2015 Vintage Overview


TBC has just returned from 5 days of intensive tasting of the 2016 Bordeaux barrel samples. This trip is always the highlight of my wine year & I can't see any other trips topping it! Which wine merchant in their right mind wouldn't bristle with excitement when diving so deeply into the heart of such prestigious old world terroir? For a wine professional (which I suppose I have to call myself these days though I still sometimes feel like I've just blagged in!) 2016 was a totally intriguing spectacle of terroir & viticulture. I've never tasted any other vintage like it from barrel - it's my 8th year tasting EP now. There are some totally beguiling wines but boy is their appeal more subtle & harder to read than previous 'great' modern vintages. The mind-blowingly powerful, lush 2009's, the superbly structured 2010's & the hugely impressive 2015's were for me just far more palpable. I've been brought up on a diet of that kind of 'greatness' but 2016 feels like the start of a new era. I usually start to get inquisitive texts & emails from my collector pals half way through the first day in the Medoc & this year I was struggling to say anything of worth really...I started firing back rather un-profound things like "a more restrained 09' or 'quite pretty wines' but really I was in fact quite confused by the lack of 09, 10, 15 'wow moments' which I have experienced in the past. We'd had been told that this vintage was potentially the best ever. That really continued until the 3rd day of tasting when I visited Le Pin & Vieux Ch Certan. Here the pure majesty of VCC, my favourite Bdx Chateau & one I really know being the proud owner of vintages going back 50yrs, gracefully nursed my fuddled mind towards a generous take on the the vintage. The best of 2016 is seductive, sophisticated 'haut cuisine!' Alex Theinpont's incredible wine gave me this epiphany moment & also the handy title if I'm honest.

It wasn't an easy growing season with many climatic contrasts of extremely wet spring & extremely hot summer, with some exceptionally welcome showers at the end. Thankfully though, the gloomy spring gave some protection from the sweltering summer and the water retaining soils helped vines to conjure wines of gorgeous deep colour, freshness & concentration. However, one doesn't really feel the extraction & tannin as much and alcohol levels are lower this year...hurray! That's not a bad thing in my book as there have been some monster wines in modern vintages. Cos 09 being the most obvious culprit (note to self...I really must re taste this wine!). Some called that 'Parkerisation' so maybe that's all over now? I'm probably reading too much into it but I did feel some gentle, restraining hands at work on these wines. Possibly almost too gentle (2019 debate topic?), the result being wines a touch less drama in their aromatics at this stage...hence the lack of wow moments. However the 'wow factor' (call Simon Cowell!) this year is absolutely with the mouthfeel, which on the best wines is pure heavenly cashmere. I couldn't always coax a wholly generous bouquet from the glass but when the liquid enters the mouth one accesses an elegant realm & one isn't drawn to leave it it (ie-spit!) too quickly. Quite the opposite actually...except for a few unsavoury revved up St Emilion's & brutish Medoc's. They're always around anyway. There are complex, pretty wines on both banks but I found more consistency on the northern Medoc...Pauillac & St Estephe are really rocking, Margaux a tad behind this year in contrast to 2015 where it was arguable top dog. Still some crackers there though like Rauzan Segla. My wines of the vintage contenders were VCC, Mouton Rothschild, Haut Brion but in the more affordable range for my own cellar I loved Armailhac & Domaine de Chevalier & Les Carmes Haut Brion is one to watch....tres cool! The Pessacs were smashing & really should not be an afterthought. It's a brilliant year for the dry whites & these were much easier to understand than the reds...up there & maybe beyond 11 & 13. Haut Brion Blanc was a perfect white wine for me...I can't envisage a more perfect expression of Bordeaux white but I can't give perfect scores for baby wines as a matter of principle. If anyone can lend me £6K I'll buy some? Perhaps if there was one AC not quite up there so much I would say it's Sauternes...they just lacked a bit of oompfh to my mind. It's unwise to write any AC off though.

So the big thing now is do we buy them now & are they as jawdroppingly great as the Bordelais hype machine is preparing to try and convince us they are? Big questions indeed! For myself I certainly am looking forward to having another look at some of them in May & the final in bottle tasting in 2019 will be very interesting indeed. Jacques Thienpont at Le Pin summed it up when he told me that 'we really should be tasting the 2014's now not the 2016's'. This rings truer than ever for me this year - but it's not going to happen as we will be confronted with prices probably before I've even finished writing this! Certainly after Easter. As I said in my pre trip email, the painfully weak pound doesn't help us much so one thing I've pondered is hedging buying some now with more of the same later to make an average. It will depend on prices of course & availability and, as ever, only some Chateau will get it right. Only a precious few are in the 'buy now no question' category. 2016 is a real connoisseurs vintage though & I can foresee many years of lively debate ahead. Wine buffs just love nuance & there's layers & layers to chew on here. It's desirable on many levels but I don't feel I'm going to pile in too readily...I can see my desire growing though. So let's see what emerges over the next few weeks & enjoy the ride...I will be writing up another 2 articles on left & right bank & publishing them on this website soon. Then I'll be strapped in & raring to go as the releases hit the market. If you have any favourites you simply must obtain please let me know so I can make a note of it...it can be a whirlwind once it all gets going. Ladies & gentlemen, Elvis is in the building & as the owner of the Kaiserkeller said to the Beatles... "it's time to make show..."