2016 red Bordeaux tasting UGC London 16th October 2018

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-10-17


When tasted from barrel in the spring of 2017, it was very evident that this was a vintage with loads of extract, with one of the highest ever IPT levels ever recorded in Bordeaux. IPT is a measure of the combined phenolic compounds in the juice - principally tannins and colorants responsible for the red, purple and blue hues in grapes. Large bunches of rather small berries meant high skin to juice ratios.

We suspected that the finest wines were those who extractions were gentle - neatly summarised by Frédéric Faye at Chateau Figeac who described their fermentation process as an ‘infusion’ with the gentlest of extractions achieved from the submerged cap.

With the proviso that the 2016s have been in bottle for as little as 3 months, this was an opportunity to re-taste a selection and test our original impressions from 18 months ago.

The more extracted wines with highest IPT levels were evident, and at this stage it has to be said that they were the least harmonious. Where there was a desire to make full use of, or to accentuate, all the elements proffered by nature, the palate tended to be dominated by raw power, the scale undeniable but at the expense of charm for now.

The structure of 2016, hidden under a cloak of velvety fruit and sweet tannins when barrel samples, was much more evident now the wines are in bottle, and this structure allied to tremendously aromatic fruit in the best examples, affirms 2016 as a vintage with some truly great wines in the making.

It’s not just a great cabernet sauvignon vintage either, with some of the right bank merlots absolutely stunning. La Conseillante that had seemed a little sweet and svelte at the property in April 2017 is now brilliantly pitched, with extremely expressive and aromatic fruit held in check by an impressive frame of tannins.

What was slightly surprising however, was the wide variation. Those who are tempted to categorise 2016 as a uniformly great vintage will be disappointed; there is plenty of dull wine. The difference between the vintage's heights and the good average is a chasm.

The Northern Medoc had an especially successful vintage, with Cantermerle showing excellent concentration and focus, and my pick of the appellation at en primeur, Citran, showing all of its former promise and more. Could this be the bargain of the vintage?

Domaine de Chevalier has made an epic red, with great substance and lovely resonance, and on this showing had the better of the high-in-cabernet-franc Carmes Haut-Brion. Though evidently fine fruited, Haut Bailly’s firm tannins are a bit overwhelming for now. Both Pape Clement and Smith Haut Lafitte major on great substance and scale, but show a raw or unknit character at this early stage.

Canon was showing very defined fruit with loads of grip but for now felt very slightly loose on the finish. Figeac has managed to combine stunning definition, texture, harmony and length and on this showing must be a 100 point wine in the making.

Gazin was absolutely charming with an impressively solid core. La Conseillante as already mentioned was a hit.

St Estephe and Pauillac were as good as expected given how fine the Cabernet was from this upper part of the Medoc peninsular, and wines from Cos Labory and Phelan Segur were notably excellent at their price levels.

Clerc Milon had stood out as exceptional in April 2017, and now in bottle shows impressive density, a huge finish and attractive gaminess. D’Armailhac was extremely exciting, packed with red fruit and finely beaded acidity and plenty of accompanying structure. Pichon Longueville Comtesse was one of the stars of the en primeur tasting and once again stood out for its super-refinement: unquestionably a top wine of the vintage.

In St Julien the Bartons stood out. Langoa was svelte, intense, showed gorgeous scale and definition at a very attractive price point. Leoville Barton was another league and heads above the other St Juliens. Huge, but super fresh, light-footed, with a mouthwatering blood orange infused core and a very direct, linear finish. One of the greatest wines of the vintage.

Lagrange was fine, the tannins so ripe and silky that their velvety texture cloak its underlying structure, just as it did when tasted in London a year ago. Talbot was back to it’s very best, likely up there with its beautifully balanced 1982.

The Margaux appellation in the main was not quite as exciting as the magnificent 2015s, a vintage in which the commune excelled. However one stood out for it’s stunning definition and extraordinary elegance. A fitting wine to finish this round-up of 2016s in bottle. Beautifully textured. A wine that simply flows across the palate with effortless grace. It helps that it’s also one of the most under-rated wines in the whole of Bordeaux, sitting as it does on great terroir. The wine in question is Chateau Dufort-Vivens, Second Growth Margaux, fully biodynamic, and an outstanding success in 2016.


En Primeur - DAY THREE: Saint-Julien Delivers

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-04-12


A late return tonight (past midnight) and a long day, waking at 05:00. But there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak. Over the course of the day we gathered thoughts in advance for the below.


Saint-Julien Delivers

JR has been looking for patterns all week - some form of shape around which to build recommendations for wise en primeur purchases. Until this afternoon we failed to find anything solid, but then...Saint-Julien delivered. At the UGC (Union des Grands Crus) Saint-Julien tasting hosted by Chateau Beychevelle at its modern-looking new winery, we noticed a clear consistency in the wines; there wasn't a dud among them. Well, maybe there was one, but we don't need to talk about that as it wasn't really that bad. Either way, this was the first appellation we'd seen where quality was reliably high in these en primeur tastings. Everywhere else had required dedicated tasting to work out what was hot and what was not. So thank you Saint-Julien, and bravo!


Bright Whites

Of course, as soon as this pattern had been spotted, we remembered another that we wanted to talk about yesterday(but ran out of time). It's the incredible purity to the whites this year, all around Bordeaux - not just in Graves where we were today (starting with Haut-Brion, Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte) but everywhere. Lovely balanced wines great concentration and acidity, and pithy, chalky tannins. Our tasting notes are full of descriptors like kaffir lime leaves, sweet sage, gooseberry, sherbet and candied lemon. Even lemon verbena made it in there. 2017 looks like a really great year for Bordeaux whites.


©Nick Martin / Wine Owners

The Cold Shoulder

Frost - the running theme of conversations all around Bordeaux this week - was as much as issue in Graves as it was in the right bank. The frost pattern here in the Graves seems to have been much more black and white than over in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. For some producers, there is a glittering silver lining to this rather painful situation, in that they adapted to it by significantly changing their blend and have come out smiling. Larrivet Haut-Brion is a gleaming example of this; the team there turned their blend around to use three times the usual amount of Cabernet Franc, and one third the amount of Merlot (which got severely hit by the frost). Les Carmes de Haut Brion is a similar story, and a similar success.

We have been focusing a lot on the frost topic (both here in the blog, and in our conversations with producers), but in fact a key point we'd like to make is that the frost is not something that consumers and investors should really focus on. What really matters, ultimately, is what each of the producers has managed to create. There are no strong patterns that consumers can reliably follow with regard to the frost.


Softly Softly Catchy Monkey

After a morning on the right bank, we returned to the Medoc, to the UGC tasting at Lafon Rochet. There, Basil Tesseron told us that 2017 was a vintage where it was extremely important not to over-extract, not being a super-ripe or sunny vintage. Over-extraction would just lead to mean, green bitter compounds leaching into the wine. This echoed a sentiment raised earlier in the day at Smith Haut-Lafitte, where the team did 4 pigeages per day, but no pumperovers, in order to keep the winemaking relatively gentle. 2017 was a year to be patient for picking and gentle in the winery.

©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners

Less (Wine) Does Not Necessarily Mean More (Money)

Despite indications given by some chateaux that smaller harvests will mean higher release prices, we see no justification for this. Traditionally, in vintages which are not 'stellar' -particularly those which followed relatively good vintages (as 2016 was) vintages, prices have tended to drop or remain roughly stable. Even in 2006 prices didn't significantly rise; they stayed roughly the same as 2005 even though the vintage clearly wasn't quite as impressive.

Tomorrow is a final look at the top producers we've not yet visited, all around the region. Lots of driving, between Le Pin, Angelus, La Conseillante, Eglise-Clinet and then back over the river to Latour, Leoville Barton and Palmer. Here's hoping for good driving conditions!



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