How does one categorise a great vintage?
I would suggest a few things:
1) Excellent quality on both Left and Right Banks
2) The top wines perform to standards that are at, or close to, perfection
3) One can buy from Cru Bourgeois to Second Wines to Grand Vins and find exceptional quality for the ranking*
If these sound right to you, then we have good news: 2016 is a great vintage.
Having found such joy in the Cabernets of the Left Bank there was of course hesitation to nail our colours to the mast – but having experienced what the Right Bank Merlot has to offer, more often than not accompanied by the most sublime Cabernet Franc, we can willingly state that the standard and style of 2016 makes for a series of unmissable wines.
So how did we come to this bold (but hardly controversial, I expect) conclusion? By starting the day at La Conseillante and ending it at L’If.
It was another remarkable day in Bordeaux, with temperatures set to soar and the clouds elevated, creating giant skies and memorable vistas. On days like this, St Emilion earns all its UNESCO stripes. The wines took their lead from the weather and were clearly in the mood to show off, with the high pressure and ideal air temperature making for divine tasting conditions; and La Conseillante and VCC truly rose to the occasion. These 2016s are the pinnacle of Pomerol style, with a seamless energy that makes this tiny corner of Bordeaux so sought after. As one friend here in Bordeaux stated when tasting the former ‘Enfin… La Conseillante…’ – and no doubt it is wonderful to see this fine estate back at the top of its game. Neighbouring VCC was quite frankly ridiculous. It’s not a question of ‘how much does it cost?’ but ‘How much can I have?’ and the answer will certainly be ‘Not enough’…
After an ‘L’ of a journey (sorry) through L’Evangile, L’Eglise Clinet and Le Gay, all of which wore their natural couture with effortless style and no little panache, it was to the understated Lafleur, always a highlight of the trip.
Simply, there are no words. Lafleur might be in Pomerol, but it is not ‘Pomerol’ – it’s on a different planet to every other wine in Bordeaux.Perfection struck again. And it was not just the Grand Vin; the second wine was the best we have ever tasted, and the crazy bargain that is Grand Village was much the same. These guys really know what they are doing and this vintage suits their style to a tee. Magic.
After lunch we batted on into St Emilion and this sometimes challenging afternoon went by in another mesmeric blur. The best Angelus we have tasted from barrel; the best La Gaffeliere we have tasted from barrel; the best Ausone we have tasted from barrel – and not to mention a majestic Canon that wears its Chanel ownership lightly and with great confidence. What an afternoon. COULD it be improved?
Well, there’s always room for improvement, and the room in this case was in a small, cream-coloured winery with a red door and no sign, up on the top of a hill with simple vineyards criss-crossed by tarmac roads. If the venue was utterly forgettable, the wine was anything but – for this is the home of L’If, the St Emilion outpost of Jacques ‘Le Pin’ Thienpont. This little corner of the wine world is more Burgundy than Bordeaux, and so it proved in the bottle with aromatics and textures more akin to the great Grands Crus of the Cote d’Or than the ambitious pomp of modern St Emilion.
The day was done but after a quick refresher it was off to dinner at Chateau Figeac.
We have been very fortunate on this trip to spend ‘down time’ with two of the great wine families – true Bordeaux Royalty; on Monday it was the Mentzelopoulos clan at Chateau Margaux, and last night it was the de Manoncourts at Chateau Figeac. After a beautiful intimate dinner in the cellars hosted by Hortense de Manoncourt and the estate’s genial GM Frederic Faye – where we consumed some wonderful older vintages – we ended up in the front room of the Chateau listening to a young opera singer and her piano accompanist (they had needed somewhere to practice before a local concert and returned the favour with an impromptu show for us). Sipping cognac with the family and listening to this remarkable voice - and PHENOMENAL piano playing - we were reminded how truly blessed we are to work in this mad, mad business. An unforgettable evening!
More Pomerol and St Emilion to come tomorrow before we venture down to Pessac and see what Haut Brion and their neighbours have to offer. We are more than a little excited.