It may be early in the marathon that is Bordeaux En Primeur—the world’s biggest weeklong barrel-tasting event—but it’s not too soon to say that 2016 is a great vintage overall.
In Bordeaux, 2016 was a strange year. It was exceedingly wet the first half of the year and bone dry for much of the second half. Combine the two and the resulting wines are balanced, much to many producers’ surprise.
Vineyards caked with mud and rampant with mildew are not a great sight in the middle of summer. But come July and August, there was no rain, and instead wall-to-wall sunshine.
That weather continued to the end of harvest, except for a storm on September 13 that provided much-needed water. It was never too hot, just dry and warm, with cool nights.
The results? The wines are full and dense, with ripe tannins and generous fruit. The secret ingredient in the success of these wines is their crisp acidity, and that balance is what makes a great Bordeaux vintage.
“It is such a special vintage. We have ripe fruit, we have exceptional tannins and then we have so much freshness,” said Olivier Berrouet, director of Château Pétrus in Pomerol.
What is En Primeur?
In Bordeaux, the top estates (and an increasing number of others) sell their wine while it’s still in the barrel (two years before it’s released), rather than waiting to sell it when the wine is bottled.
Typically, each estate sells portions of its production to several négociants, who then sell the wines on to other merchants or importers, through retailers or restaurants and finally to the end consumer. In America, look for reputable retailers with experience offering, and track records of delivering, Bordeaux “futures.”
The process means chateaus limit their risk and improve their cash flow by getting paid before the wine leaves their properties. Consumers get a chance to purchase wines at the opening, theoretically lowest prices.
The system works for consumers when the vintage is good, like 2016, because huge worldwide demand means that buyers get a chance to buy wines before the wines sell out or prices escalate. In bad years, with low demand, buying futures is a waste of time and possibly money.
Tomorrow: European Editor Roger Voss will be in Pessac-Léognan rating and reviewing more Bordeaux.
Top 10 Wines Tasted at En Primeur So Far
I score in a three-point range for two reasons: One, the wines are in barrel, not in bottle, which means they aren’t finished yet, and two, the blend is approximate. Although producers claim that what we taste at en primeur is the finished blend, that’s not always the case. As the wines age further, the blend can be adjusted. In fact, by law, producers are allowed to add 15 percent of wine from another vintage. That would certainly make a difference in the wine.
What producers do with the wine could likely depend on the reviews and the scores they receive as well as the purchase orders they anticipate.
Prices? That’s decided after producers assess the market, which can take anywhere from a few days to months after journalists and wine-trade taste the wines. If you want to buy en primeur, talk to your retailer.
Château Ausone 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Emilion); 98-100 points. This wine has the potential to be an 100-point selection. It is hugely rich and perfumed, with 50% Cabernet Franc. It has great intensity and richness, with the promise to age well over so many years. This is one of the largest quantities of Ausone made in recent years thanks to vintage quality. Impressive and for the long-term.
Château Lafite Rothschild 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 98-100 points. Potentially an 100 point wine, this is a dense, serious and impressive selection. There is a classical structure to this wine, with dark tannins and acidity working in tandem. At the same time, the wine has immense, opulent fruits that are a characteristic of this vintage. It’s a wine that will last for many generations.
Château Latour 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac), 98-100 points. Reaching for 100 points, this Latour has great structure and power. Almost pure Cabernet Sauvignon this year, it is a grandiose wine, packed with tannins, rich black fruits and a solid core that will allow it to age over so many years. The acidity and crisp black-currant flavor at the end means the fruit can only shine even more as it develops. Superb.
Château Palmer 2016 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 98-100 points. Potentially an 100-point wine, this is beautifully ripe and rich, with sweet tannins as well as opulent black fruit tones. A higher than usual proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend gives the wine its density, sophistication and great sense of presence.
Château Pétrus 2016 Barrel Sample (Pomerol); 98-100 points. A wine with the potential for 100 points, this is velvety, with blackberry fruit and a rich texture. It is intense, seductive and a real charmer, while at the same time, there are hugely dense tannins that support the fruit. It is a superb wine both for its generous character and for its immense structure. Keep for decades.
Château Angélus 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Emilion); 97-99 points. This wine is certainly structured, but it is the fruit that gives it its greatness. Beautiful ripe berries and plums burst from the glass. They are backed by ample tannins on the palate, as well as great acidity that gives the year its freshness. It is a very fine wine, packed with fruit and with everything it needs to age for many years.
Château Cheval Blanc 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Emilion); 97-99 points. Fruit and tannins have combined so harmoniously in this impressive, magnificent wine. The acidity shoots through to give considerable freshness, lifting the blackberry fruit. What makes the wine though are the tannins, which support the marvelous fruit. It will obviously age for many, many years.
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Julien); 97-99 points. This wine is so stylish, with a great future that is all balance and elegance. There are structured tannins as well as ample acidity that will allow the wine to age gracefully. A great Ducru with restrained power for long-term aging.
Château Figeac 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Emilion), 97-99 points. This aromatic wine is magnificent in its balance and richness. With its high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon (38%), it is so typical of this estate. The tannins are velvety while packing a firm punch. Dark and concentrated, it is a great wine for long-term aging.
Château Haut-Brion 2016 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 97-99 points. Structured and serious, this is complex and dense. Dark black-plum fruits are covered by powerful tannins and ample acidity. It is destined for long, slow aging.