Live from Bordeaux, a First Update on the 2016s from Barrel
Ian and I are two days of six into our 2016 barrel tastings in Bordeaux. While it’s perhaps a little early to make sweeping judgments as there’s still a lot of miles to cover and a lot of wines to taste, it’s about the time that we can start to see some trends, comparing some appellations, and picking out some favourites from what we’ve tasted so far.
The first and perhaps most important thing to say, while not a great surprise given what we’d heard in advance, is that it was swiftly very obvious that we are dealing with a very serious vintage indeed. I won’t yet say where I think it’s likely to fit in the hierarchy, but put simply – the wines are delicious to drink, which is definitely not the case every year at this stage. It’s important to remember that these are not finished wines, but barrel samples of the wines somewhere along the various stages of their evolution. Often even from good châteaux in good years, the tannins are strict, and the wines are almost aggressive and quite tiring to taste. It’s only in the really special years that even at these point the wines are genuinely fun and enjoyable to taste and to drink (particularly when it’s your 40th taste of the day), and that’s certainly true here.
All the talk here among the trade so far seems to be of this being a ‘left bank year’, meaning that the cabernet sauvignon grown on the Médoc is seen as the real star, rather than St Emilion and Pomerol’s merlot. Currently I’m not sure whether I’m equally happy making that pronouncement, as while the left bank has shone brightly, I think it’s being somewhat dismissive of the fact that we saw some fantastic wines on the other side of the river when we spent Tuesday afternoon there . From the obvious and glorious peaks of its top names where I’m sure some legendary wines will be found, to some great new discoveries at the value end in St Emilion that I can’t wait to offer you, and a really fine and expressive range of beautiful Pomerols in between.
When it comes to the overall style of the vintage, the one phrase I find myself writing down time and time again in my tasting notes, is ‘silky tannins’. I really can’t ever remember a vintage with such consistently gorgeous mouthfeel at this time. There’s also an extremely hard to find combination of concentration and freshness in a huge number of the 2016s, which really is what making wines at this level is all about.
There’s always a lot of discussion comparing vintages to previous ones during en primeur, but genuinely I really struggle to come up with a good comparison as these aren’t quite like any other that I’ve known. Perhaps the closest for me is 2010, which also had a remarkable balance of intensity and refreshing tannin and acidity. However, there everything was ‘amped up’, undoubtedly a glorious vintage but one almost on steroids, packed full of everything. The 2016s are markedly more restrained with a more classic, elegant and refined style, often with lower alcohol, but the same balance between one thing and the other.
There’s a lot more to come from me on why the vintage is as it is in terms of the weather throughout the seasons, as well as of course a more detailed look at some specific wines. We’re also only a third through, so there’s more for us to taste and to learn this week. Consider this a preliminary broadside, and watch this space for more on what is looking like an extremely exciting year.
You can follow Ian and myself on Instagram for updates on our trip of a more visual sort at @gordonswine