Early critic scores and the buzz in the marketplace suggest that the Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur campaign could be one of the biggest yet. Read on to find out about the vintage, critic opinions, scores and all the major appellations…
While at En Primeur week Jancis Robinson has suggested that her readers “start saving” as she is “much enjoying tasting these!” It is all boding very well for the Bordeaux 2016 vintage…
Bordeaux 2016 Vintage
Much has been made of 2016’s “game of two halves” growing season, which saw epic rain followed by extreme drought. However, the flowering was even, the harvest was one of the largest in more than a decade (official figures place it around 770 million bottles) and as Bill Blatch put it “the bunches came down the sorting table in perfect condition.” The recurring buzz words surrounding Bordeaux 2016 from the experts are “quality and quantity”.
Returning from En Primeur week, the FINE+RARE team have confirmed this to be the case. High tannins and acidity suggest potential for huge longevity, but these are so well integrated that they are surprisingly easy to drink, even at this early stage. Displaying lower alcohol levels than 2009 and 2010, “elegance” and “finesse” were the watchwords on everybody's lips at the En Primeur tasting. This was a view backed up by The Wine Cellar Insider's Jeff Leve: “The 2016 Bordeaux wines are also lower in alcohol, so the wines are often quite in balance.”
Since we released our Early Opinions and More Early Opinions blogs in March, the floodgates have opened with praise being heaped upon this vintage across the board:
“It’s an excellent year, producing dynamic and well-structured wines that are fresh and balanced. These wines represent the new renaissance of Bordeaux where harmony, refinement and energy are the new keywords for the region.” – James Suckling
"I have so far tasted some absolutely stunning reds (I have even been tempted to give a few scores of 19 out of 20 - virtually unheard-of for me)." - Jancis Robinson
“The weather last year was, as they say, complicated but ended well. So far, local Bordeaux wine whisperers claim the quality of the 2016s is as exceptional, possibly even better, than the superb 2015s… Based on a few quick château visits a couple of weeks ago, I’d say maybe they’re right.” – Elin McCoy, Bloomberg
“It’s a year of stunning quality and there are numerous properties that have made the best wine in the history of their estate!” – Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider
“It’s not too soon to say that 2016 is a great vintage overall… The wines are full and dense, with ripe tannins and generous fruit. The secret ingredient in the success of these wines is their crisp acidity, and that balance is what makes a great Bordeaux vintage.” – Roger Voss, Wine Enthusiast
“This is as good as Bordeaux gets.” – Mathieu Chardonnier, CVBG
“In France… Burgundy faced its worst frost since 1981… Champagne and Loire Valley also suffered from frost damage… Bordeaux is the area sitting pretty at this point. Production is set to rise by 7% versus 2015 and harvesting took place under ‘excellent conditions’, officials said.”- Chris Mercer, Decanter
“Bordeaux has reversed its recent trend line… with a very solid 2014 and potentially even better '15, things are looking up. And here comes 2016, perhaps even better still… The wines look to be marked by ripe fruit, serious tannins and ample energy – in drawing comparisons, producers recall the racy, tannic spines of 2000 and 2005.” – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
“Everybody is happy now, but the beginning was a nightmare… Spring was so rainy, every day… The first real miracle was the flowering, which was under perfect conditions…. Then harvest we had three to four weeks of perfect weather, so you could wait and decide easily when you needed to pick… In the end, if you add up the degree days, 2016 was colder than 2013 or 2002, so the freshness and acidity is there… Of the great vintages in Bordeaux, '16 has perhaps the highest acidity. It's higher than 2005 and those two vintages are similar, but there is better freshness in '16.” – Stéphane Derenoncourt
Decanter Magazine reported on 4 April that the En Primeur week tastings had “seen 6,500 people come to taste. That’s around 2,000 more than normal at this stage.” This perfectly demonstrates the enormous interest in the 2016 latest vintage.
FINE+RARE has seen thousands and thousands of alerts set for Bordeaux 2016. Compared to this same time in last year's En Primeur campaign, more than five hundred more alerts have been set against Bordeaux 2016 than Bordeaux 2015. Another demonstration of the enormous interest this latest vintage is garnering in the marketplace.
If you would like to set alerts, either visit our Bordeaux En Primeur page or click on the wine names in this report to take you straight to the product page of that particular 2016 Bordeaux, there you will be able to set an alert.
Always early out of the blocks, James Suckling’s scores were the first to hit the marketplace. Sucking said: “I’ve written ‘best ever’ in so many tasting notes already. In estates big and small, winemakers are making their best wines to date.” And this is reflected in his scores, with ten wines being potential 100 pointers. First Growths have been scored highly. Outside the First Growths, perennial favourites among FINE+RARE customers like Rauzan-Ségla, Canon, Feytit-Clinet and Grand-Puy-Lacoste have all been rated strongly (although we will have to wait and see about Belle Brise). Suckling has also awarded high scores to the 2016s of some of the surprise packages from 2015 that sold in huge volumes, such as Tour St Christophe, Trottevieille, Grand Village, Marojallia and Haut Brisson. Tour St Christophe will certainly be one to look out for, outscoring – according to James Suckling – the incredible heights it hit in 2015.
Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have also released scores, the former offering Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Las Cases, La Mondotte and Pavie as potential 100 pointers and the latter highlighting Ausone, Lafite Rothschild, Palmer and Pétrus for possible perfection.
View the wines in average critic score order to date by clicking here.
Although we are awaiting more critic scores to be released, Jeff Leve has said: “At least for me, 2016 Bordeaux is the most fun I’ve had tasting in barrel since 2009! There is a wealth of great wines here. In fact, by the time I’m done tasting over 500 samples, based on what I’ve tasted already, my guess is, there will be between 10 to 15 wines that merit 100 point scores… 2016 is powerful, fresh, ripe, straight forward and will age for decades.”
Jean-Marc Quarin's assertion that “Bordeaux will be flooded with extraordinary scores” appears to be coming true. And Jancis Robinson has suggested that we might see some high point-to-price ratio wines from Bordeaux 2016, when she noted on her discussion board that: "I have tasted quite a few very promising 'lesser' wines that shouldn't be too expensive."
Early opinions from the critics and winemakers suggest that châteaux with clay soils will be some of the best performers in this vintage:
“While it’s easy to say that 2016 was a great year, we shouldn’t forget that there was a lot of rain and then a lot of drought. It means some terroirs will have done better than others. Thierry Valette at Clos Puy Arnaud thinks that fresh terroirs that could retain water in the drought will have been favoured – so clay (he expect some very good petits châteaux in Entre deux Mers) or limestone (calcaire à Asteries). Expect good results in St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Barsac, St-Emilion, Castillon, Fronsac, Francs.” – Jane Anson, Decanter
“Soils without clay would be the problem areas because of the drought. But those with clay: just perfect.” – Jean-Philippe Delmas, Haut-Brion
“When you look at what took place, it is important to note that vineyards with the ability to remove excess water were fortunate during the first half of the 2016 Bordeaux growing season. Vineyards that were able to retain the desperately needed moisture were in great shape for the much needed, second act of the growing season! This means that the clay and limestone soils in the Right Bank will produce the best wine and the gravel hills in the Médoc is where you are going to find the gems of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage being produced.” – Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider
Jancis Robinson has noted "a continued move towards fresher reds", highlighting the slightly lower alcohol levels we've already mentioned. Elsewhere, winemakers and critics are all suggesting that this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptional:
“Definitely a Cabernet year.” – Nicholas Glumineau, Pichon Lalande
“Wineries using predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon made the best wines, as they harvested later than more precocious and Merlot-based areas.” – James Suckling
“As always the Cabernets coped with the situation very steadily and some will be truly great wines, especially on the top self-regulating terroirs of the Médoc and Graves.” – Bill Blatch
Jeff Leve agrees that “the Cabernet Sauvignon is just sublime”, but also notes: “so is the Petit Verdot, which is used in higher proportions this year.” This is a view that has been highlighted by a number of eminent critics:
“I keep hearing how good the Petit Verdot is in 2016, and further proof arrived this week when Château Belle-Vue in AOC Médoc announced that it is producing a 100% Petit Verdot wine for the first time . They have a high proportion of Petit Verdot normally across their three properties, with 10% in Gironville, 20% in Belle-Vue and a full 50% in Bolaire, but this new cuvée is made from old vines planted in 1936, 1940 and 1950… Consultant Antoine Medeville confirmed this, saying that the concentration in Petit Verdot was exceptional and that he had spoken with some old cellar hands who said they never had such concentration in this grape… Expect properties with high proportions of Petit Verdot in their vines (so La Lagune, Boyd-Cantenac, Leoville-Poyferré, Kirwan, Marquis d’Alesme and Marquis de Terme to name a few) to be feeling happy.” – Jane Anson, Decanter
“A late but fast-ripening variety, excelled in the 2016 season in general, and more producers have included it in their blends, which should help define the vintage's distinct signature as the wines develop.” – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
Jeff Leve highlighted that: “Merlot was also successful.” A view backed up by Jancis Robinson’s two guest contributors and resident Bordeaux experts:
“The flowering in 2016 was certainly the best since 2005, especially for Merlot, and this gives the wines more roundness, I feel.” – Gavin Quinney
“The Merlots just loved the long, dry summer and autumn and turned out very black, quite dense, occasionally even sumptuous, equal if not superior to 2010.” – Bill Blatch
Although early opinions suggest that the Bordeaux 2016 vintage’s strength lies in its reds, there has been praise for the whites, particularly for those châteaux that have managed to maintain the acidity in this challenging vintage. For example, James Suckling has awarded the ever-popular (particularly at Southwold) Bouscaut Blanc the same score in 2016 as in 2015, and rated the 2016 La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc – the first vintage to be dominated by Sauvignon Blanc – even higher than 2015 at 98-99 points. Similarly, James Molesworth has urged Wine Spectator readers to “jump on it” if they “ever come across Cos d’Estournel’s white” and called 2016 Pavillon Blanc from Margaux “arguably the best pure Sauvignon Blanc in France”. This appears to be a vintage for Sauvignon Blanc fans and those who prefer a richer style; many notes highlight “full-body”, even drawing comparisons to Montrachet in some cases.
Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur Week Findings
The FINE+RARE team just returned from En Primeur Week pleased that this appears to be an excellent vintage in the making. Read on as we take you through the key appellations:
According to Wine Spectator, there is “serious competition in on-the-rise St Estèphe”. Add to that the quality being hyped around this vintage and one of the biggest yields since 2006, and this serious competition may well extend beyond the borders of this AOC. The clay beneath its gravelly vineyards was perfectly attuned to deal with the drought spell, and temperature dips at night appear to have retained the freshness in the wines. It appears to be an excellent year for the appellation; alcohol levels are slightly higher than their neighbours, tannins are finely tuned and the elegance is striking. Calon-Ségur, Cos d'Estournel and Montrose have all received resounding praise at this early stage. Below is a summary of what the critics and winemakers are saying:
“St Estèphe is among the sweet spots for the recently released 2014 vintage. And in the 2016 growing season, which ran late, this northern AOC also ripened well.” – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
“2016 is a Left Bank year. Vineyards in the Médoc and Graves – particularly in the north such as St. Estephe and Pauillac – capitalized on swings in the weather from drought conditions in the summer to light rain in mid-September.” – James Suckling
“ from the Saint-Estèphe appellation are definitely better than their 2015s.” – Elin McCoy, Bloomberg
“The amazing thing is, despite it being a warm year and late year, the wines are still very fresh.” – Aymeric de Gironde, Cos d'Estournel
“It’s a high definition vintage.” – Hervé Berland, Montrose
“The key in 2016 was the difference in day and night temperatures in the second half of the season… the grapes retained freshness. And the areas that had clay in the subsoil performed really well against the drought.” – Laurent Defau, Calon-Ségur
This appears to be an incredible year for the star-studded appellation. As for its neighbour St Estèphe, Pauillac benefitted from clay soils and large diurnal temperature differences. Both Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild have been awarded perfect 100 points score by James Suckling. Grand-Puy-Lacoste has also impressed the critics and ourselves. The wines are classically Pauillac, huge tannins are wonderfully integrated, supported by stunning acidity and concentrated fruit. Critics and winemakers all appear impressed:
“These 2016s are real Bordeaux!” – Christophe Salin, Lafite Rothschild
“Wines from Northern Médoc – from Pauillac farther north – seems superior in 2016. That’s why my most exciting wines so far hail from these appellations. Wines such as the Lafite Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Lynch-Bages, and Calon-Ségur are destined to be modern-day classics.” – James Suckling
“Of course the early rains were backed up by drought in the second half of the season. While mildew pressures remained and vigilance was needed, the ripening process continued under ideal conditions into mid-October.” – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
“In all the wines the tannins are very high, higher than '10, but it's the impression of freshness that is so special in this vintage.” – Philippe Dhalluin, Mouton-Rothschild
“2016 was a miracle, it’s like a mix of two great vintages, 2009 and 2010… Everything about the balance, complexity, the density of the wine in balance with the flesh, the precision of the tannic structure. It’s a full and complete wine, and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic.” – Nicholas Glumineau, Pichon Lalande
Although fans will have to wait a while, 2016 Château Latour will be an intriguing prospect as the it is the first vintage of First Growth to be farmed completely biodynamically. James Molesworth of Wine Spectator provided a teaser: “All three 2016 reds crackle with vibrancy, but they are built on tannins rather than acidity, so the racy feel comes from graphite and iron flavours rather than simply a freshness of fruit… You’ll have to wait a few years for any other 2016s to be released, however, because back in 2012, Engerer abandoned the En Primeur system.”
A consistent appellation from a quality perspective that offers masses of variety in terms of style. St Julien also appears to have produced some outstanding wines. Trademark elegance is abundant, combined robust but silky tannins, these were a pleasure to taste. Critics have already singled out Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville Las Cases for enormous praise. Although dependent on final pricing, Talbot and Clos du Marquis may well offer excellent value. Although only a handful of critics have released their scores, tasting notes from St Julien are peppered with “best ever” and comparisons to 2009, 2010 and 2015:
“There are high points in every appellation but in the Northern Medoc , St. Julien , Pauillac and St. Estephe are close to off the charts this year!” – Jeff Leve, The Wine Cellar Insider
“It is a vintage with good ripeness at harvest, giving us very beautiful raw material, but with a racy structure. The quality is at a very high level… Leoville-Las-Cases 2016 is closest to the style of 2006 and 2010.” – Bruno Rolland, Léoville Las Cases
“Extractions were a little longer in '16 because there was such good material.” – Patrick Maroteaux, Branaire-Ducru
Question: how does Margaux follow the success of 2015? Answer: apparently with another very strong performance. Although many are singing the praises of its northern neighbours, the Margaux appellation should remain very much on the radar. The quality of Margaux's 2015s was at a consistently incredible level, early opinions suggest that the although the quality of the 2016s may undulate a little more, the highs hit heights that could surpass the 2015s. Margaux has already recorded lots of “better than 2015” tasting notes from James Suckling and Malescot St Exupéry and Château Margaux appear to offer immense quality. Palmer has also been highlighted for greatness as a potential 100 pointer for both James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast. Despite losing a sizeable proportion of its crop, Palmer still put 65% of the harvest into its Grand Vin, demonstrating the confidence here. Their second wine Alter Ego de Palmer was flagged as classed growth quality by the FINE+RARE team, a view that is certainly backed up by the early critics scores. Experts and Margaux winemakers are bullish to say the least about the elegant and perfumed 2016s:
“I’m also impressed with the Margaux appellation after tasting monumental reds from Palmer and Malescot St Exupéry and as well as from less-revered names such as Brane-Cantenac, Giscours, and Durfort-Vivens.” – James Suckling
“Château Lascombes’ technical director, Dominique Febve, stated that in his and long-standing consultant Michel Rolland’s view the estate’s 2016 was better than its 2010, which has gained currency as the greatest Bordeaux vintage of the century so far. The comments indicate the level of excitement among some estates about the Bordeaux 2016 wines.” – John Stimpfig, Decanter
“We are familiar with great vintages that come in pairs. This has occurred once again in Margaux with the unforgettable 2015 being followed by a miraculous 2016. 2016s remarkable purity and distinguished tannic texture are sure to make it on the all-time greats.” – Gonzague Lurton, President of the Syndicat Viticole de Margaux
“Powerful yet gentle wines, with very ripe tannins, very well-balanced in acidity and alcohol; these were not the heady, generous wines of 2009 or 2010, but if they had to be compared to one of the great vintages of last 20 years then 2005 comes to mind.” – Eric Boissenot, Oenologist and Doctor of Oenology and Ampelology
“The 2016 vintage was a challenging one, but with a happy ending… We have incredible quality in this vintage.” – Thomas Duroux, Palmer
“2016 was without doubt an exceptional vintage, by its complexity and character.” – Léopold Valentin, Durfort-Vivens
“With an average yield of 49.42 hl/ha, the appellation returned to a level of production comparable to the 2000 vintage.” – Jerome Héranval, Durfort-Vivens
Pessac-Léognan & Graves
Matching the heights hit in 2015 would on paper appear to be a big ask of Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Véronique Sanders of Haut-Bailly called it “a vintage of extreme and records.” The region received almost the equivalent of a normal year’s rain in the first sixth months. However, at En Primeur week the standard was excellent; classic Pessac with lots of minerality and incredible energy and vigour. As expected Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are leading from the front, with just two critics published at time of writing, Haut-Brion's red is marginally pipping La Mission Haut-Brion's red, but roles are reversed when it comes to La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc and Haut-Brion Blanc. All this could change as more critics release their reviews.
Wine Spectator's James Molesworth highlighted the 2016 as “the best showing of a young Haut-Bailly I've ever seen.” This was also one of the FINE+RARE team's top picks, alongside Les Carmes Haut-Brion - a wine that Wine Spectator said "isn't a sleeper anymore" and is instead "half a step ahead of the pack."
Elsewhere Pape Clement and Domaine de Chevalier have impressed the critics, either matching 2015 or surpassing it for James Suckling and Wine Spectator. Daniel and Florence Cathiard appear to have delivered an almost faultless 26th vintage and follow up to last year's 650th anniversary celebration release, with their Smith Haut Lafitte red and white, not to mention Les Hauts de Smith red and white or Le Petit Haut Lafitte red and white.
While many regions recorded some of their highest yields in the last decade, Pessac-Léognan and Graves didn’t attain quite those volumes in 2016, so these wines may be fractionally harder to source than for neighbouring regions.
Listening to the chatter in the marketplace around Bordeaux 2016, few are talking about the Right Bank. However, digging a little deeper suggests that could be a real mistake.
Despite saying "2016 is a Left Bank year", James Suckling features six Right Bank wines in his Top 10, including four from Pomerol and Pavie and Angélus from St Emilion. Similarly, when Wine Spectator published their Top 2016 Bordeaux Reds on 5 April, the Top 10 was again dominated by St Emilion, with La Mondotte ("this was one of the most thrilling wines of my En Primeur tasting" - James Molesworth), Pavie, Clos Fourtet and Valandraud. Wine Enthusiast's scores follow suit with Ausone taking the top score (98-100 points) alongside Pétrus and the First Growths, and, of the eleven wines receiving the second highest score (97-99 points), the most dominant region was again St Emilion with Angélus, Cheval Blanc, Figeac and Le Dome.
Frédéric Faye of Figeac said that “The 2016 vintage was a journey from hell to paradise.” Note that the final result was "paradise". The FINE+RARE team that travelled to Bordeaux this week shared Roger Voss from Wine Enthusiast's enthusiasm for the seamless Ausone, and as well as the St Emilions described above, were also impressed by the purity of fruit displayed by Canon. As Jane Anson of Decanter points out, there is a lot to be excited about on the Right Bank, particularly from St Emilion's limestone plateau:
“You will find some excellent Pomerols, Fronsacs and St-Emilions, with far less drying extraction than in some years… The fascinating thing about the vintage is how few of the red wines have failed to deliver in En Primeur tastings so far. The more you taste them through the more you realise the quality – there are exceptional wines at all price levels, with particularly impressive wines from the limestone plateau.”
Ignore the Right Bank at your peril in 2016...
Small in size and modest in the grandeur of its châteaux, Pomerol has a huge reputation and always a favourite amongst collectors. Do not underestimate this appellation in this latest vintage...
Many of the finest vineyards can be found on the clay knoll in the north east of the appellation. Clay was a huge benefit in 2016 and when your terroir is already of world-renown, we can expect some exceptional wines from the likes of Lafleur, Pétrus, Vieux Château Certan, La Conseillante and l'Evangile.
Vieux Château Certan's winemaker told us that he considers 2016 to be their best ever. While some might argue that of course a winemaker will telly you that, this bullishness is backed up by the critics' appraisal (James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast rate it as potentially a 99 pointer and Wine Spectator have called it "simply gorgeous"). And he is not alone in his confidence:
“A significant number of the finest wines I tasted from this intriguing vintage were Pomerols.” - Jancis Robinson
“The clay knoll of Pomerol looks to be a big winner – namely from La Conseillante and l'Evangile – producing fantastically deep, dense and structured reds that are impressively agile and stealthy.” – James Suckling
“Our 2016 is, in my view, the best La Conseillante we have ever made. I can’t speak for other châteaux, but this is a hugely exciting vintage for us.” – Jean-Valmy Nicolas, La Conseillante
“I think we will end up with good, fresh wines, with better acidity than 2015… the flavours are exotic, which is something we don’t usually find at this time. The aromas when we were devatting were remarkable. We get that at Le Pin sometimes, but not usually at Vieux Château Certan.” – Guillaume Thienpont, Vieux Château Certan
High quality isn't limited to the plateau, as Pomerol is complex with terroir that defies expectation; even on the plateau, Pétrus is clay-rich while neighbour La Fleur Petrus is stony and gravelly. So the likes of Le Pin and l'Eglise Clinet - who are not on the plateau - can never be underestimated.
Sauternes & Barsac
The revered noble rot came late meaning that the grapes were already rich by the onset. During the harvest, the absence of the dreaded grey rot was notable, and this has aided the purity of the final wines. Decanter Magazine has recommended that its readers look towards the more famous names, as these are the producers who have been able to invest in more stringent selection, resulting in finer wines for 2016.
“This is a very good year for many estates, with good purity of fruit thanks to a lack of grey rot, and long ageing potential.” – Chris Mercer, Decanter
“The feeling in Sauternes is clearly that they have another good to excellent vintage on their hands.” – Rupert Millar, Drinks Business
“We can start to guess what they will be like: a bit lighter than the 2015s, less massive than the 2009s and, by their relatively low pH, less vivacious than the 2014s but, by the finesse and purity of their concentration, they will certainly qualify for a position among such vintages, rather in the same way as the very fine 1988s did among the fuller-styled 1989s and 1990s.” – Bill Blatch
“At Château Sigalas Rabaud in Sauternes, Laure de Lambert Campeyrot reports that it took a while for the noble rot to kick in; but when it did it was swift and even, with Sauternes and Barsac looking at an ‘exceptional vintage’. Xavier Planty at Guiraud agrees, saying that he had to wait until October 17th for the best of the noble rot to get going, and then it was of ‘a sublime quality’.” – Jane Anson, Decanter
“The 2016 vintage is looking very pretty. We had a dry summer, and lots of dry fruit on the vines.” – Sandrine Garbay, Yquem
“We were extremely lucky with the weather conditions.” – Pierre Lurton, Yquem
View our Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur website to set alerts, view the releases, critic scores, news and curated lists: Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur