Bordeaux producers can barely suppress their excitement for the 2016 vintage. Superlatives used to describe the newest release range from “Marvelous, to perfectly ripe, to one of the best.”

Jean-Bernard Grenier, co-owner of Château Angélus.

Jean-Bernard Grenier, co-owner of Château Angélus.

Jean-Bernard Grenier, co-owner of Château Angélus, is confident of an outstanding 2016, saying: “Nobody can believe us, because this is the fifth outstanding vintage of the century, but it’s true! It’s absolutely great.”

Certainly there will be plenty of the 2016 vintage to love. Bordeaux production last year was 577.2 million liters, the equivalent of 770 million bottles, the largest since 2006 when there was 10% more vineyard area, according to official figures from the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux). Not only was the average yield the highest for over a decade in Bordeaux, but 2016 also saw the highest production for five of the leading appellations: Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol.

The 2016 growing season was erratic, to say the least. Spring was cool and wet, with vine maturation severely hampered by rain — a whopping 62% higher than average in Bordeaux.

Summer, in brutal contrast, was hot and extremely dry, with 53% less rainfall. Young vines in particular suffered. (Bordeaux wine growing regulations don’t allow irrigation.) Older vines in limestone and clay did well, since their roots are long enough to reach the water stored in the rock. Expect good results in Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, Barsac, Saint-Émilion, Castillon, Fronsac and Entre-Deux-Mers because of the stone and clay-based terroir.

Patrice Lévêque of Châteax Barde-Haut, Clos L’Eglise and Poesia.

Patrice Lévêque of Châteaux Barde-Haut, Clos L’Eglise and Poesia.

By September, just as growers were beginning to panic, cooling showers arrived and the harvest began. Mild temperatures lasted for weeks, creating a picture-perfect ending for the season. “I’ve never seen a harvest like 2016,” says Patrice Lévêque, who with his wife Hélène Garcin, owns Châteaux Barde-Haut, Clos L’Eglise and Poesia. “I could pick anytime I wanted with absolutely no worries. It was a dream.”

As a result of the perfect weather, picking dates varied broadly across Bordeaux. The châteaux in the earliest-ripening sectors of Pessac were among the first to harvest, while Saint-Émilion, always a little cooler, finished last. Château Angélus brought in its Cabernet Franc grapes by October 21st. Château La Fleur Cardinale finished up on October 26th.

So what do we have?

Alain Raynaud, founder of the Grand Cercle de la Rive Droite de Bordeaux, feels that 2016 is a “classic wine with a big amount of everything – and it’s perfectly ripe.” (Wine Searcher)

Véronique Dausse of Château Phélan Ségur, in Saint-Estèphe, describes the new vintage as having “marvelous structure, with freshness and matière. Very precise. Class, and dense tannins, lots of tannins.” (Wine Searcher Pro)

Certainly Cabernet Sauvignon tends to perform better in heat because of the grape’s thicker skin. So, with that in mind, it’s possible that the Left Bank, with a larger Cabernet production, might edge out the Right. Also interesting is the Bordelais enthusiasm for 2016 Cabernet Franc. Many Châteaux increased the percentage of Cabernet Franc in their blends, while Château Angélus produced its first ever 100% Cabernet Franc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the dry whites might have under-performed. The weather contortions may have been too much for the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, causing lower acidity and a lack of freshness. However, early reports from Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves are very positive. Producers describe the wines as having great aromatics and vitality. Fingers crossed!

With over 600 wines to taste, visitors at En Primeur maintain a quick pace.

With over 600 wines to taste, visitors at En Primeur maintain a quick pace.

Château Palmer & Alter Ego de Palmer during En Primeur.

A quiet moment at Château Palmer.

Château Haut-Brion during an estate tasting & dinner.

Château Haut-Brion during an estate tasting & dinner.

The other hot topic this season are comparisons between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016. Two great back-to-back vintages naturally invite correlations. And, since both 2009 and 2015 produced elegant, refined wines, while 2010 and 2016 wines are more classically tannic, analogies are a given. Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus puts it this way: “For me 2016 is closer to 2010 although a little lower in acidity. In some cases it is better than 2015, certainly more even across the region, with many excellent smaller wines in the southern part of Bordeaux, and in the Côtes’. (Decanter)

Meanwhile, James Suckling, who just released his ratings, thinks 2016 is a more complete vintage than 2015, since the Left Bank wines of Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, are of higher quality than last year’s vintage. He states: “After tasting 400 wines in the last six days, I can confirm that 2016 is an exceptional vintage equal to the exquisite 2015. In some regions like Saint-Estèphe and the Northern Médoc, the wines are even better. These young wines already show beautiful fruit, bright acidity and linear tannins. They offer much of the same potential quality as 2015 but in a different profile—energy is the word that comes to mind—with slightly lower alcohols and stronger acidities.”

With En Primeur and the release of the new vintage just beginning, the only thing we can verify for certain is that 2016 will be like….2016. Similar to some vintages, totally unlike others, but ultimately its own year.

Michel & I will definitely know more in just a few days as we finally taste over 600 wines from all the Bordeaux appellations. Stay tuned for highlights, recommendations and, undoubtedly, a few surprises.

Cheers to 2016!

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While you’re waiting the 2016’s, here are a few highly-rated 2015’s.

Alter Ego de Palmer. JS 94-95. $58.99. 30 bottles available.
Château Brane Cantenac. NM 93-95. $155.49. 24 bottles available.
Château Berliquet. JS 96-97. $33.99. 30 bottles available.
Cos d’Estournel. JS 97-98. $155.49. 24 bottles available. 
Château Barde-Haut. JS 95-96. $32.49. 24 bottles available.
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. WE 95-97. $156.49. 24 bottles available.
Château Petit Village. JS 95-96. $64.79. 24 bottles available.
Château Valandraud. JS 98-99. $137.79. 9 bottles available.
Château La Tour Martillac Blanc. JS 92-95. $29.99. 20 bottles. 
Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. AG 95-98. $81.99. 12 bottles available.
Château Malartic Lagraviere Blanc. NM 94-96. $49.79. 24 bottles available.

This inventory will arrive Sping 2018. For additional information, contact us directly at [email protected]