Bordeaux En Primeur 2016

Vintage Summary

  • 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 charge is already included.
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 gone
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.

Central Medoc - St Julien and Pauillac
Northern Medoc - St Estephe
St Emilion and Pomerol
Graves and Pessac
Sauternes and Barsac