Bordeaux En Primeur 2016
- A very good to excellent vintage throughout, leaning more towards excellent
- Vintage characterised by balance of rich fruit and high (but supremely ripe) tannins with fresh acidity and pleasingly moderate alcohol levels – the result is a new level of precision and finesse
- Excellent quality in the Medoc including some new benchmark wines for key estates
- Excellent First Growths and Grand Cru Classe ‘A’ wines
- Excellent wines in Pomerol particularly from the plateau – perhaps only reaching ‘very good’ on sandier soils with younger vines
- Excellent quality in St Emilion especially on limestone soils
- Excellent quality throughout Graves and Pessac – Haut Brion and La Mission out of this world
- Very good to excellent dry and sweet whites
- Quality at least as high as 2015 but quite different in profile; if 2015 is more like 2009, then 2016 is more like 2010 albeit with lower alcohol and earlier approachability (but no less potential longevity)
Orders, Pre-orders and Wishlists
You can place an order when a wine is available for general purchase and has been listed
with a confirmed price. You can order in your preferred size format – the bottling
Before individual wines are released you have the option to pre-order or add the wines to your wishlist.
Pre-orders are the best way to get the wines you want as they represent firm commitments to purchase if the wine is released below the upper price limits we have provided. If sufficient stock is available, pre-orders will be invoiced when the price is confirmed and before the wines are released for general sale. If we are not able to fulfil all pre-orders when a wine is released, we will continue to search for stock at the best possible price. If a wine is released above the upper end of our predicted price range we will not automatically invoice pre-orders – each customer will be contacted to see if they still wish to go ahead with the purchase at the new price.
Wishlists are not firm commitments to purchase – when each wine is released, if there is sufficient stock available after pre-order commitments have been honoured, customers with a wishlist will be contacted and given the opportunity to purchase the wine before it goes on general sale. You can add and remove wines from your wishlist as often as you like. Customers with an online BI account can see their pre-orders and wishlists on their My Account page.
“I can see clearly now the rain is
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day”
Within certain bounds of regional variability, albeit far less than in some vintages, the season was one of four differing parts, the order and timing of which was just right to take it from the dreadful to the sublime.
- A wet, cold January to March allowed the vines to rest and recuperate and the soil to fill with much-needed water after a warm 2015.
- A mild, moderately damp April to June caused some fears about mildew and coulure but a week of fine weather at exactly the right moment eased anxieties, allowed full flowering and set the stage for a large crop. However, if the rains returned to even average levels for the rest of the year, the vintage would be a wash-out.
- Then from July to early September, barely a drop of rain fell and whilst daytime temperatures were high (but not unseasonably), the evenings were cool – especially into September – allowing for perfect mid-season ripening.
- After a couple of welcome doses of rain in September, an Indian summer set in which, in the words of Xavier Borie at Grand Puy Lacoste, “saw the vigneron become an attentive spectator, calmly waiting for the right moment and perfect ripeness in order to start the harvest.” Harvesting for Cabernets did not even start in some parts until well into October.
This was by no means an easy vintage to produce, indeed, the extremes of weather conditions meant that smart, knife-edge decisions were constantly being made. On both sides of the river, those with a good portion of older vines and a majority of water-retaining soils had by far the best of the situation; many younger vines and those planted on sandy soils struggled with the drought. However, when unpredictability works in your favour, one might call this ‘good luck’ and in these cases, of which there are many, the results are something special. As we stated in our blog after 2 days of tasting: “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.”
The 2016 Vintage in Style - Reds
When describing the 2015 vintage, we suggested that traditionally there were three types of Bordeaux vintage: ‘great’ (meaning huge, powerful and backward), ‘classical’ (meaning fresh verging on green but with pretty fruit) and ‘claret lover’s’ or ‘restaurant’ (meaning pretty dreadful). 2015 did not adhere to these stereotypes and neither does 2016 – but they are not the same. 2016 is certainly another very good to excellent vintage, but at the peak it includes some of the finest young wines we have ever tasted from the region. In some cases we firmly believe that we are looking at a modern-day combination of 1982, 1985 and 1989, albeit with winegrowing know-how light years ahead of these great historic examples.
What characterises 2016 is balance. Fantastic acidity, moderately low alcohol and purity of fruit are supported by a vast weight of tannins which have amazing softness and finesse. The slow, dry ripening period allowed the sugar levels to build in parallel with the phenolics (the tannins and flavours) and the low levels of photosynthesis in the vine reduced the rate at which acid levels dropped.
The slow, dry ripening period allowed the sugar levels to build in parallel with the phenolics (the tannins and flavours) and the low levels of photosynthesis in the vine reduced the rate at which acid levels dropped. In addition, thanks to the slow, even ripening, which produced small and very concentrated berries, the tannins were formed of molecules longer than usual, giving the sense of atypical softness and fineness. Whilst the perfumes and aromatics are extraordinary, the textures take the cake.
Fundamentally, 2015 and 2016 are different beasts with 2015 more like the flamboyant, dramatic 2009 and 2016 closer to the fresh, classical style of 2010; however the big difference is in alcohol levels. 2016 is a good degree on average lower than 2015 and up to 2 (or even more) degrees below 2010. As a result the best wines of 2016 display the classicism and digestibility that typifies the Bordeaux region more than any other. They have a true sense of place and they express it with panache.
One final thing to consider is the red herring of yields. This aspect has been talked up rather more than is relevant. Firstly, the bulk of the additional declared volume has come from producers much further down the scale than we would generally look – where prices and margins are small, a bumper harvest is an opportunity to make some much-needed extra cash. Secondly, and perhaps more relevant (and offering a quiet opportunity) is the question of yields versus production. Many estates have declined the opportunity to increase volumes, preferring to dial up the quality, and as such most have only declared the same volume of Grand Vin as in 2015. However, this has meant that plots which may have been considered of requisite quality for Grand Vin in another year have now been included in second wines; on more than one occasion we had to double check the correct wine had been poured, such was the quality of the ‘first reserve’ sample. Many are benchmarks for their type and arguably superior to the Grands Vins of a generation ago.
Dry and Sweet Whites
The conditions which proved so successful for reds also derived some very fine whites, both dry and sweet, and whilst lovers of the most renowned producers will find plenty to enjoy, they are something of a side show to the main event. Neither are particularly more exciting than 2015; indeed they lack some of the zip and complexity of the best 2013s which can still be found and bought relatively easily.
Should you buy them?
At this point we have rated the wines solely on quality and will only pass a final judgment as to whether or not they are ‘worth’ purchasing once we know the sell price. However, value for money is relative. As stated before, in many cases these are likely to be benchmark wines which many serious wine collectors and lovers will not want to be without. There will be some cases where you should say ‘yes’ and worry about the bill later; as with the best 2015s, if you are less price sensitive than some, then you can comfortably buy everything we recommend and we are confident you will never be disappointed to own and drink them.
That said the GBP:EUR rate does not work in our favour. Even without a price rise ex-Chateau, we will see a 15-20% increase from currency alone and despite our protestations a price rise is to be expected.
However, physical vintages have had one of their strongest years on record with the favourable USD:GBP rate creating a ‘discount’ for buyers in dollar-pegged currencies – as such it is likely that many wines will still fit into the ‘-20% from comparable physical vintage’ model and in this case, it is the 2010s which form the most likely basis for comparison. With the current average sell price of the three First Growths of Haut Brion, Margaux and Mouton at a shade under £6700 and the 2015s released at £4260, there’s a lot of room for the Chateaux to get it right.
As always with futures, there is an element of risk and prices can go both down and up even before the wines are physical. Whilst some wines from 2009 and 2010 declined in value post-release, those who bought both 2014 and 2015 First Growths have seen positive returns at this stage.
The Right Bank is a different story and, even with higher than average yields, there is nowhere near as much wine with which to satisfy global demand so we would recommend a little less caution here. In the case of the right wines, you will need to be bold: you won't regret it.
When it comes to value there are undoubtedly winners to be sought out. The secret is in the soil so seek out second, or even third wines of top producers, or ‘humble’ estates on good, water-retaining soils. Of course, you can just listen to us and we’ll recommend the best. There are many examples even at the sub-£250 price which are the best ever, sometimes scoring well into the 90s.
Whilst the best thing for consumers is an early, well-paced campaign, with Neal Martin’s Wine Advocate scores not due until April 28th, the French elections on May 7th and the major trade event Vinexpo in Bordeaux on June 18th-21st, we cannot necessarily expect this to happen. And this is where the importance of pre-ordering comes in...
It is worth reiterating that two salient facts remain about buying EP. Firstly you guarantee single case ownership - it's yours right from the start, from the chateau to your chosen storage. Secondly, you have the opportunity to bottle in formats as you desire from lunchtime halves to celebratory imperials - or bigger.
Following a pretty dry 2015, Margaux was blessed with a drenching in the first three months of 2016, which helped replenish the vines and build up an underground reserve. Spring rains were only average in quantity but evenly spaced. Flowering in early June was successful, setting the stage for a good crop.
Just 8mm of rain fell in July and August - and whilst the temperatures pushed above average in late August, generally the summer was just pleasantly hot. Thanks to the early rain, estates with old vines remained in good shape through this dry period thanks to the intense soaking they received earlier in the year. When the rains finally returned in mid-late September, the showers were heavy and brief. This meant refreshment for the vines, but no rot – usually associated with days of drizzle and moderate warmth.
Crucially during this same period the temperatures fell during both day and night, allowing the grapes a long, slow ripening period.
This was especially good for the Cabernets, which were allowed to attain full, complete phenolic ripeness, maintaining good acidity and relatively low sugar, leading to lower potential alcohol. Merlot harvests started in late September and in most cases Cabernets were not brought in until October.
The resulting wines are extremely well balanced, highly perfumed and have both great fruit ripeness and freshness. The tannin profile is fine but firm, albeit sweet-edged, carrying the fruit character very well; the baton is then handed over to typically well-integrated acidity to run the wine through to the finish. Relatively low alcohol keeps everything purring along in harmony. The Cabernet Sauvignon here can rarely have been so good, and the resulting wines so precise; but there is some stunning Merlot too (see Chateau Palmer). It might not have the drama and opulence of the 2015s but if you’ve had Margaux 1985 recently, you might want to get in the queue for the modern iteration.
Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillacopen
Almost three times the average amount of rain fell in the first three months of 2016, but the temperatures remained fairly mild (following on from the end of 2015) and frost was kept at bay. Just when the early bud-break looked to be a worry, temperatures dropped and slowed down the rate of development; however caution was very much required as the mild, damp conditions were a magnet for mildew. It was a very busy start to the year in the vineyard.
The rest of the year was much the same as across the rest of Bordeaux; even flowering and colour change (veraison) followed by the intense heat and drought of the summer months. Again, the showers in mid-late September provided the final piece of the puzzle with harvesting going deep into October.
St Julien has delivered some wonderful wines in 2016. Overall they have freshness and complexity, fruit concentration and purity, and a great weight of supple tannins, but they also adhere very much to type – that is to say each estate was able to express itself precisely as the owners intended.
Taking the Leovilles as examples, Las Cases has sheer vineyard presence and elegance, Poyferre has succulence and perfume, and Barton has power and longevity.
In Pauillac, as with St Estephe and indeed the Medoc as a whole, the season was one of two parts – very wet from January to June and very dry from then onwards until harvest. As one might imagine, there are moderate differences in dates; bud break was slightly later just this half-hour further north, as was flowering.
After the last rains fell on June 25th, the summer weather was ideal and the water stress enabled the vines to focus their energies on grape growing, rather than regenerating themselves. The colour change was slightly more uniform and rapid here in Pauillac than in Margaux, and thus the grapes were able to begin their long, slow progress to perfect ripeness.
And perfect ripeness has indeed been achieved here. As with the other key metrics, harvesting began a little later in Pauillac (a matter of two or three days) and the results were spectacular. The grapes have wonderful freshness thanks to ideal acid levels and low alcohol (rarely above 13.5%), and yet the fruit so intense, and so precise – and the levels of tannin and colour have rarely, if ever, been seen before. This is Cabernet Sauvignon in excelsis. The aromatics are sublime and the overall sense of harmony, of balance, is remarkable: for these are wines of immense power and structure and yet so beautifully fashioned they will be approachable far earlier than previous ‘great’ high-tannin vintages such as 2005 or 2010. At the top of the tree, wines in this vintage have the fruit purity of 1982, the freshness of 1985 and the charm and density of 1989. The First Growths are arguably the finest we have ever tasted at this stage.
Northern Medoc - St Estepheopen
After a troublesome 2015 - the only blot on an otherwise pretty superb copybook for Bordeaux - hopes were high for St Estephe. This region benefited again from the wet start to the year followed by the long, hot summer which allowed superb ripening – and saved from the eventual, possible effects of vine shut-down by the 13th September rains (unlucky for some, but definitely NOT the Bordelais in this case).
Merlot harvesting began a little later, as did that of the Cabernets, and the alcohol levels are a mite higher than further south.
However the one interesting factor in St Estephe – which in truth, we have barely mentioned in the other Medoc regional analyses – is winemaking. St Estephe has a reputation for wines of great power and longevity and the predominance of new oak, often with a pretty intense level of charring, has for some time been a stylistic choice for many producers.
Whilst in 2016 much of the Medoc has pulled back from using entirely new oak, or at least opted for a milder level of char inside the barrel in order to promote a fresher, earlier-approachable style for their wines, several leading St Estephe producers have maintained their focus on the long-term and continued to produce wines which, whilst harder to taste when young, may well retain their more powerful profile as the fruits and aromas are allowed to blossom. As such they are harder to assess young – so listen to as many opinions as you can here.
St Emilion and Pomerolopen
After such a spectacular 2015, and with the earliest-speaking critics already branding 2016 a ‘Left Bank Vintage’, is 2016 a let-down for the Right Bank? Certainly not – although the story is not quite as straightforward as the Left Bank.
Sharing broadly the same conditions as the Medoc – wet and cold January to March, early bud-break around the 7-8 April, moderately wet and mild May and June, then drought from late July until September 13th – success on the Right Bank was a question of soil character. Vineyards on the sponge-like limestone and clay soils were better able to retain the water which had soaked in earlier in the year than those planted on sandier soils.
Therefore whilst the homogeneity of quality across the region is not absolute, with the very best vineyards planted on the prized limestone and clay (and very occasionally, gravel) soils of St Emilion and its surroundings, the potential for the top properties was immense and in most cases has been achieved.
As you might imagine, being focused primarily on Merlot, the alcohol levels are a little higher here but they tend to peak at around 14.5% rather than the 15-15.5% levels seen in 2015. However, as on the Right Bank, the late ripening conditions favoured the Cabernets – Franc rather than Sauvignon in most cases here – and thus many estates have included large proportions in their blend, making for wines with great aromatic complexity and brightness. We tasted the 2016 Cabernet Franc alone at La Gaffeliere and its perfume, texture and vivacity was remarkable.
Harvesting varied: on the limestone plateau of Chateau Canon, Merlot was picked from 22nd September to 3rd October and Cabernet Franc from the 7th to 11th October; on the gravel outcrops of Chateau Figeac, further down towards the flat plateau of Pomerol, the Merlot was not completed until a week later - indeed the Cabernet Franc had not even begun until after Canon had finished.
The best wines are at least as good, if not better than their 2015 counterparts, thanks to the freshness, balance and complexity they were able to achieve.
In Pomerol, this was certainly a year for the plateau, with the clay soils required to soak up the vast quantities of winter rain in preparation for the hot, dry summer that followed. Those who visited this region in 2003 will remember how arid the vineyards were without sufficient rain in the earlier months – and estates with vines planted on the sandier parts, especially young vines, will have seen a similar picture in 2016.
However the combination of suitable soils and old vines, along with 40-50mm of rain in a handful of September bursts, kept the best estates on track. The Indian summer allowed each property to pick precisely when they desired, and as a result harvests were quite well spread out; Clinet had picked all their Merlot by September 30th and their resurgent Cabernet Sauvignon (which adds a spectacular dimension to the wine in 2016, by the way) by 3rd October. By contrast La Conseillante did not complete their Merlots until October 13th and didn’t even start picking their Cabernet Franc until the 12th – the same day Cheval Blanc completed their final rounds.
The results are mightily impressive and characteristic of each estate. Whilst acid levels are themselves relatively low (in keeping with a water-stressed vintage) the pH levels are surprisingly low, retaining the overall sense of freshness; it is this welcome peculiarity which, allied with the density of tannin and richness of fruit, gives the 2016 vintage its singular identity. The Cabernet Franc in particular is sublime.
Graves and Pessacopen
Those in the furthest south of the quality winegrowing parts of Bordeaux had a rather more worrisome time than their brethren ‘up North’. Whilst they shared the cold wet January to March period, and the eventual long period of summer dryness and warmth, the months in between were less favourable with frost warnings in April and more intense rain in May and June, leading to fears of mildew attacks.
Thanks to the conditions at the end of the season (the Cabernets were still being picked on October 18th, and it was the driest October since 1959 – a pretty decent year in these parts…) a remarkable turnaround was achieved.
There is an intensity of fruit and aromatics in the best wines of this region that put 2016 on a level with 2015 – which itself produced some show-stopping examples – albeit with the freshness that comes from bright acidity and lower alcohol levels.
One can hardly talk about this region without dwelling briefly on the big names of Haut Brion and La Mission: simply put, both have an aromatic perfection and palate-defying flavour and texture that surely mark them out as benchmarks for their relative estates. We rated the 2015 Haut Brion with potential for 100 points and nothing has changed our minds on that; however this year La Mission has reached the same level, and yet the wines are so dramatically different in style from the year before. This is the down to the ability of the very best terroirs to best translate the vintage conditions.
Sauternes and Barsacopen
Sauternes and Barsac are very good thanks to a consistent outbreak of botrytis across the region. September’s handful of rain outbreaks were each followed by fine days, allowing the botrytis to take hold without turning into bad rot, and giving pickers the opportunity to work through the vineyard selecting the ideal grapes in fine conditions. As a result the wines are unctuously rich and yet, thanks to the long, slow summer ripening, have a great clarity of fresh fruit and bright, fine acidity. They are perhaps less dramatic than in years like 2013 or 2011, but they have charm and structure.