Jane Anson gives her early thoughts on the Bordeaux 2016 Right Bank vintage.
The Right Bank 2016 wines that I have so far tasted during Bordeaux en primeur week are not as immediately sexy as the 2015 vintage, but they are still voluptuous and beautifully structured, with perfectly ripe fruit and clear potential for long ageing.
The Bordeaux 2016 reds are overall not necessarily what you expect from a blockbuster year, based on what I have tasted so far during en primeur week.
The alcohols are lower than in other recent exceptional vintages – in many cases a full percentage point below the 2015s, 2010s and 2009s, but the construction is perfectly in balance, and the fruit strikingly juicy.
There are big tannins also, with some IPT counts climbing up to the 90s and higher, but you can barely tell because they are so smoothed out, elongated and finely-grained.
These key characteristics of the reds in 2016 – on both banks, Right and Left – are a result of the highly unusual weather patterns, with a rainy early season, a drought through the summer and a beautiful Autumn where rain arrived finally, but in just the right quantities. Taken together this meant a long, late ripening of the grapes.
There were some blockages of maturity in young vines and in certain soils with particularly extreme drainage.
But overall the late ripening meant there was very little raisining of the red grapes, so they never got overripe and generally retained some freshness.
The Right Bank 2016 wines are not as immediately sexy as the 2015 vintage, but they are still voluptuous and beautifully structured, with perfectly ripe fruit and clear potential for long ageing.
‘This was one of the very few vintages in Bordeaux where you can say the rain saved the red vintage,’ said Axel Marchal of the ISVV.
‘Those who were able to take advantage of the September rains (of between 30 and 50mm, so never excessive) retained a wonderful freshness, particularly if they had avoided taking off too much green cover during the rains of June, and so were better protected from the drought of summer.’
However, this was not what one of those years that some winemakers would call a ‘rocking chair’ vintage. People had to stay alert all through the growing season.
‘Usually in big vintages, there is a moment when you relax and feel confident about what is coming in to the cellar,’ said Baptiste Guinaudeau at Chateau Lafleur in Ponerol.
’This was true in 2005, 2009, 2010. But in 2016 this didn’t happen. There was never a moment when you could fully relax. It meant that we were extremely rigorous at every point, and about every decision.’
This comes through in the precision of these wines, and you will find some excellent Pomerols, Fronsacs and St-Emilions, with far less drying extraction than in some years. However, in many cases the 2015s will remain hard to beat.
The fascinating thing about the vintage is how few of the red wines have failed to deliver in en primeur tastings so far. The more you taste through them the more you realise the quality – there are exceptional wines at all price levels, with particularly impressive wines from the limestone plateau.
Edited by Chris Mercer.
This article has appeared in place of Jane Anson’s weekly Thursday column on Decanter.com.
Stay tuned on Decanter.com for more of Jane Anson’s first impressions during en primeur week. And see Anson’s full Bordeaux 2016 scores on Decanter.com later this month.