It was time for Act 2 and after the blockbuster opening sequence of our first day one could be forgiven for thinking that we (or rather, the vintage) had peaked too soon. However, given that we were heading up to St Estephe – home of some of our favourite producers and a notable disappointment in the generally pretty-bloody-marvellous 2015 vintage – we were still feeling fairly buoyant. 2016 had apparently been pretty kind up North so the anticipated Battle Royal of Cos versus Montrose was definitely on.
…Until it wasn’t. There was a joker in the pack this year.
But first – it was to Ormes de Pez, northern outpost of the Cazes family and the location for this year’s Lynch Bages tasting; Lynch has adopted the Bordelais thirst for expansion and extension, and new buildings are on their way up. Fitting then, that in the first year of tasting at Ormes de Pez, that the Cazes should make their best ever wine from this underrated St Estephe terroir. This will be a superstar in years to come and at a very cheap price. In fact, Jean Charles told us that he thought both their Lynch and Echo de Lynch were their best ever (even if we weren’t supposed to say so in earshot of his father – oops) and it was hard to argue with this. Stunning wines. A good start.
Lafon Rochet was also very good, perhaps its best ever iteration. One to watch out for.
So what of the James Bond versus Le Chiffre / Cos versus Montrose situation? Well in truth, while they were both very good examples of their individual styles – and both certainly better than their 2015 counterparts – it was Vesper who stole our hearts in the form of Calon Segur. This is what our friend Mr Suckling might call ‘a real WOW wine’ and even we were tempted to write ‘OMG’ in our tasting notes. It is mesmeric in its exoticism, its ripe fruit, jaw-dropping texture and explosive finish; a masterpiece and certainly the best Calon we have ever tasted. And this is no fluke: the Marquis de Calon was superb, and the ever-popular Capbern (a BI ‘halves, bots and mags’ favourite) has hit a new level for a wine that costs virtually nothing. Do not miss when these are released.
An estate that has courted controversy both with its winemaking style and pricing strategy over the past few years is Palmer. A long-standing, old-school favourite, this venerable Margaux has undergone a shift to full biodynamics and a zero-sulphur approach in the winery – and the effects are there to see. In a similar way to Pontet Canet there is a wildness, an exoticism, a flamboyance to the fruit that marks it out as utterly different from its peers. If that sounds scary, the good news is that in 2016 they have nailed it. It’s a truly remarkable wine, quite unlike anything else from Bordeaux and especially on the Left Bank, given its high proportion of sumptuous, tropical Merlot. Alter Ego is also probably the best it has ever been.
A rapid but very successful tasting followed at Chateau Belgrave, where we uncovered the delights of the 2016 Malescot St Exupery, Rauzan Segla, Canon and Giscours to name just a few. Lunch outside in the sun was enough to make you cry out for a lounger and a couple of hours to snooze – and to give Tom Chadwick a delightfully pink neck – this truly was one of those ‘are you sure this is work?’ moments. But work we still had to, and before we could escape to the Right Bank, we stopped in at Mauvesin to taste the impressive wines of the Barton family. Left Bank done.
Conclusions? This is a very, very fine vintage on this side of the river. Several producers have made their best ever wines – including some of the big names – and there have been potential hierarchical shifts that might play out yet further as the years go on. Only time will tell. What we can tell you is that if you love Bordeaux, and if you love the way Bordeaux used to taste in the heady days of the great vintages of the 1980s and 1990s but you want to see how far winegrowing has come in the past few decades in terms of precision and purity, you will not want to miss the 2016s.
Cabernet Sauvignon has triumphed in 2016 giving wines of sensational texture of tannin, expression of place and purity of fruit. However there has clearly been some serious Merlot grown, and the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have also enabled producers to add complexity, freshness, spice and backbone to their wines.
On top of all this, all four Medoc First Growths have potential for a perfect score.
If that doesn’t tell you enough, then I think you might struggle to be persuaded…
Tomorrow we take on the Merlot but for tonight, it’s a quiet team dinner and the chance to catch up on a little sleep.