Bdx 2016 Left Bank & Graves overview


My first taste in situ of the much anticipated 2016 vintage came this year at the swanky Ch Guiraud EP soiree on the Sunday night before the trade heads out en mass on the Monday for the tasting marathon. Here I was able to sample some of my favourite estates lsuch as Domaine de Chevalier (Red & White), Clos de Oratoire, Canon La Gaffeliere, Guiraud itself in a relaxed setting without furiously writing tasting notes...with food too. If only we had time to taste all the wines this way, but I'd be there for a couple of months (now there's an idea!). The wine that really hit me as very different to last year & in fact any other EP year was Domaine de Chevalier which was so sumptuous & gentle with it's tannic stucture & fruit I had to head for a second shot to work it out. It was then I realised that everything was, in fact, there in place & it was (of course!) a perfectly balanced wine. The relative ease that it drinks (now) reflects the lower alcohol level & supple, pure character of the vintage. 2016 is not a gang of powerful blockbuster wines, but select, elegant & refined gathering, highly nuanced & finely grained. We can argue that elegance was also present in last years wines but the point is made. 2016's are very poised & fine & all the previous better vintages I have tasted from barrel back to 2008 have been somewhat fuller in style at this stage. That doesn't mean that these wine lack tannins or acidity (in some cases they have higher levels of both than 2015) it's just that you don't feel them as the fruit is so ripe & balanced they feel somehow lighter! They are actually lighter too because the lower alcohol. It's good stuff to engage with that's for sure.
This was a fascinating start but I hadn't quite got my head round it yet. The next day on the left bank it continued - I was also finding highly enjoyable wines at Meyney, Montrose, Cos, Phelan Segur (double tick!), Lafon Rochet but no blockbuster wines in sight - just something other worldly & ethereal about them. One of, if not the best, tasting I had all day was at Ch Mouton Rothschild where the mastery at work in all of the Mouton stable was clearly evident. Clerc Milon, Petit Mouton displayed the finesse of top Pauillac's deep, dark & cassis laced but not raw Pauillac power this year. Mouton itself was a really beguiling prospect (with a bit more tannin) but I earmarked Armailhac as the one I would want in my own cellar if priced fairly.  I was getting the gist by this point that (some of) the Bordelais were thinking they had made the best vintage of all time. With the difficult growing season & the quality they've ended up with it starts to take on an almost biblical dimension...floods, droughts, plagues, messiahs...and....redemption! Naturally one has to bow to the knowledge of their own terroir but for me only time will reveal the true quality & I don't feel in any way inclined to be swept away (ahem) with that kind of hype. It's fun wrestling with it though.

Most of what we tasted on the left bank was Cabernet dominated as much as was possible indicating that the later ripening Cabernet was the way to go at most estates. At Ducru Beaucaillou they had 85% cab, at Lafite (excellent too) they had 92%, 75% at Pichon Lalande, I did find the Merlot working very well at Lilian Ladouys (St Estephe) though & marking this as a possible buy for TBC if all the posh wines are out of reach. The Merlot at Ch Palmer (47v47%) was well used too where as Ch Margaux itself was nearly all Cabernet again (94%). Very interesting considering they are next door to each other! The St Juliens were charm personified. Again no wow factor aromatics but in the mouth they sing & dance with violety freshness. Subtle, delicate & pure. Leoville Barton, Poyferre, Beychevelle & Las Cases unsurprisingly impress but one that stood out that might just be a bit cheaper is Gruaud Larose. It just had something different about it that was graphite in nature...perhaps it reminded me of the usual style though! I actually marked it above Leoville Barton for once but I'd come back for both wines at some point. It's pretty much all on a high level of around 17/20 points or there abouts for the St Estephe, Pauillac & St Julien. The Margaux's I found a bit more variable. Rauzan Segla was really up there with Ch Margaux for me & the best of the rest I found to be Kirwan. If you've been passing on Kirwan in recent years it really has been making solid progress at a very fair price but I can't see how the low pricing can continue without being noticed. All in all if you are a first growth buyer I would prioritise Pauillac & Pessac 1st growths.

All in all the Medoc seems slightly ahead of the right bank but there are actually stunning achievements in Pomerol which I'll come to. In the Graves there is also some clearly exquisite & seductive wines. Red & White are both very attractive prospects in Pessac Leognan. Haut Brion itself was a total stunner. I left it in my mouth for 30 seconds & not a hint of burn or unpleasantness. Just first class winemaking from top end old skool Bordeaux terroir. La Mission HB too & also the second wines of red & white variety. For those of you looking for a rising coming star I would recommend Les Carmes Haut Brion, & their weeny city bound vineyard, a couple of back gardens away from Haut Brion itself. There has been huge investment here for what is only a very small amount of volume possible - about 5h. The new owners have spent an absolute packet on a Philip Starck winery (pictured), not to mention the most expensive purchase of Bdx vineyard in history. The winemaker, Guillaume, is a talented dude & rather maverick in approach (trained with Chapoutier). He had a glint in his eye & the wine was quite unique with it's Cabernet Franc led blend. If this is still well priced it might just be an investment tip? I'm not bothered about the flashiness of the winery but the wine itself was smarter.

To sum up we have an unconventional vintage here...difficult to compare with previous vintages but I think the oracle Bill Blatch put it interestingly when he said
"We can start to guess what they will be like: a bit lighter than the 2015s, less massive than the 2009s and, by their relatively low pH, less vivacious than the 2014s but, by the finesse and purity of their concentration, they will certainly qualify for a position among such vintages, rather in the same way as the very fine 1988s did among the fuller-styled 1989s and 1990s."
I'm happy to be drawn in but the prices have to be fair...2016 has not proved itself yet but heads are turning & it is certainly endowed with much beauty...