Jane Anson looks at what's new and highlights some things to look out for during Bordeaux 2016 en primeur season, including yields and how much of the harvest is considered good enough for 'first wines'.
Okay, so this might be a little bit of background research for me before starting tasting through the Bordeaux 2016 en primeur wines, but there is plenty of interesting information to bear in mind ahead of tasting the new vintage. And as ever the detail and background clues are essential to forming an accurate idea of what is hype and what should be taken seriously.
Big. According to the CIVB figures, Margaux, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, St-Emilion Grand Cru and Pomerol have all seen their highest yields since 2006, and Pessac Léognan its second highest.
Percentage First Wines
Always a good indication of how successful a vintage is. Château Palmer is at 65% ‘first wine’ for 2016 blend, the highest ever. Château Lagrange is at 50% first wine, which is again its highest since the Suntory group became owners in 1983 (they say ‘until now the percentage of Fiefs de Lagrange has always been higher, but in 2016 many plots planted in 1985 have reached maturity, which together with the exceptional quality of the vintage and the regime of intra-plot selection that we began a few years ago, means we can increase the amount of First Wine’).
Generally speaking, though, although there is more wine this year, as a percentage things are not that different from 2015 or 2014, both relatively good vintages also. Clearly first wine percentages are way up from 2013 – Smith Haut Lafitte, as an example, is at between 40 and 50% first wine in 2016, compared to 30% in 2013.
Oh, and for those of us who were missing it, Petit Cheval is back for the 2016 vintage.
Some old cellar hands have never seen such concentration in this grape
I keep hearing how good the Petit Verdot is in 2016, and further proof arrived this week when Château Belle-Vue in AOC Médoc announced that it is producing a 100% Petit Verdot wine for the first time. They have a high proportion of Petit Verdot normally across their three properties, with 10% in Gironville, 20% in Belle-Vue and a full 50% in Bolaire, but this new cuvée is made from old vines planted in 1936, 1940 and 1950, and winemaker Vincent Bache Gabrielsen has aged this cuvee in oak barrels from Hungary and Austria rather than the more usual French. Consultant Antoine Medeville confirmed this, saying that the concentration in Petit Verdot was exceptional and that he had spoken with some old cellar hands who said they never had such concentration in this grape.
Expect properties with high proportions of Petit Verdot in their vines (so La Lagune, Boyd-Cantenac, Leoville-Poyferré, Kirwan, Marquis d’Alesme and Marquis de Terme to name a few) to be feeling happy.
Of the First Growths, in case you were wondering, Margaux has the highest percentage of Petit Verdot.
Whole bunch pressing: It is gathering weight
I spoke about this last year and it is gathering weight (if you’ll excuse the pun), especially because hot years can benefit from the structure and acidity added by this method of vinification. Château Carmes Haut-Brion is still a big proponent, but add to the list Château Rouget in Pomerol, who this year has used 1/3 whole bunch in its vinification.
Over at Smith Haut Lafitte, where technical director Fabien Teitgen has experimented with the technique for the past few years, they have used 25% stems in the vinification for 2016, compared to 20% in 2015.
‘This year we set aside every stem that was fully red and ripe so were confident in using a slightly larger amount during the vinification. The vintage overall has plenty of opulence so the stems were useful to give balance and freshness,’ Teitgen said.
Numbers of estates stepping away from the official UGC tastings is growing again this year. New up for 2016 is Château Marquis d’Alesme in Margaux (attention, price-rise-watchers, the cynical side of me thinks one invariably leads to the other). Léoville Poyferré in St-Julien also confirmed that it is holding its own tastings this year.
Also out of UGC en primeur tastings are: La Conseillante, Figeac, Haut-Bailly, Issan, Pontet Canet, Léoville Las Cases, Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, L’Eglise Clinet, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus, Pavie, Mouton, Lafite, Haut Brion, La Mission, Latour, Margaux, Calon Segur, Pontet Canet, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Ducru Beaucaillou, Trottevielle, Batailley, Nenin.
I’m bound to be missing a few, but wow it’s getting crowded out there.
Hubert de Boüard has four new Bordeaux estates for the 2016 vintage to add to his 80 clients worldwide, so you can look out for any stylistic changes. These include Château Tour des Termes in St-Estèphe, Château Plain-Point in Fronsac, Château de Sours in Entre deux Mers (both Chinese owned and the latter by Alibaba founder Jack Ma), Château Auguste in Entre deux Mers (just bought by Tom Sullivan of Château Gaby, Château Moya and du Parc).
Axel Marchal – Denis Dubourdieu’s successor at the ISVV – has got his first consultancy at Château Annereau at Lalande de Pomerol, which is owned by Dominique and Benjamin Hessel and also just notched up 10 years in organic farming.
This subject is getting hotter and hotter. As of the 2016 vintage, there are a few things to report. First of all, this was the first vintage of Château La Lagune as certified organic. Château Ferrière has been certified organic since 2015 and biodynamic since 2016. Château Fonplegade is beginning the conversion to biodynamics as of this year, after being certified organic in 2013. Haut Bergey also certified in conversion to certified organic since 2015 and in conversation biodynamic now.
And non-added-sulphur wines get another addition this year from Château Sigalas Rabaud in Sauternes, where Laure de Lambert Compeyrot has launched the No 5 de Sigalas Rabaud, a lightly sweet (around 60g/l of residual sugar) with just a touch of CO2 (think Muscadet-sur-lie not Champagne) and no added sulphur. Just 3,000 bottles this year, but potentially a good way for Sauternes to connect with the aperitif crowd.
Obviously we are not going to know this until after the tastings. But while it’s easy to say that 2016 was a great year, we shouldn’t forget that there was a lot of rain and then a lot of drought. It means some terroirs will have done better than others. Thierry Valette at Clos Puy Arnaud thinks that fresh terroirs that could retain water in the drought will have been favoured – so clay (he expect some very good petits chateaux in Entre deux Mers) or limestone (calcaire à Asteries). Expect good results in St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Barsac, St-Emilion, Castillon, Fronsac, Francs.
Particularly hot draining soils (so sand and some gravels) and young vines will have suffered more.
Hubert de Boüard said he had never in his life as a winemaker known such a long, dry summer but suggests, ‘Young vines are difficult on any soils but older vines have resisted well across the board’. Both de Boüard and Medeville, from tasting their client chateaux across the region, believe it will resemble 2010 more than 2009 or 2005.
Decanter is working on a separate analysis of the current state of the market for Bordeaux wines.