FINE+RARE interviewed Winehog’s Steen Öhman - one of the world’s leading and most respected Burgundy experts - to bring you his take on Burgundy 2016…
Winehog, with its tasting notes, detailed maps and incredible insight into Burgundy’s intricate terroir, is invaluable to any serious Burgundy collector. So we've asked Steen Öhman, the man behind the website, for his take on the Burgundy 2016 vintage.
As you will read below "for collectors there are true gems to find" in what he repeatedly calls a "classic" vintage. "The reds offer a fine concentration and a lovely freshness", he says, and **"I do like the white 2016s a lot."
Providing us with in depth answers and top picks, the following interview forms a detailed vintage report and a guide to exploring the forthcoming releases and what to buy. Steen has also provided his top picks towards the end of the interview, giving under-the-radar, great value and money-no-object tips.
The Burgundy 2016 campaign is getting into full swing much earlier than last year, so we recommend visiting our Burgundy En Primeur page to find out more and register interest in the producers that you are interested in. But for now we will hand over to Steen Öhman...
What are your early feelings on Burgundy 2016?
The 2016 vintage is a year of disbelief and relief. First the April frost took a large share of the fruit, then cool and humid weather conditions claimed another. Finally, there was a remarkably fine period in July, August and September resulted in a harvest yielding some very fine, lovely and charming wines. This was a journey from despair to delight.
My impressions of the wines are very positive especially seen in context with the growing conditions. The Burgundy 2016s are tasty, fresh and classic, offering good concentration and balance. The wines I have tasted are mostly pure, vibrant and quite energetic. But there is however quite some variation in quality and also style in this vintage, mainly due to the rather random conditions caused by the April frost.
This is a year that is partly defined by low yields caused by the April frost and the mildew problems. The low yields have given many of the wines a very good intensity and concentration that I find is an important part of the style and quality of this vintage.
It’s impossible to discuss 2016 without also talking quantities. In some places the frost took more than 70% of the harvest and the mildew problems only made things worse during the wet spring and early summer.
It was indeed a depressing year for the growers. But in the end, some surprisingly fine wines were made and, with the quite abundant 2017s in the cellar, the vignerons now can perceive the 2016s in a more relaxed way, appreciating the quality rather than being depressed about the quantity.
What are the positives?
The style of the vintage is fresh and focused with a nice balancing acidity. On top of this the low yields have added another level of intensity to many wines.
The frost and even the mildew to some extent caused limited or even extremely low yields, and this resulted in many wines that possess a very good natural intensity and concentration.
As the frost struck rather randomly there is a big variation in yields, but true gems can be found among the wines with limited yield, especially from the top end producers and the top end vineyards.
Low yields do not automatically make a great wine. But to be honest it does help in many cases, and this can be seen in 2016. The impact of the low yield in the 2010 vintage was also one of major factors behind the extremely high quality of this vintage, as a contrast to the somewhat abundant harvest in 2009.
Low yields in a relatively cool vintage is always very interesting, as the excellent balance between intensity and freshness can produce some truly magnificent wines. While low yields can be fine, extremely low yields can in some cases be too much, and lead to a slightly unbalanced result if the terroir isn’t matching the intensity.
What are the negatives?
The humid and cool period after the frost caused a lot of problems in the vineyard and the conditions were very difficult. The mildew reduced the yields even more, sometimes with the mildew taking more of the harvest than the frost. Strict viticulture and selection was important to protect the quality. One could fear relatively large variation in the quality among the lesser producers; this was indeed a very hard and difficult growing season. Luckily the mildew was worst in the early part of the season, and not in the weeks leading up to the harvest.
The second element is the development after frost. In some cases, the vines gave a second generation of buds, hence two generations of grapes and sometimes with more than one week difference in ripeness. This can give some issues with uneven ripeness of the grapes at harvest time – manifesting as either under or over-ripeness as a consequence.
Some producers took the trouble to harvest the two generations of grapes separately, in order to achieve nothing but perfectly ripe grapes in the cuvée. Others harvested both types at the same time, thus getting fruit of different ripeness in the cuvée. This could give issues with unripe tannins, but in some cases the difference in ripeness between the grapes used may be seen as an advantage, as it adds nuances and facets to the aromatic profile.
The last possible negative effect of the frost is the shortage of grapes, which made it difficult to source high quality grapes for those dependent of acquired fruit. Be careful when selecting the négociant wines; sometimes the grapes are from sources of lower quality than usual and sometimes also from lesser plots, vineyards or even appellations (for the generic wines).
How was the growing season?
The winter was quite mild and the early spring was rather warm, hence the vines were quite advanced when the frost came on April 27th, which thus caused maximum damage to the vines. The frost hit hard in vineyards normally not badly affected by frost, like Musigny and Montrachet. However, some of the vineyards near the D974, which are normally the first to be affected by the frost, were not touched during the April frost in 2016!
By all accounts the 2016 frost was the worst seen since 1981 and perhaps in fact even worse than that, as more top vineyards were hit in 2016.
The frost was followed by wet and cool weather and serious problem with mildew and other issues due to the humid conditions, and this really took the last enthusiasm from the growers.
Luckily the weather improved in July, August and September towards the harvest. And in spite of rather low expectations in June the grapes harvested were in fine conditions and gave some surprisingly attractive and intense wines.
Which vintage does it compare to?
It’s always very difficult to compare vintages, I do however feel tempted to mention the 1991 vintage for the reds at least.
Firstly, the 1991 vintage is remembered for damage from April frost and later hail during the harvest in some of the key appellations, so there was a similar kind of hardship before some great wines were produced. Secondly the vintage came after the big 1990 vintage - so a contrast to a rather rich and somewhat hot vintage - just like the 2016 vintage being a cool contrast to the mighty 2015 vintage.
I would not say that the 2016s resemble the 1991s as I think the stance of the 2016s is perhaps more generous and charming, but they do both have a very good acidity and freshness, quite classic Burgundies in other words.
They do also have the fine intensity in common due to low yields, hence producing some truly remarkable wines seen in a bigger context. I still see the Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1991 as one of the very best Clos St Jacques I have tasted from Armand Rousseau, and I do still prefer the 1991 Musigny from Vogüé to the more acclaimed or at least debated 1990.
There are still many collectors who prefer the 1991s to the bigger 1990s, and perhaps this will also be the case with some 2016s when compared with the 2015 hotter vintage.
What are the winemakers saying?
Most winemakers prefer the more classic style of the 2016s to the rich and generous 2015s. This tendency is rather clear , whereas the statements about the quality level are somewhat more vague.
Some think the 2015s are better quality wise, but the 2016 style is preferred. Meanwhile others prefer both the style and the quality of the 2016s.
It’s a mixed picture. While most prefer the more classic style of the 2016s, there is quite some variation in the quality (even within the portfolio of a single producer) and a more nuanced approach seems appropriate. Some wines really do match the 2015s quality wise, in my view.
I have tasted a few 2015s directly against the 2016s during my visits in Burgundy in October and November, and in some cases the 2015s are clearly better, whereas the 2016s in some cases seem to edge ahead - it is however still very early to call when it comes to the 2016s.
For the whites the case is pretty clear, as almost all winemakers seem to prefer the 2016s to the rich but charming 2015s.
What should we expect from the 2016 reds?
The reds offer a fine concentration and a lovely freshness. The best are truly outstanding - and while quite some producers think the 2016s match can match their 2015s, I find the picture rather mixed with some 2016s clearly matching the 2015s - whereas other wines from the same estate can’t quite challenge the mighty 2015s. This is however to a certain degree a matter of preferences, as many will prefer the cool style of the 2016s at this stage.
It’s certainly a cooler vintage, but also a vintage with a considerable variation in intensity and quality as it required both luck, skills and especially hard work to make great wines in 2016.
The cool early summer seems to have maintained a fine acidity and freshness in the reds. The April frost and the loss of grapes to the mildew define the reds, as the concentration and intensity partly defines vintage for me.
It’s impossible to say what the 2016s would have been like with more normal yields, but the inherent quality of the vintage as seen today comes from the combination of intensity from the low yield and the fine acidity and freshness.
And the whites?
For the whites the balance is much better than the rich, warm and very generous 2015s. The 2016s have a fine and cooler balance, they are fresher and more energetic and are, in my view, very attractive.
The elevage has focused the whites and the best are now both classic, elegant and energetic. This is in my view a lovely and very fine year also for the whites – and while they perhaps can’t match the magnificent 2014s, they are in my view offering some of the same qualities as the 2014 vintage – with a somewhat more generous and less formal seriousness.
As with the reds the rather cool and humid months seem to have provided the wines with a nice acidity and freshness, a rather classic stance if you like. The frost also had a strong impact on the whites, but in my view it did not influence the expression of the whites to the same degree as for the reds, as the concentration from low yields seems less dominant.
The lovely weather in July, August and September seems to have given the whites a certain generosity that gives them a charming side, while maintaining the classic style and the freshness. I’m not completely sure that very low yields always produce the best whites, whereas very low yields on occasion have given some great and intense reds in the 2016 vintage.
I’m however somewhat worried that the frost and humid conditions have affected the quality of the whites from the lesser producers, so I would expect quite some variation here. Stick to the good producers - as always!
Who are the big winners in 2016 Burgundy?
The big winner’s quality wise seem to be those who have benefitted from the natural low yields to make reds of great intensity and balance.
For collectors there are true gems to find and a lot of lovely wines. I think 2016 will have many fans who'll love the style, the freshness and the inherent intensity of some of the low yields wines.
A vineyard like Clos de Vougeot seems to have produced some tremendously balanced wines. The fine acidity of the vintage and the rather low yields on Clos de Vougeot have made some very focused, vibrant and intense wines from this vineyard. I think it’s fair to say that Clos de Vougeots from Domaine Grivot and Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat are challenging the 2015s and in my view the 2016s have the edge in these cases.
The Clos de Vougeot cuvées from Château de la Tour are truly magnificent, displaying great balance and intensity. The cuvée Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes is tremendous and the Clos de Vougeot cuvée Hommage à Jean Morin is quite spectacular.
Richebourg also seem to have done very well indeed in this vintage, as has the majority of the Vosne-Romanée slope, including La Romanée, Romanée-Conti, Vosne-Romanée Petits-Monts and Aux Reignots. But please note that this area was spared by the April frost, hence the intensity was not enhanced by the frost.
Chambolle-Musigny was badly hit by the frost, and some very interesting low yield wines were made here. Quite a few cuvées are missing as they were completely destroyed. The top wines produced will be true collector's items as quantities often are very limited indeed.
For the whites the quality is very fine. Producers like Domaine Arnaud Tessier and Arnaud Ente have made some tremendously refined wines in 2016 - and others with them.
The yields are showing large variation from wine to wine, and in my view this is not always reflected in the quality. Low yields are not always an advantage when we are speaking about the whites, and as the frost hit quite randomly it’s different from cuvée to cuvée.
What should readers buy?
In my view this is a year where one should keep up allocations, the quantities are very limited and the quality is mostly very fine. The wines are quite classic, enjoyable and charming and there are some truly magnificent wines in the making that, in some cases, can even rival the 2015s.
The lists below will mention some of the top wines made in 2016, including some unique top reds that are affected by the low yields created by the frost damage on 27th April 2016!
What can we expect from négociants this year?
It has been a difficult year for the négociants as it has been very difficult to source grapes due to the very limited quantities available in the wake of the April frost and the mildew.
Some négociants do have quite large holdings themselves and have long term agreements to buy grapes, whereas others rely on what the can buy on a year to year basis.
It has been very difficult to find high quality grapes in 2016 as the yields have been minuscule. Négociants have been forced to source some wines and appellations that they would not normally have chosen, if other cuvées were available. So perhaps this not the best year for the négociants, but on the other hand lovely wines have been made by some.
What can be expected stylistically?
One should expect quite fresh, balanced and intense wines. Good concentration from the natural low yields, although “natural” has a strange ring to it, as it was caused by the devastating frost.
The wines are quite cool compared to the 2015s. The whites especially benefitted from this compared to the 2015s. Some will call this a classic vintage, but to my mind the style is also driven by the low yields, which gives an intensity and also a generosity that deviates from the super classic.
The 2014 vintage is classic in the true sense of the word, where both the reds and the whites are classic Burgundies without a slightly boosted concentration from very low yields.
Is this a vintage to lay down or drink?
I would expect the best reds to be long lasting due to the intensity and concentration. The best 1991s have kept very well indeed and I would expect the best 2016s to require quite some time to show the full potential.
The whites are more difficult to predict. They certainly have the intensity, but on the other hand the somewhat generous nature indicates that this is not a vintage that will require decades of cellaring before showing well.
Is this a vintage to stockpile or choose selectively?
The quality is fine but stockpiling will be difficult due to the limited quantities. I would buy to keep allocations if possible. Since it’s a fine, charming and vibrant vintage, why not try to stockpile?
I would however expect quite some variation in quality, so my advice is to be more selective than with the 2015 reds. While I prefer the 2016 whites to the 2015 whites style-wise, I do fear the variation in quality could be quite significant in 2016, so choose carefully.
Is this a vintage to buy from domaines or négociants?
In my view this is a very difficult year, where the work in the vineyard was very important, hence I have more faith in the domaine wines. The best négociants have done well, however I would expect to see lower quality from the lesser négociants, as they often rely mainly on bought grapes. Please note that the large négociants in Beaune do own a lot of vineyards, so many of the wines are in fact domaine wines.
What are your recommendations from 2016 Burgundy?
I especially recommend looking out for the reds produced in the areas that benefitted from the lower yields. Amongst those one will find wines with a tremendous intensity and depth that comes from the natural low yield due to the frost damage, one such area is Clos de Vougeot. Please note however that some wines touched by the frost seem almost too concentrated, balance is always of the essence.
For the whites, I think the wines made from quite normal yields (there are some) offer an effortless and airy presentation of the vintage, and perhaps more so than wines made based on very low yields. The whites have a lovely balance and freshness in general and whites from most top end producers offer a lovely and charming expression; I do like the white 2016s a lot.
Top 21 - Burgundy 2016 Money No Object Picks
Château de la Tour, Clos de Vougeot Hommage à Jean Morin 2016
Château de la Tour, Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes 2016
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Romanée Saint-Vivant 2016
Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, Musigny 2016
Domaine Cathiard, Romanée Saint-Vivant 2016
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti 2016
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Richebourg 2016
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Grands Echezeaux 2016
Domaine Denis Bachelet, Charmes Chambertin 2016
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, La Romanée 2016
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Echezeaux 2016
Domaine Dujac, Romanée Saint-Vivant 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Musigny 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Chambertin Clos de Bèze Ouvrée Rodin 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Corton Clos de Cortons 2016
Domaine Georges Noëllat, Grands Echezeaux 2016
Domaine Grivoy, Richebourg 2016
Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat, Richebourg 2016
Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Clos de Vougeot 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Musigny 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze 2016
Top 13 - Burgundy 2016 Under-The-Radar Reds
Château de la Tour, Clos de Vougeot 2016
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée Aux Reignots 2016
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Echezeaux 2016
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Clos de Vougeot 2016
Domaine des Croix, Corton Greves 2016
Domaine Duroché, Chambertin Clos de Bèze 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Latricieres-Chambertin 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Charmes Chambertin 2016
Domaine Grivot, Clos de Vougeot 2016
Domaine Grivot, Vosne-Romanée Aux Reignots 2016
Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat, Clos de Vougeot 2016
Domaine Y. Clerget, Clos de Vougeot 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chambolle Musigny 1er cru 2016
Top 12 - Burgundy 2016 Under-The-Radar Whites
Domaine Arnaud Ente, Puligny-Montrachet Champ-Gain 2016
Domaine Arnaud Tessier, Meursault Charmes 2016
Domaine Arnaud Tessier, Meursault Meursault Genevrieres 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Corton Charlemange 2016
Domaine Faiveley, Batard-Montrachet 2016
Domaine Heitz-Lochardet, Meursault Perrieres 2016
Domaine Jean-Marc Vincent, Puligny-Montrachet Corvées des Vignes 2016
Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Batard-Montrachet 2016
Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Beaune Clos Mouches 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche 2016
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Montrachet Marquis De Laguiche 2016
Top 5 - Burgundy 2016 Insider Tips
Domaine Sylvain Pataille is producing magnificent and pure wines in the Marsannay appellation. The whites are pure and vibrant and the reds are expressive and made with a light hand. A magnificent talent. Marsannay is sadly overlooked by many and they deserve your attention.
Domaine Julien located in Comblanchien is mainly producing wines in Nuits-Saint-Georges but also a lovely Echezeaux. These are very juicy and energetic wines, a rising star in my view. I do love the fruity mid-palate energy of these wines.
Domaine Yvon Clerget in Pommard. Thibaud Clerget took over the family estate in 2015, and in his second vintage quality is already at a very high level. The Volnays and Pommards are excellent and the Clos de Vougeot is quite magnificent in the 2016 vintage.
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet have a strong lineup, as more vineyards from the Gerbet estate in Vosne-Romanée are now produced by the very competent Amélie Berthaut. The is one of the future stars and with the 2015s and 2016s showing a very fine level this is very much an estate to follow.
Domaine Pierre Labet is owned by François Labet of Château de la Tour, and includes red and whites from Beaune, Meursault and Gevrey. The quality is lovely and consistent, but the wines are quite under the radar, presumably due to the focus on the top cuvées from Château de la Tour.
Top 5 - Burgundy 2016 Great Value Wineries
Domaine des Croix
Domaine Jean-Marc Millot
Domaine Jean-Marc Vincent
Domaine Y. Clerget
Top 10 - Burgundy 2016 Village Reds
Domaine Bachelet, Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2016
Domaine Bachelet, Gevrey-Chambertin Les Evocelles 2016
Domaine Cathiard, Chambolle-Musigny Les Clos des l’Orme 2016
Domaine Cathiard, Vosne-Romanée 2016
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château 2016
Domaine Duroché, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Etelois 2016
Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat, Chambolle Musigny 2016
Domaine Marc-Roy, Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvée Alexandrine 2016
Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, Vosne-Romanée 2016
Domaine Bernard Zito, Vosne-Romanée Vigneux 2016
What are your early thoughts on the 2017 vintage?
The 2017 vintage seems to have given some fresh, energetic and balanced wines, both red and whites. The yields are quite abundant, with the reds matching the 2009 vintage quantity wise.
Attractive wines, with nice concentration but not matching the intensity of the 2015s and 2016s. I would expect the fine producers to make excellent wines, as great concentration is not always needed to make interesting and gorgeous Burgundies.
Based on the first 2017s tasted after malolactic fermentation had finished, I expect fine drinkability and purity; in other words wines for pleasure and enjoyment.
Not all good Burgundies are great and not all great Burgundies are good. Concentration is not all!
Visit Steen Öhman’s website for more insight at: www.winehog.org
Visit our Burgundy 2016 En Primeur page to find out more and register interest in the producers you want.