From the Desk of the GM: Bordeaux 2016

Posted by JT Robertson on

A few weeks ago, I spent a whole week thinking about Bordeaux. For 3 days, I tasted through the 2016 vintage as it seemed the whole of Bordeaux descended on New York City. I’d like to offer my thoughts on the vintage.

We’ll start off with the critical reaction.

“The best 2016s are powerful, richly layered, vibrant and stunningly beautiful, not to mention incredibly delicious and alluring. For so many wines and estates, 2016 is an epic vintage.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

“Perhaps the best news for consumers is that 2016 is the most consistently great year since 2009 and 2010, both at the top of the market and in terms of good value wines.” Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

“As a rule it has more power and more ageing potential than 2015, with plenty of classic, richly-structured and impressive bottles.” Jane Anson, Decanter

I’ll start with the last quote first. I agree with Ms. Anson the 2016 is better than 2015. As the 2015s have developed in bottle, I find them to be agreeable Cabernet or perfectly lovely Merlot but many of them seem like they could have come from anywhere. I am decently skeptical when we start talking too much about terroir and Bordeaux but a Pauillac or a Margaux should taste like a Pauillac or a Margaux, not just nice Cabernet which could just as easily be from California, Tuscany, or South America. In terms of typicity, which is a word I’m more comfortable with as it pertains to Bordeaux in specific, 2016 is head and shoulders above 2015. 

Moving up to Ms. Perrotti-Brown, I will wholeheartedly agree there are values to be had in 2016 with the caveat that I wouldn’t describe 2016 as a total “Bottom-Up” vintage. In a year like 2005, everything overperformed, from an entry Bordeaux at $14.99 to the tippy-top of the pyramid. Make no mistake, no one will be unhappy with the Tuesday night bottles from 2016, everything I’ve tasted is juicy and delicious, but it’s not entirely a year where you can throw a rock and hit a compelling bottle. Where the value resides is in the middle tier, i.e. the $35-$75 range. 

Next, let’s unpack the phrase, “consistently great”. I will completely agree that it is the most consistent vintage since 2010 (though, 10 years on, I’d take issue with putting 2009 in the same league as I feel that is a vintage which has seriously lost luster as the years have progressed but that is a topic for a different time). However, I am hesitant to be quite so cavalier with the word “great”. Let me make clear, there are estates which have made some of the best bottles in their individual history (at least in modern times) but I can’t quite bring myself to call 2016 “great” or “stunningly beautiful” or “epic”. At the risk of overly parsing adjectives, I’d call 2016 very, very, very good. I’d also call it beautiful. I just can’t put it in the class with 2005 or 2010. Not Yet. If at this, admittedly, very early moment I were to rank 2016 in terms of overall quality in the 21st century, it would definitely be in the top five. It might even be number 3 (with 2001 and 2003 rounding out that list, if you’re curious) and while the merchant side of me is saying, “Ride the praise train!”, the part of me which wishes to offer you an honest evaluation of what has become an expensive proposition feels obligated to quiet down the hyperbole just a bit.

Alright. I’m done harshing everyone’s buzz. I’m putting my merchant hat back on and talking about why I’m so excited to sell 2016. It is one of the most generous and open young vintages I’ve ever encountered.  I tasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 Bordeaux 2016 over the course of 3 days and at no point did I feel exhausted. Across the board, there is a vibrancy and joie de vivre to these wines which is an absolute pleasure. While my experience tells me the more cellar worthy bottles will shut down at some point in the next couple of years, the current state of affairs makes me extremely excited to put these on my shelf for pop and pour purposes. To put it more simply, you can age these wines but it isn’t required. 

To a certain extent this can be attributed to the vast improvement of general quality in Bordeaux over the last decade. The Bordelais have done more in the 21st century to up their game than perhaps any other single wine region. When you combine that with the high quality of 2016, you have some seriously appealing wine. It is also a vintage of typicity. The Pauillacs are broad shouldered Cabernet. The St. Emilions are lush and hedonistic. By and large, this is a vintage I would use if I wanted to provide a primer on how each commune SHOULD taste. And to piggyback on my comment from above, the wines from 2016 could not have come from anywhere but Bordeaux.

But what should you explicitly expect? Obviously, the following is a big generalization but the fruit is lush but never obnoxiously powerful. There isn’t much over-ripeness, a trait I consistently find in 2015. The tannins are silky and while the acid is not overly potent it is quietly present which keeps the wines consistently fresh and invigorating. There is a dominance of red fruits and a pleasantly surprising dearth of dark fruit and chocolate, pointing both to Bordeaux’s return to a more classical style as well as the more restrained nature of the vintage itself. 2016 is, above all, a vintage of refined pleasure. You can’t go wrong with cellaring these wines but don’t be afraid to buy and open 2016. It wants to dance! The quality is extremely high and I am truly excited to offer the wines now, put them on my shelf when they arrive in Spring, and continue to watch their evolution over the next ten years.

In a final verdict, I highly recommend the 2016 Bordeaux vintage. You will never be sorry you bought them. Please see my Top Picks below along with critical reviews and my own personal notes. 

bordeaux picks 2016

Chateau Poujeaux 2016

I’ve long been a follower of Poujeaux. Consistently, I find this Moulis based estate to drastically overperform its position while offering traditionally styled Claret. This is, by a long distance, the best Poujeaux I’ve ever had and is an absolutely insane value.

93 Points. A standout during the en primeur tastings that lives up to its initial promise now it's in bottle. Strong, confident flavours show clear Médoc character, with dark berry fruits, silky tannins, great balance and freshness. Lots of life ahead of it. Drinking Window 2022 – 2035.” Jane Anson, Decanter

Chateau Barde Haut St. Emilion 2016

This will be the fifth vintage of Barde Haut we’ve doubled down on. To put it in perspective, right now I have 5 cases coming but I’m trying to get 20 more so I can have this on the shelf as long as possible (though it won’t be on the shelf that price for sure). 

96 Points. Readers will find a rich, flamboyant wine in the 2016 Barde-Haut. There is not a ton of subtlety here, but I am not sure that matters all that much given how immensely pleasing the 2016 is. Crushed rocks, graphite, lavender, blackberry, plum, and violet infuse a Saint-Émilion that offers tremendous textural richness as well as vibrancy. Most importantly of all, the 2016 is flat-out delicious. This is a decidedly opulent, dark Saint-Émilion with all of the elements impeccably balanced. I loved it.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Chateau La Tour Figeac St. Emilion 2016

This is my ABSOLUTE Sleeper of the vintage. It was one of my favorite wines I tasted, in any price point. This is a special wine ESPECIALLY at this price. The critical scores don’t quite agree with me but please trust me when I say, buy cases of this wine and drink them over the next 20 years. You’re going to feel like a genius when you think about paying under $50 for this wine. 

91 Points. The 2016 La Tour Figeac has a well-defined bouquet, a little more exotic in style than its peers, but attractive, offering dark cherries, boysenberry jam and a touch of spice. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent, ripe black cherry fruit, black pepper and a touch of tar. I like the grip on the persistent finish and the pepperiness lingering on the aftertaste.” Neal Martin, Vinous Media

Roc de Cambes 2016

From the same people who make Tertre Routeboeuf, this is NU-Bordeaux, to be sure, so expect a BIG wine here but the quality is insane. The Mitjavile family is sparing no expense and it really shows, even if you should consider this a Napa meets Right Bank wine. 

94 Points. The 2016 Roc de Cambes is powerful, tightly wound and closed in on itself. That should not be an issue, but readers should be prepared to be patient. Iron, smoke, tobacco, cedar, menthol and licorice all add aromatic nuance to a core of dark fruit. I also tasted a bottle that had been opened two days prior. There I found a wine of amplitude and breadth. This is another superb 2016 from the Mitjavile family.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Clos du Marquis

People tend to think of Clos du Marquis as a “second wine” of Leoville Las Cases (which is frankly not a bad thing to be thought of) and perhaps it started that way but the Delon family, who own Leoville as well as Nenin and Potensac, treat it like its own wine. While I won’t say anything as huckster-y as “this is Leoville Las Cases for a fifth of the price”, I will say that Clos du Marquis is a consistently gorgeous wine which vastly outperforms its perceptions, hence the value. 

95 Points. The bouquet is very intense at the moment with small black cherries, incense, iris and a touch of shucked oyster shells. The palate is beautiful, perhaps one of the most powerful that I came across in Saint Julien, certainly no shy retiring flower, yet it effortlessly manages to retain the precision and tension one expects from this cru. There is a firm back bone here, but the tannins are so precise that you barely notice, while the aftertaste has superb salinity. This is a majestic Clos du Marquis.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate

Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan 2016

I am generally a fan of Pessac-Leognan as I think the quality to price ratio is very high. I will say, as it pertains to 2016, Pessac was not one of the stars of the show. The wines were consistently high-toned and intellectual, which seemed to be at odds with the style of the vintage. I liked them but I didn’t LOVE them. That being said, Chevalier was a BIG exception. They shone in 2016 and, what’s more, this is one of the more elegant bottles you’re likely to see from the vintage. 

97 Points. The 2016 Domaine de Chevalier is a thrilling wine. Dense and beautifully layered, the 2016 is also quite a bit richer than it usually is. Cabernet Sauvignon aromatics and structure pulse through the wine. The red-toned fruit is incredibly primary at this stage. Readers should be prepared to cellar the 2016 for at least a handful of years. It has been nothing short of magnificent on the three occasions I have tasted it so far.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

Chateau Larcis Ducasse St. Emilion 2016

I think St. Emilion was the absolute rock star of the vintage. It’s the one commune where you can’t go wrong (close second is Pauillac with St. Julien being a farther third). The Larcis is an under-heralded estate whose time, it seems, has arrived. Tons of value here and don’t be afraid to put in the cellar and forget.

97 Points. The 2016 Larcis Ducasse is absolutely gorgeous. Fresh, vibrant and alluring, with tremendous vibrancy, the 2016 has so much to offer. Expressive savory and blood orange notes add brightness to the red cherry and plum fruit, with beams of firm yet well-integrated tannins that give the wine its shape and energy. In 2016, Larcis brings together undeniable raciness and power in a complete package that is irresistibly beautiful. Give it a few years in bottle for the tannins to soften.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media

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