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Bordeaux 2016 en primeur: Rush to taste despite global uncertainty

Bordeaux châteaux need to put extra staff in their tasting rooms this week as early signs suggest historically high number of tasters and merchants are heading to taste barrel samples of the 2016 vintage in what has been described by some as the region's equivalent of Paris Fashion Week.

Olivier Bernard, head of the Union des Grands Crus (UGC), which is hosting Bordeaux 2016 en primeur tastings this week alongside individual estates, said that member estates have already seen 6,500 people come to taste. That’s around 2,000 more than normal at this stage.

‘We have never seen that at UGC,’ he told journalists at the en primeur week opening dinner at Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux. ‘You need to put some more people at the doors of the châteaux tomorrow morning. I promise you,’ he told assembled producers.

Many producers rank Bordeaux 2016 as among their best achievements.

Yet, much now depends on the views of major critics, such as Decanter’s Jane Anson, and the subsequent pricing in a global market that is slightly healthier for fine wine than a year ago but is nevertheless part of a world reeling from political shocks, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. France itself goes to the polls for a presidential election later this month.

Most visitors to 2016 en primeur so far have come from within France, but there have to date been more Chinese tasters than British visitors, Bernard said. After those three nationalities come Germany, the US, Belgium and Switzerland.

The number of Chinese guests is perhaps an indication of a thawing in relations after several Chinese merchants lost money on the 2010 vintage. However, insiders at the dinner said that Chinese buyers were much more cautious today.

One senior Bordeaux source told Decanter.com that the euro-sterling exchange rate had undoubtedly made things more tricky for UK buyers versus 12 months ago.

Speaking before last night’s dinner, Bernard told the audience that quantity alongside quality could help for the 2016 vintage. ‘Quantity will help châteaux to find the right price, because when you have a big quantity it’s much more dificult to make a mistake. So this is very good for the consumers.

‘I don’t ask for the price to be high or low, I just ask that the price will follow the market. Where is the market? Well that is the question, which we hope you will help us with in your tasting.’

Some winemakers have already proclaimed 2016 to be the best wine of their careers so far.

Nicolas Glumineau, CEO and chief winemaker at Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, isn’t a winemaker known for hyperbole, but he told Decaner.com. ‘Everything about the balance, complexity, the density of the wine in balance with the flesh, the precision of the tannic structure. It’s a full and complete wine, and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic.’

‘It’s a high definition vintage,’ said Hervé Berland, MD of Château Montrose in St-Estèphe.

‘We knew from the beginning that the richness of the berries was wonderful, so there was a need for careful vinification. The result is a wine, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon, that has this wonderful texture; powerul, silky and with finesse. It’s something that we don’t achieve every year, but we did in 2016.’

Stéphany Lesaint, assistant winemaker at Château Mazeyres in Pomerol, said that she, too, was very pleased with how things have turned out – but it wasn’t an easy year.

‘We had the 800mm of rain up to June, which is really unusual. But we had one week of sun, which was during the flowering and this permitted vines to have a very generous crop. After June, we had 42 days with no rain and very hot temperatures.’

Some producers at last night’s dinner said that they expected critics to notice variation in appellations, given the two extremes of weather.

Stay tuned on Decanter.com this week for Jane Anson’s first impressions of the Bordeaux 2016 vintage. 

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