Another Bordeaux En Primeur season comes to an end, with the final releases seen at the end of last week. It’s been an exciting campaign, reflecting the quality of the wines – with many benchmarks across the region it’s hardly surprising that it’s been our busiest Primeur since 2010. So now it’s all finished, it’s worth having a look back at what made the campaign tick.
The First Growths
One of the real successes of the campaign. The wines were well priced, with plenty of room for upside for those willing to put their money down now. With the average price of Margaux, Haut Brion and Mouton 2010 at £6500, £5180 looked very fair for the highly-scored 2016s and as a result we sold everything we could get our hands on – in fact, for the second year in a row, Haut Brion was our biggest volume and value seller of the campaign as a whole. In addition to sound pricing, the wines were released at a good pace, and generally with a good volume of stock behind them.
There is a little Mouton remaining if you have not yet had an opportunity to buy.
The Left Bank
Considered the great triumph of the vintage – perhaps because of its notable step up from 2015 (excluding Margaux in some cases) – the Left Bank certainly saw some significant demand, albeit focused on a relatively small group of wines.
Despite some strangely negative observations versus 2015 (which was a true miracle in these southern parts), Margaux made some superb wines in 2016. Labegorce reeked of value at just £240 and sold out in a heartbeat, but many other exceptional wines including the highest-ever scored Brane Cantenac, another brilliant Giscours, the sublime Malescot St Exupery and the ‘return to form’ of the great Palmer, all gave plenty of good reasons to buy.
In St Julien the huge-scoring Beychevelle sold out very quickly, and Leoville Poyferre delivered its typically excellent combination of a stunning wine and a smart price – our first stocks of this also sold out rapidly but we have secured more, so if you are still keen then you can still order through the website.
Outside the First Growths, Pauillac had a few notable successes. Lynch Bages was one of our absolute favourites of the campaign – a wine we could have sold out 5 times over had the stock been available. Pichon Lalande was much the same and of course the second wines of the Firsts, Carruades de Lafite and Petit Mouton, also found buyers very easily. These are all sold out.
In St Estephe, where the gulf in quality was perhaps at its widest from 2015, there were significant releases from Cos d’Estournel and Montrose; these both sold out at opening price but we have second tranche stock available at a small premium, if you haven’t had a chance to secure these yet. Calon Segur was another story – our favourite St Estephe of the vintage, the volumes available were miniscule and we weren’t even able to cover pre-order demand (although these were very large in number!). Its baby brother Capbern was perhaps our no1 value pick of the campaign and flew off the theoretical shelves at just £170.
Recommended wines still available:
The fascinating thing about great – and by this we mean truly distinctive – vintages, is not just how the very top estates perform; it’s about seeing which estates show their true potential, and in 2016, Brane Cantenac with 96-98 points from Neal Martin is just one such example.
Capitalising on their upward curve of quality production and the superb 2016 vintage, D’Issan have produced a wine which sits qualitatively in line with the ‘Margaux Vintage’ of 2015 albeit in a very different style. The key to the 2016 vintage is ‘energy’ – that rare perfect balance of acidity, fruit intensity, alcohol and tannic structure – and this D’Issan has it in spades.
Giscours is a wine of extraordinary perfume and fine texture which delivers pure Margaux characters at a very smart price. We think this is a property to get on board with right now; it remains without question one of the very best values Margaux has to offer.
A tremendous success in 2015 and arguably even better in 2016, the fabulous Malescot St Exupery has continued its roll; and what a wine their 2016 is. Deep, rich and exciting, with a zip and verve that comes from pure, precise fruit perfectly balanced with fresh acidity that has already integrated beautifully, this is a Margaux that has outperformed even the great ‘Margaux Year’ of 2015.
Another of last year’s great successes – the venerable Margaux Rauzan Segla – is back again with a remarkable wine in 2016. The ultra-fine, mineral-stacked nose belies a structure which perfectly frames a fabulously pretty, detailed fruit profile; a wine of huge charm which is absolutely worth your serious consideration.
A surprise release on Bank Holiday Monday in the UK was the fabulous 2016 Gruaud Larose. This wine had the pleasure of being the very first we tasted on our trip back in April and it set the tone for the whole week: precise, bright, powerful and yet finessed, it was without doubt the best we have tasted from the estate at least since the 2009/2010 – or perhaps ever...
Whilst we have avoided making comparisons with the 2015s on too many occasions – it is rather like comparing oranges with apples – Lagrange is one such case where it makes sense to do so. The quality level really is a massive step up thanks to low yields of tiny berries and the best Petit Verdot the estate believes it has ever grown.
Talbot was one of the great values of St Julien in 2016, a commune that was one of the most reliable, consistent and high-performers of the year; Neal Martin described it as an “A-Team Effort... that affirms Saint Julien’s reputation as one of the most reliable communes”. He also quite rightly points out the improved quality/value ratio as one is not paying “for the caché of Pauillac”.
A BI favourite and one of the most consistently over-performing estates in the whole of Bordeaux, the spellbinding Grand Puy Lacoste 2016 is one wine you do not want to miss. Neal Martin has long been a fan – “Readers will know that I hold Grand Puy Lacoste up as the bastion of quintessential Pauillac” – and, with 95-97pts, this 2016 outscores both the 2009 and 2010.
Arguably the most consistent appellation over the past 5-10 years, Pessac was ‘on point’ once again in 2016, delivering exceptional reds and some very decent whites. Haut Brion and La Mission vied for the plaudits but they were by no means alone in producing something spectacular – Haut Bailly sold out in a heartbeat, but there is still a little stock of the superb Domaine de Chevalier and Smith Haut Laiftte. In addition we found huge joy in what we considered to be potentially the best ever vintage of Chapelle de La Mission, the second wine of the 98-100NM La Mission Haut Brion.
Recommended wines still available:
This estate has been on an upward trajectory for at least a decade, with significant investment and the Cathiards’ naturally obsessive attention to detail all playing their part. The result is quite clearly one of the very finest wines ever produced at the estate, a Smith with phenomenal detail, precision, structure, freshness, and layer upon layer of minerality and stunning fruit character.
Now this is a serious wine. Second wines of top scorers are one of the smartest buys in Bordeaux, and in a vintage where these over performed (such as 2016) then you are onto a winner. With the Grand Vin gaining a potentially perfect 98-100 from Neal Martin, this looks a shoo-in - undoubtedly one of our favourite ‘insider buys’ of the vintage.
The Right Bank
Whilst by no means quite the ‘sure thing’ that the Left Bank was in 2016, the best wines of both Pomerol and St Emilion certainly competed with their 2015 counterparts – albeit of course, in their very different, focused, linear, precise style. The general argument goes that Pomerol was the winner in 2015, and St Emilion the winner in 2016; this is rather too broad a sweep, as it was really down to the soil. The ‘sponge-like’ capabilities of the Pomerol plateau’s blue clay and St Emilion plateau’s limestone sub-soils both held enough water to allow the vines to achieve full ripeness through the summer drought.
In Pomerol, Clinet, Lafleur and VCC all sold out with minimal effort but there were many good options to choose from – L’Eglise Clinet, L’Evangile and La Conseillante are all still available in small quantities, but Gazin might well be the value pick of the bunch.
St Emilion has many more wines to offer and at the top of the tree, the Grand Cru Classe A wines did not disappoint. Of these only Ausone is sold out; Cheval, Pavie and Angelus can still be acquired at opening price and in the case of the latter two, there is more finesse and elegance here than ever before. If you’ve ever been tempted but not pulled the trigger, 2016 could be the year – these are seriously impressive. Figeac was another absolute superstar and we have a mere handful of our major allocation of cases remaining. This is not one to miss. Beyond that there are some real values to be had, from Grand Mayne to Beausejour Becot and Bellevue.
Recommended wines still available:
Gazin has been on a roll in recent years and occupies a prized part of the revered ‘plateau’ (indeed it abuts the vines of Petrus), where the deepest and most impressive wines of the commune are grown. With a 94-96pt rating from Neal Martin, the top end of its score spread touches that of Lafleur, Le Pin and Petrus!
This is a St Emilion which has undergone quite a transformation over the past couple of years and is well worth your consideration – given its 94-96pt rating from Neal Martin (the same as or better than many more famous, more expensive St Emilions), it looks a smart price.
Another great example of the ‘new’ style of St Emilion (think dry, fresh and mineral rather than over-ripe and tannic) is the 2016 Beausejour Becot. Exotic, citrusy and juicy as well as richly red-fruited and sumptuous of tannin, this is a delicious Right Bank claret which carries the best of the vintage.
Bellevue is one of a handful of St Emilion estates which delivers wine at a far higher calibre than its renown suggests. This majestic 2016 punches well above its weight with a rich, dense palate packed with juicy plum and raspberry fruit – and brings that excellent St Emilion minerality so prized in this vintage at an excellent price.
Denis Durantou Wines
A wine which has grown in stature over the past 10-20 years to stand very much shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest names on the plateau, L’Eglise Clinet nonetheless retains an honesty and sense of individual expression which sets it quite apart from many of its peers. It is the embodiment of the effort and intellect put into it by proprietor Denis Durantou and in 2016 he has once again summoned up that mystical ‘x-factor’ to create a truly majestic vintage.
Also available is the superb second wine of L’Eglise Clinet, La Petite Eglise, which remains refreshingly priced for a wine of such pedigree and calibre. As Antonio Galloni says “the Petite Eglise is a terrific introduction to the house style. Readers who can find it should not hesitate.”
Every single En Primeur campaign, the very best value wines are from the magical ‘satellite’ estates owned and managed by Denis Durantou, all-round winemaking genius and owner of the Pomerol legend L’Eglise Clinet. Even in less vaunted vintages Denis’ wines deliver the goods at an exceptional price; in better years, they become the very definition of a ‘no-brainer’.
Traditionally know as Saintayme, is Denis’ St Emilion Grand Cru, produced from 100% Merlot. It has the capacity to age, as a recent parcel of 2000 showed so effortlessly, and it’s worth remembering that St Emilion was one of the premier appellations of 2016. We found this a supple, but incredibly pure wine with superb structure – one with long term potential.
Denis also boasts vines in Lalande de Pomerol, producing two wines: Les Cruzelles and La Chenade. You can actually see the Les Cruzelles estate (which produces both wines) from L’Eglise Clinet, it is that close, and both wines deliver truly exceptional value for money. We found La Chenade surprisingly Burgundian, with really pretty, spiced fruit – whereas Cruzelles was darker, richer, and more intensely structured. One for now, one for later!
Thanks for following our campaign this year. To those who have bought wines, you will be thrilled to own them. 2016 is not only a truly unique vintage, but one of the most compelling and downright delicious we have ever had the pleasure to taste. We cannot wait to revisit them many times throughout their lives!