During the last week of March and the first week of April, I did something I’ve never done before: I awarded six Bordeaux wines potentially perfect 100-point scores.
Why potentially? These and 250 other wines I tasted during en primeur were still in barrel from the 2016 harvest.
The last three vintages—2014, 2015 and 2016—have delivered a plethora of fine wines. Vintage 2014 was a fruity relief after three lame years. Vintage 2015 was the first really fine year since 2010.
And now there is 2016. I’ve been blown away by the quality of these wines. They’re good at all levels, from the $10 bottle of basic Bordeaux to the wines that will sell for hundreds of dollars.
For me, there’s no question that this is the year to buy fine Bordeaux as futures, known as the “buy now, drink later” wine plan. But be sure to vet your retailer first.
Guillaume Clarke de Dromantin, the export manager for the Americas at Bordeaux négociant Compagnie Médocaine des Grands Crus, says, “2016 has the structure of 2005 and the fruit of 2009. Americans will love 2016. It has so much fruit.”
With so much good wine coming out of Bordeaux (the city was named Lonely Planet’s No. 1 destination for 2017), it’s tough to know where to start, especially with wines you won’t taste or even take delivery of for 18 months.
The current vintage of fine Bordeaux on the market is 2014. It’s good, likely to age relatively quickly and is enjoyable.
The top 2015s will be longer lived, but also more expensive than the 2014s. They’ll be on the market soon, at prices the same as or less than 2016.
My strategy, one endorsed by importers I’ve talked to, is to use 2014 as the template to buy 2016. Buy, drink, and enjoy the 2014s. Let that whet your whistle for the 2016s you want to pursue as futures, or when they come on the market.
Talk to your preferred retailer and consult my Wine Enthusiast Buying Guide reviews for 2014, 2015 and 2016. I’m as curious as you as to whether my potential six 100s—Ausone, Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Palmer and Pétrus—will turn into reality.
Wines to Get You Started
At more realistic price points than the potential 100-pointers, I recommend these five chateaus in both 2014 and 2016. Prices for the 2016s were not available at press time.
Château Figeac, St-Emilion
Château Figeac 2014 Saint-Émilion; $90, 97 points. The classic blend for Figeac with its 32% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc gives a beautifully dense wine with great tannins. The wine is perfumed while the complex tannins are finely cushioned by the generous black fruits and acidity. It is a wine for long-term aging. Drink from 2026.
Château Figeac 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 97–99 points.Barrel Sample. 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 Malartic-Lagravière, Pessac-Léognan
Château Malartic-Lagravière 2014 Pessac-Léognan; $60, 95 points. Tight tannins mask the ripe fruit in a wine that is set for long-term aging, so there is a dry core that dominates at the moment. But not for long: the bold black fruits are insistent and are going to be delicious. This is a structured wine that will be ready in 2026.
Château Malartic-Lagravière 2016 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan);96–98 points. Barrel Sample. A powerfully dense, impressive wine from a top-performing estate with a solid, foursquare structure. The crisp acidity so much in evidence in this vintage shines through all this richness. Keep the wine for at least 12 years.
Château Branaire-Ducru, St-Julien
Château Branaire-Ducru 2014 Saint-Julien; $46, 94 points. Spicy, rich and full of ripe fruit, this wine has great potential. It is structured and dense while bringing out a stylish elegance. Blackberry fruit dominates the tannins to create a wine that has both concentration and fine fruit. Drink from 2022.
Château Branaire-Ducru 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Julien).95–97. Barrel Sample. Superbly ripe and juicy, this is a solid, powerful wine that also is packed with black currant fruits. It is richly structured, concentrated and ready for long-term aging.
Château Lafon-Rochet, St-Estèphe
Château Lafon-Rochet 2014 Saint-Estèphe; $46, 93 points. Big-hearted fruit dominates this smooth wine. The estate, owned by the Tesseron family and close to their other property of Pontet-Canet, is performing well and it shows in this juicy ripe wine, full of generous tannins. The aftertaste shows both acidity and concentration. Drink from 2022.
Château Lafon Rochet 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Estèphe); 95–97 points. Barrel Sample. The great improvements at this estate have really paid off in this fine wine. Owned by another branch of the family that owns Pontet-Canet, the estate has produced a beautifully structured wine, packed with tannins and full of delicious blackberry fruits. It’s a wine with a great future, to be held until 2028 and beyond.
Château Larose-Trintaudon, Haut-Médoc
Château Larose-Trintaudon 2014 Haut-Médoc; $23, 91 points. One of the largest vineyards in the Médoc and just outside Pauillac, this estate is also one of the most reliable. This vintage is finely structured with just the right amount of tannin to support the black and red-berry fruits. Fruity and juicy, it should be ready to drink from 2020.
Château Larose-Trintaudon 2016 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc). 91–93 points. Barrel Sample. As always, this is a wine that is generously fruited. The estate, close to Pauillac, has made a rounded, rich wine, full of blackberry fruits and fine final acidity.
European Editor Roger Voss has reported from Bordeaux’s en primeur tastings for 20 years. Every year, even in tough times, Bordeaux makes better and better wine. And every year, he returns to the tastings full of anticipation and excitement.