The Wine Lister team is back from a week in Bordeaux tasting the 2016 vintage, and we can’t curb our enthusiasm. While the growing season was fraught with difficulty, a series of mini miracles allowed appellations across the board to make their finest wines since 2010. Most crucially, heavy spring rainfall was punctuated by a dry window during flowering, and intense summer drought was broken just in time by a dramatic rainstorm on 13th September, witnessed first-hand by Wine Lister’s Founder, Ella Lister, at Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
A sculpture at Château Smith Haut Lafitte as the storm brewed on 13th September 2016. Photo © Ella Lister
This vintage of extreme conditions has paradoxically resulted in the most balanced of wines, full of freshness. These are wines which, like the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, will be approachable relatively early – possibly sooner than the 2010s – and will keep on going. Cheval Blanc’s Chef de Culture, Nicolas Corporandy, said that compared to the 2015, “the 2016 is fresher and more tannic”, adding, “they are very different vintages, a bit like the 2009 and 2010.”
However, apart from the odd reference to the 2009-2010 duo, 2016 was not likened to any existing vintage. Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier and President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, declared, “This is another expression – not a 2009 or 2010; we are working at a different level than a few years ago.” Many producers are touting 2016 as their best ever wine, and for once, they might not be exaggerating. “I really think honestly that it’s the most accomplished of all Pontet-Canets,” avowed Alfred Tesseron, owner of Château Pontet-Canet.
We were consistently impressed and delighted by the quality and harmony of the wines on left bank and right. In Lister’s words:
“Saint-Estèphe is driven, Pauillac poised, Pomerol blue-blooded, Saint-Emilion alluring, Saint-Julien classy, Margaux pure, and Pessac-Léognan seductive”.
Many wines exceeded our expectations, and we were especially delighted to return to Smith Haut Lafitte to taste the flawless range of wines and find them entirely unscathed by September’s hail.
The excellent range of red and white wines tasted by the Wine Lister team at Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac-Léognan. Photo © Wine Lister Limited
The even better news is that in general yields are higher than average (though with several exceptions, such as Châteaux Palmer, l’Evangile, and Léoville Poyferré). “With quality we have quantity and I love quantity,” quipped Bernard.
Why do yields matter? In theory, it should allow the producers to maintain reasonable prices if they have more wine to sell. As Nicolas Audebert, General Manager of Châteaux Canon and Rauzan-Ségla, put it, “Anyone who is intelligent will make their margins on the volume not on the prices; if the prices stay more or less the same when the quality is even better, everyone will be content”.
This could be wishful thinking. In the second instalment of this en primeur round-up we will explore the dynamics of the upcoming campaign, complete with the inside track from top producers and members of the trade regarding timing, pricing, and volumes, coming soon.