 000 vines on which they have got to undertake various labours every year. These cultural tasks are for most of them done manually. The harvest is of course manually picked too. And it is by hand that the grapes, once collected in special wooden baskets, will be strictly selected.
2016 Bordeaux in Review / “A Once in a Lifetime Vintage”
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?
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.
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
Bordeaux 2016 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 haven't been this excited about the prospects of wines this young since the remarkable 2009 and 2010 vintages. At that time, China was at the zenith of its extraordinary rise of fine wines where the highest estates, particularly Château Lafite , had become a backwater currency. Each man and his dog, with a connection to the government, curry favor or accept gifts with the Grand Cru Bordeaux, particularly the Premiers Crus. During this extraordinary period, Bordeaux prices began to rise at a faster rate than Sydney Real Estate. During the filming of Red Obsession in 2011, the Bordeaux wine market had become a classic bubble, even if the main actors still believed otherwise. Self-reliance and denial always go hand in hand. Nonetheless, it took five years for the market to reset. Bordeaux is more confident again. Even China's interest has increased again. The market today is around 280 million euros per year, which illustrates the resilience, power and track record of Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé wines.
The 2016 Primeurs are 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 the industry and wine production. Philippe Bascaules returned from California to Ch Margaux. Eduard Moueix of JP Moueix is clearly on the rise, and the owners of Ch Angelus have passed on their duties to the next generation. This energy, this renewal and this enthusiasm are great for Bordeaux. Chateau owners, winemakers and business leaders seem to be more enlightened and interested in the world around them, even Australia.
This very contemporary and sparkling 2016 vintage seems to reflect the freshness and dynamism of a new era of wine. Even Château Pavie, once the poster child of the Robert Parker era, has raised the white flag. Its long alliance with overly sweet sweet wine is over, it seems. The 2016 versus the 2015 is like comparing a racehorse to a sloth, although vintage conditions would normally land on something similar in style. The affable consultant oenologist Michel Rolland, great master of the aesthetics of taste, has clearly evolved with the times. There is no longer a clear individual to impress.
Nevertheless, with Robert Parker now quite far from the scene, there seems to be a merry-go-round of position among ambitious American wine critics in particular. Hard-working James Suckling and James Molesworth of Wine Spectator, like the horses of the apocalypse, have already walked through the starting gates and made their prophecies known to the world. Everything points to an early campaign, but it will likely last forever, such is the tactical perspective and hierarchical nature of this beast.
It's worth putting everything in context. Primeur tasting generally takes place after the end of the malolactic fermentation of the wines. Tasting earlier could in theory compromise or distort the opinion. This is arguably a growing problem with leading wine writers trying to outdo each other. However, it doesn't take a genius to understand the quality of a very good vintage. Color, 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 linguistic point of view, and therefore difficult to really differentiate. An understanding of the winemaking house's background, style and sub-regional characteristics also helps to provide an overall impression. Cultural references, experience, language, personal loyalties, etc. will also give rise to divergent opinions. Fear of not doing things well could also be a factor. And of course there is the 1855 classification, which may have a moderating effect. For example, would a wine critic dare to give a fifth growth a higher score than a first growth?
Olivier Berouet of Ch Petrus describes 2016 as “a vintage that can only be compared to itself”. Clay substrates played an important role in maintaining sufficient soil moisture. Typically, the wines are round, supple and richly flavored with beautiful aromatic complexity, fine and abundant tannins, superb fruit definition and mineral length. The wines have incredible dimension and balance. Vieux Château 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 adorable.
St Emilion wines are quite varied but many have a dark inky quality with superb pastry fruits 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 neighbor, but it has produced one of the best wines in twenty years, probably due to the high proportions of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ch Pavie is also impressive and it's just great to see this legendary brand producing a wine consistent with its status. Ch Pavie Macquin, Ch Pavie Decesse, Ch Canon, Ch Tertre Rotebeouf and Ch Troplong Mondot are all worth seeking out
The dry growing season allowed the Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc to reach full maturity, but the lack of rain was not encouraging. When it finally fell on September 13, the humidity in the vines began to encourage botrytis cinerea (noble rot). Further rain on September 30 and a very useful soaking on October 10 ensured a normal vintage. The results are mixed, but the best estates all produced very 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 have all made very good wines.
Dry white Bordeaux
The region's dry white wines are also generally very good. The fruit has developed very good maturity and many have a very clear lemony curd, sometimes tropical fruit flavors, flint/yeast complexity and very good natural acidities. Many feel quite polished and taught. Ch Haut Brion Blanc and Ch La Mission Haut Brion Blanc are wonderful but what a price for the experience. Ch Pape Clément and Ch Smith Haut Lafitte also made very beautiful wines. The White Pavilion of Ch Margaux is also worth the detour.
2016 BORDEAUX: WINEGROOM OPINION
2016 will offer the first fully organic Château Latour, and if the positive – almost bullish – rumblings from Bordeaux are to be believed, there will be a lot more excitement to follow:
“The grapes are already very 'tasty' and the analytical readings are at a good level, improving 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 throughout the harvest. No rain, sunny days, cool nights. We were therefore able to wait for perfect phenolic maturity. » – Pierre Graffeuille, Léoville Las Cases
“The wines have a more sober character than in 2009. For me, it is closer to 2010 although a little lower in acidity. In some cases, it is better than in 2015, certainly more so even across the region. » – Hubert de Boüard, Angélus
“It is a vintage with good maturity at the harvest, giving us very beautiful raw material, but with a distinguished structure. » – Bruno Rolland, Léoville Las Cases
“The fact is that dry vintages are still quality vintages. » – Kees Van Leeuwen, White Horse
“The 2016 vintage is a bigger style than 2015. I tasted them side by side. In 2016, the acidity is higher. » – Jean-Christophe Mau, Brown
“The concentration in the grapes this vintage was incredible. » – Jean-Michel Comme, Pontet-Canet
“It’s clearly a great vintage... between 2005 and 2009 in style. » – Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton Rothschild