Tasting the 2016 Vintage at Bordeaux's En Primeur
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.
Top 10 Wines Tasted on the First Day of En Primeur and the Methodology
Wines from the first day included all regions of Bordeaux. 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.
Tomorrow: European Editor Roger Voss will be in Pessac-Léognan rating and reviewing more Bordeaux.
Follow @wineenthusiast #WEtasteBDX #EnPrimeur for more of my updates from the frontlines.
The view of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage from En Primeur includes standout wines from Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe along with Saint-Émilion and Pomerol.
Bordeaux is vast, with key differences between the main divisions of the Right Bank of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, and the Left Bank of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan.
Specifically, the Right Bank has clay soil and features Merlot and Cabernet Franc in its blends. The Left Bank has gravel soil and focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in its blends. In both these distinctive areas, the 2016 vintage is equally high in quality.
For a better idea of this fine vintage, let’s talk about the Médoc. In my opinion, the two top appellations are Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe.
“It’s my 40th harvest and this is the best wine I have ever made,” says Alfred Tesseron, owner of Château Pontet-Canet in Pauillac. “The balance, the length and the elegance are almost perfect.”
The same holds true for the Pessac-Léognan, the region south of the city of Bordeaux, where estates are in top form. As Gabriel Vialard, technical manager at Château Haut-Bailly puts it, “We have tannins, big tannins. But they are like a caress. You just feel them and never notice them.”
Meanwhile, in Saint-Émilion, Cabernet Franc is shining, At estates like Château Angélus, the 2016 vintage is 40 percent Cabernet Franc. And due to climate change, more and more growers are planting this grape, replacing Merlot where the soil is right.
“It’s our signature grape. It gave the wine its energy as well as elegance,” says Château Angélus owner Hubert de Bouärd.
This leaves Pomerol, home of 100-percent Merlot wines like Château Pétrus. Yes, the alcohol is high—some the highest across Bordeaux—but this vintage is equally high in elegance.
“This is an outstanding vintage,” says Alexandre Thienpont, owner of one of the top estates in this appellation, Château Vieux Certan. “Even with the ripe Merlot we have made a wine that is so balanced.”
“Balanced.” “Elegant.” “Almost perfect.” These are the key words being used to describe 2016 Bordeaux—a vintage some winemakers are claiming is the greatest they have ever had.
Selected Recommended Wines
Le Dôme 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 97-99 points. This is a magnificently perfumed, smoky wine. Rich and concentrated, it is hugely dense while keeping a sense of elegance. Black plums, black berries and damsons show a fruitier side. It is a superb wine, concentrated and solidly structured, made for the long haul.
Les Astéries 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 96-98 points. This is a beautifully balanced wine. Tannins and a mineral texture are contrasted by acidity as well as plump blackberry and black plum fruits. It is textured and structured, with considerable aging potential.
Château Cos d’Estournel 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Estèphe), 96-98 points. This perfumed wine is stylish and elegant. It is all about the magnificent and sophisticated fruit. At the same time, don’t be fooled by the richness: the tannins are all there, a dense and concentrated core at the heart of this seriously ageworthy wine. It demands many years.
Château Haut-Bailly 2016 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 96-98 points. Firm tannins cannot mask the fact that this aromatic wine is gorgeous, rich and fruity. It has a powerful structure to sustain the black plum and berry flavors. It is an impressive and concentrated wine, ready for the long haul.
Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2016 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 96-98 points. This is a seductive, rounded and smooth wine, with fine fruit that cushions the solid tannins. It has spicy tones and ample acidity as well as delicious, concentrated fruitiness. This is going to be a beautiful wine.
Château La Conseillante 2016 Barrel Sample (Pomerol); 95-97 points. This rich, structured wine has ripe tannins and sumptuous black fruit. There is a touch of bitterness from extraction, resulting in dark chocolate flavors. It’s powerful, at 14% alcohol by volume, without being excessive.
Vieux Château Mazerat 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95-97 points. This is a concentrated, structured wine, with dark tannins and acidity in balance. Black plum skins and spice show strongly, along with a touch of pepper from the alcohol. It is a big and powerful wine.
Château Duhart Milon 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 95-97 points. This ripe wine is full of great fruit aromas and flavors. Rich, juicy blackberry is combined with intense tannins and ample acidity on the palate. It is a fine summation of the vintage, with opulent fruit that mellows serious tannins. It might seem accessible with all this fruit, but don’t be fooled, the wine will need many years.
Château Latour 2016 Les Forts de Latour Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 94-96 points. This is a great wine, with superb tannins and rich fruit flavors that are in balance. Made from 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, the palate is dominated by black-currant flavor and a pleasant structure from the very fine tannins.
Château Monbousquet 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 93-95 points. The home of Pavie owner Gerard Perse is on the Saint-Emilion plain, classified as a Grand Cru Classé in a recent re-classification of Saint-Emilion estates. This wine is richly concentrated, powered by both fruit and tannins in equal quantities. It should age well over the long term.
Tomorrow: European Editor Roger Voss will investigate what the trade thinks of the 2016 vintage and get the market story behind the wines importers will be buying.
Follow @wineenthusiast #WEtasteBDX #EnPrimeur for more of my updates from the frontlines.
Big quantities and high quality: That’s the story of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage. Pricing will come out in drips over the next six to eight weeks and then go through upward price stages until it gets to your house in mid- to late 2018.
But there is an elephant in the barrel room. Will the United States add an import tax by the time the wine ships across the ocean? Will the very favorable dollar-to-euro rate change? Will Brexit and the poor pound change the buying patterns of the biggest market for French wines? Will China, a reluctant suitor since being stung with 2010s, return?
Bordeaux producers follow what is going on in the markets of their biggest customers: the U.S., Britain and China. Each one raises different problems that may make it harder to sell even a fine vintage.
The interest is there, as the number of attendees at En Primeur this year are breaking all records. Olivier Bernard, president of the Union des Grand Crus, the grouping of top Bordeaux estates, told me Monday, “We have 6,500 trade coming to taste. That’s 2,000 more than last year. We can’t believe it.” Taste, yes, but buy? That’s the uncertainty I heard from many chateau owners and at tastings.
“We learned a lot in years challenged by Gulf wars, freedom fries, currency swings and recessions and can balance the supply and demand curve.” —Daniel Greathouse, Heidelberg Vineyards
“We worry about the uncertain politics and about the possibility of an import tax cutting into the demand of importers (in the United States),” said Edouard Moeuix of Jean-Pierre Moueix, one of the big estate owners and negociants in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Daniel Greathouse, president of Heidelberg Vineyards in Ohio, who is a regular buyer of futures, confirmed this, “Potential new tariffs are a reasonable concern, but would likely affect wines at the high tier where volumes are low.”
Among American tasters, there are enthusiastic buyers. Greathouse was emphatic, saying, “Let me be clear: We will be a buyer. We learned a lot in years challenged by Gulf wars, freedom fries, currency swings and recessions and can balance the supply and demand curve. The market will be strong in affordable price tiers and friends will chip in to buy a few bottles and share some first-growth experiences.”
What he is indicating is that the top wines will inevitably be expensive and probably more expensive than the 2015 vintage. They are the collectibles. But talk to producers below this level and they know they cannot raise their prices. That makes the 2016 vintage a bargain for consumers.
Not into eight-buck Bordeaux but can’t necessarily afford an 100-point wine? No problem. When wines arrive on American shores in 18 months, there will be terrific wines and great bargains such as the Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc from $20 and up.
Kathleen Buckley contributed to this story.
Tomorrow: European Editor Roger Voss will give his wrap-up of En Primeur, tell you what to buy and reveal the Wine of the Vintage.
Click here to see all of the 2016 En Primeur wine reviews.
Top 10 Wines Tasted Today
Château Mouton Rothschild 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 98-100 points. The opulence of this wine is very much in the tradition of the estate. This year, though, there is a level of freshness that’s amazing. The generous tannins and acidity give the wine the perfect lift. It’s a great wine from this estate, likely to mature for decades.
Château Léoville Barton 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Julien); 97-99 points. This is a powerful wine, with superb tannins and blackberry fruits. It has a dense texture allied to stylish fruitiness and acidity. The result is a wine with the potential to age over a long period of time, while probably showing well starting in 2028.
Château Belair-Monange 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 96-98 points. This wine is ripe and beautifully perfumed. Juicy, concentrated blackberry flavors are backed by structured tannins. It is wine for the long haul.
Château Canon 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 96-98 points. A powerful, concentrated and superripe wine, this is major. The wine’s juicy black-plum fruit balances its dark tannins and density. You can sense the impressive future for this structured wine.
Château Giscours 2016 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 96-98 points. This wine is massive, dense and solid. At the same time, it has style and elegance. The result is that it is ripe, yet perfumed, with ample black fruit and mouthwatering acidity. Cellar at least 12 years.
Château Lynch-Bages 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 96-98 points. This wine is ripe and opulent, while still elegant. The balance is fine, showing plenty of concentration and a light touch of acidity. Black currant fruit matches the tannins and structure, making this one for the long term.
Château Malartic-Lagravière 2016 Barrel Sample (Pessac-Léognan); 96-98 points. 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 Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 96-98 points. Dense tannins and dark fruits are just a part of this wine’s complex character. It is ripe, full of blackberries, yet solid, with a structure that balances the fruit. It should age extremely well; be ready be prepared to hold this for 15 years or more.
Château Rauzan-Ségla 2016 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 96-98 points. This wine is ripe, perfumed and firmly textured. It has balance, concentrated tannins and already just the right sense of wood and structure. It will obviously last; try it in 12–15 years.
Château Troplong Mondot 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 96-98 points. In a style that this estate has made its own, this is a lush, superripe wine. There is a sense of high alcohol, although the fruit and the tannins are so generous that all is forgiven. An immensely rich wine, it should have a long cellaring future.
This is my 20th Bordeaux En Primeur experience and the 2016 is the finest vintage I’ve tasted. There are so many wines that merit praise.
The quality of this vintage has given me the chance to award some of my highest ratings. In fact, I could very well grant a 100-point score to as many as five wines once they’re finalized and eventually reviewed in bottle. (For now, you can find ratings and reviews of all my en primeur tastings here.)
Indeed, even the most cautious of winemakers are jumping for joy. Thomas Duroux, director of Château Palmer in Margaux, raved about the structure of the new wines, essential for the long-life of a Bordeaux.
“There are some extraordinary tannins, refined and sophisticated. I have never seen anything quite like it,” Duroux said. These qualities, along with the freshness and acidity present in the wines, are the story of 2016.
What has been especially exciting about the 2016 vintage is that it’s a success at all price points. Estates such as the Crus Bourgeois in the Médoc or many of the Crus Classés of Saint-Émilion—which will end up retailing for $20–$50—should be on everyone’s must-buy list.
As Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages said today, to be able to open a bottle bought today in 20, 30 or 50 years is a tribute to the beauty of wine.
Looking back on vintage success, there were five exceptional Bordeaux vintages in the 20th century: 1929, 1945, 1961, 1982 and 1989. So far in the 21st century, there have been four: 2000, 2005, 2010 and now 2016. These vintages are, by anyone’s standards, extraordinary.
The reasons for this high quality? Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Climate change has allowed both of these grapes to ripen well and regularly. Without these two noble grapes, Bordeaux would not be shining as brightly as it is this vintage. These grapes are no doubt the stars of Bordeaux.
On the other hand, Merlot, which is still the most widely planted vine in Bordeaux, is suffering from climate change. The result is high-alcohol levels, creating an imbalance in blends. The exception has been in Pomerol, where the grape is showing very well.
When looking ahead, there are sure to be more great Bordeaux vintages to come, but climate change is not stopping. Bordeaux could become too hot for Cabernet and may be better suited to Syrah and Grenache as time goes on.
Buying Strategy for the 2016 Bordeaux Vintage
This is the vintage to purchase if you have any interest in buying wines to cellar. As Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages said today, to be able to open a bottle purchased today in 20, 30 or 50 years is a tribute to the beauty of wine.
It’s highly likely that the top wines will rise in price. Unless you want icon wines, look lower at the classed growths that don’t make the headlines, especially from Haut-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. And don’t forget Pessac-Léognan, for both reds and whites. In Saint-Émilion, buy wines with a good percentage of Cabernet Franc.
If you decide to buy 2016 futures, get in touch with a reputable wine retailer who specializes in buying Bordeaux en primeur. You can choose from their selection, and pay part now and part on delivery in 2018. Check your retailer’s terms, insurance policies and their reputation, to be safe.
Then sit back and wait. The once your wines arrive, you will be the proud owner of exceptional bottlings from a very great vintage. And your children will thank you.
Click here to see all of the 2016 En Primeur wine reviews.
Top 10 Wines Tasted Today
Château Pichon-Baron 2016 Barrel Sample (Pauillac); 96-98 points. This is a sumptuous wine, its black fruit tones surrounding ripe tannins. It is generous in acidity as well as an open ripe-fruit character. It is concentrated and obviously designed to age well; drink from 2024.
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95-97 points. Minty aromas signal the effect new wood is already having on this wine. The fruit is opulent and ripe, with generous blackberry and plum flavors filling the glass. It will take many years to develop, so drink after 2029.
Château Beausejour-Duffau-Lagarrosse 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95-97 points. This small estate, a Premier Grand Cru Classé in Saint-Emilion, is now showing its pedigree. This vintage wine is impressively ripe as well as structured. It has serious tannins that are inextricably wedded to the powerful black fruits. It will last for many years, so hold it until 2029, at least.
Château la Gaffelière 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 95-97 points. This is a firmly structured wine, its tannins dominating the potential of the ripe fruit. It will take many years to develop into the impressive wine that it is sure to become.
Château d’Issan 2016 Barrel Sample (Margaux); 94-96 points. This wine has an austere structure, with firm tannins. The fruit comes through slowly, revealing an attractive black-currant flavor and ample acidity. This will be a very fine wine with time; try after 2029.
Château Cantemerle 2016 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc); 94-96 points. This is another successful vintage from this estate. It is so finely structured that you notice the blackberry fruit more than the tannins, with a seam of crisp acidity throughout.
Château Larcis Ducasse 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion); 94-96 points. Classified as a Premier Grand Cru Classé, this estate is benefiting from the consultancy of Nicolas Thienpont. The wine is dense, although it has so much fruit that is also feels open and generous. Structured tannins will allow it to age well, so drink after 2029.
Château Belgrave 2016 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc); 93-95 points. This is an opulent wine, packed with ripe fruit, sweet tannins and ample acidity, all in balance. The wine is full and juicy, with great spice at the end. The finish is firm while still reveling in fruitiness.
Château Le Boscq 2016 Barrel Sample (Saint-Estèphe); 93-95 points. This is a wine that, even with its firm tannins, brings out opulent blackberry fruits and great acidity. It is concentrated, relying on its great structure, and should be ready to enjoy from 2029.
Chateau La Tour Carnet 2016 Barrel Sample (Haut-Médoc); 93-95 points. This is a rich wine, packed with tannins that contrast the fresh acidity and black currant fruit. It’s a solid wine that’s constructed to age.
- 1Day One: En Primeur and the 2016 Vintage
- 2Day Two: Balance and Elegance in Both the Left Bank and Right Bank
- 3Day Three: How the International Market May Affect Pricing
- 4Day Four: The New Golden Age of Bordeaux