GRAPE AND GRAIN
Grape & Grain
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Bordeaux’s 2016 vintages will delight lovers of great Burgundy

Consistency at every price point – the newly released vintages show excellent structure, high levels of juiciness and ripeness that isn’t overdone. Here are our picks to look out for

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 5:44pm

Extra staff were drafted in across tasting rooms in Bordeaux in early April, as close to 5,500 buyers, tasters and journalists descended for the big unveiling of the 2016 vintage. Numbers were 20 per cent up on the year before, with the highest numbers of overseas tasters (at least in terms of registrations before the week began) coming from mainland China.

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They have been rewarded with a vintage that has seen successes across the board in the red wines. In many ways, this is a Bordeaux vintage for lovers of great Burgundy. It has depth and intensity but also a floral, fragrant edge. It is also a vintage where individual terroir had a big impact because the growing season was, to say the least, unusual.

First came the wet early season (62 per cent more rain than usual) and then the exceptionally dry summer (62 per cent less rain than normal, and 16 per cent more sun). Put that together with a relaxed picking season where the sun kept on shining and you have clear differences in the wines according to soil types, age of vines and chateau character.

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So, what facts can we take away? These are not massive fruit bombs or architectural beasts; rather, they are carefully structured, extremely juicy and ripe without being overdone. The 2015 vintage had more upfront glamour and sexiness in many cases, particularly on the Right Bank and Margaux, so think about your own preference in style, not just what you are told by merchants and journalists. But where 2016 wins is in consistency; the more I tasted the more impressed I was by the sheer quality on offer at different price levels.

Saint-Estèphe

A big success in 2016 because the higher levels of limestone and clay in the soils in the northern Médoc withstood the drought better than some gravels. “At the start of harvest we thought it was a good vintage,” says Basile Tesseron at Lafon-Rochet. “By the end, we knew it was historic.”

Wines to watch: Lafon-Rochet, Calon Ségur, Cos d’Estournel, Ormes de Pez. Great cru Bourgeois year for the appellation, also, so it’s worth stocking up on the value wines.

Pauillac

The biggest name in the Médoc has delivered in spades in 2016, although its size means you can’t buy with your eyes closed and you should still follow names. The three First Growths of Lafite, Latour and Mouton that are located here have come up with some of their best ever wines. Eric Boissenot, consultant at many top estates in the appellation, says: “There is a race and elegance to the tannins this year that is remarkable.” This is something that works so well in Pauillac, because these are all well-structured, masculine wines with high degrees of cabernet sauvignon, so the soft quality to the tannins makes them supple and juicy without compromising on the intensity.

Wines to watch: First Growths, Pédesclaux, Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, Lynch-Bages, Clerc Milon.

Saint-Julien

Possibly my favourite appellation in 2016, because the wines are just the epitome of what you want from this appellation – nuanced, complex, sculptured, elegant but powerful.

Wines to watch: Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Pierre, Gloria. There aren’t many smaller names in St Julien, so your best value bet might be alternative wines from the names I have mentioned here – certainly Clos du Marquis from Léoville-Las Cases is excellent, as is Lalande-Borie from Ducru-Beaucaillou.

Margaux

Further south in the Médoc, the issue for Margaux is that the 2015 wines were so exceptional in their succulence. In most cases, it’s hard to argue that they have done better in 2016. The style is more elegant but still full of pleasure, and there are many successes.

Wines to watch: Rauzan-Ségla, Giscours, Marquis d’Alesme, Prieuré-Lichine, Labégorce, Dauzac, Siran.

Pessac-Léognan

Big successes for the reds here, less consistent for the whites, which suffered more from the heat of the summer. But the reds are amazing, fully capturing this vibrancy of the vintage. There is value here at all levels.

Wines to watch: Haut-Bailly, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Couhins-Lurton.

Saint-Emilion

As with Margaux, this totally delivered in 2015, but in my book many of the estates, particularly on the limestone plateau where water regulation is so successful in hot years, have delivered again.

Wines to watch: Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Ausone, Angélus, Canon, Le Prieuré, Grand Corbin-Despagne, Fonroque.

Pomerol

Pomerol 2016 wines are voluptuous and beautifully structured, with perfectly ripe fruit and clear potential for long ageing.

Wines to watch: Lafleur, Trotanoy, Pétrus, La Conseillante, Petit-Village, L’Eglise Clinet, La Pointe.