After much anticipation with all the hype regarding this vintage, on the first day we set out to sample the left bank wines.
Our first stop was all the way North in Medoc, in the St Estephe appellation at Chateau Calon Segur. Head man Laurent Duffau tasted us on Capbern then Marquis de Calon and the grand vin, Calon Segur. WOW! While the other two wines showed quality, the Calon ( did you know it means heart in Gaelic…) was truly a class act: the wine, sporting 14 % alcohol, was all freshness with a super long finish. The emphasis at Calon Segur is to plant more and more Cabernet Sauvignon since Merlot can reach there way too high levels of alcohol in this sort of vintage and Laurent feels Merlot should only represent 20 to 25 % of the assemblage.
Calon Segur 98-100 MTW Classic
Then on to Montrose, a few blocks away where we sampled Tronquoy Lalande, Dame de Montrose and Montrose. After tasting Montrose, the first thought that came to my mind was: is this the revenge of the Upper Medoc after last year’s emphasis on areas like Margaux and the Left Bank ? We will see . Dame de Montrose was extremely approachable and as usual a super “ second wine” while Montrose was just gigantic: layers of complexity mixed with stunning freshness and solid fruit. Great job, Herve Berland and team, again!
Montrose 98-100 MTW Classic
Dame de Montrose 94-96 MTW excellent second
Another superstar was next on the agenda with a stop at Cos d’Estournel. The beautifully appointed winery with its Indian inspiration offered us the following wines:
Goulee ( produced almost as far North in Medoc as vines are planted ) , a wine which has disappointed in the past but this year, with the addition of an extra Cab parcel grown on gravelly soil, has taken a remarkable turn for the better.
Pagodes de Cos, with its almost equal amounts of Cab and Merlot was in the same league as Dame de Montrose
Cos d’Estournel, whose wine seems to be changing style from the super concentrated version of the Robert Parker days to a more relaxed, friendly way but whose purity shows it is in still to be counted in the head of the class.
Cos Blanc, which dispelled Marla’s fear that the sometimes hot vintage may have produced flabby wines. Etienne de Nantes told us that a very strict grape selection ( that included almost no wine grown on gravelly soils but almost exclusively on clay and stony soils) was responsible for the high quality.
Cos d’estournel 96-98 MTW New Classic
Cos d’estournel Blanc 95-97 MTW
Pagodes de Cos 94-96 MTW equal to Dame de Montrose
Goulee 92-94 MTW a superlative effort
Then, a new property for me as I had never before visited Ormes de Pez. There, still in the St Estephe appellation, we sampled Ormes de Pez, plus the other Cazes family wines, Echo de Lynch, Lynch Bages and Blanc de Lynch as Chateau Lynch Bages is currently undergoing renovations. Malou Le Sommer showed us around Ormes de Pez, a beautiful property which enchanted us.
The Ormes was a pleasant surprise, the Lynch an expected superstar but my favorite wine was the Echo de Lynch, which I thought rivaled Lynch for quality. 73 % Cab and 27% Merlot is its blend and this wine shows beautiful structure as well as the racy elegance one can always expect of Lynch Bages wines. Bravo!
The white was sensibly different from Cos d’Estournel Blanc. In its blend is a sizeable amount of Muscadelle and the wine both gains in easy drinking ability and loses in racy character. Still very nice, though.
Lynch Bages 95-97 MTW a classic
Echo de Lynch 95-97 Best second so far
Blanc de Lynch 93-95 MTW well done
Down the road in Pauillac to Lafite Rothschild was next for us. We will review Lafite with all the other First Growths in a subsequent piece but for now, a couple of words on its other wines:
Duhart Milon for 2016, is a sort of fruit bomb, that shows well out of the gate while Carruades de Lafite is once again disappointing. The wine structure is good but the fruit is completely muted and tasting it after Duhart was a mistake. Time will tell.
Lafite Rothschild see review in 3 weeks!
Always one of our favorite stops on the Primeurs road is Pontet Canet. The biodynamic estate has produced stunning wines in the past ten years and this year was no different: the lushest wine we sampled on the left bank, it offered us layers of complexity without any overripeness or high alcohol. WOW!
Disappointed, however, in the Napa property that Pontet Canet is now the owner of, a winery called Pym-Rae, once owned by Robin Williams. First, we were not sure why it was for sample while this is obviously the week that Bordeaux wines get to strut their stuff in front of the entire world. Mostly, though, the wine was difficult to drink: heavy, too rich, it seemed to give you the perfect reason to promote and drink Bordeaux on this elegant vintage…Oh well!
Pontet Canet 98-100 MTW a classic
Pym-Rae 88-90 MTW no way
After a beautiful lunch at Pontet Canet, we moved on down the street to Mouton Rothschild. As with the other 1er Grands Crus Classes, there will be a special feature dedicated to them. Other Mouton stable mates are Armailhac and Clerc Milon. Of the two, Clerc showed best with beautiful fruity expression. The Mouton white, Aile d’Argent will also be part of another issue dedicated to white Bordeaux but the wine, I have to say, is once again terrific
Mouton Rothschild see review in 3 weeks
Clerc Milon MTW 93-95 nice showing for this wine
Aile d’Argent Blanc MTW 94-97 Marla will review in 4 weeks
Leoville Lascases and Ducru Beaucaillou were next on the afternoon leg of our trek. They were the first St Juliens we tasted. Lascases as we all know sits on the finest property overlooking the Garonne and its neighbors are no less than Latour and Pichon Lalande! While this may not be the finest Lascases we have ever tasted in Primeurs, the wine delivers great complexity, fine tannins and a surprising level of elegance. Ducru Beaucaillou, whose owners , the Borie family have deemed the vintage a “ Biblical one “ ( mostly because of the weather struggles and the final, happy ending), offers notes of black fruit, mocha and cedar. The quality of this wine is in its purity and its incredible length.
Leoville Lascases MTW 94-97
Ducru Beaucaillou MTW 94-97
Palmer was last on the list before we retreated back to Bordeaux to heal our wounds from a huge day of tastings. Just as we had started with a bang in Calon Segur, we ended with one in Palmer. The wine was halfway between the firm elegance of Calon Segur and the lush hedonism of Pontet Canet. It seemed to capture some of both and may, so far, have the edge for the best wine of the left bank. A huge WOW, particularly since the Margaux appellation has seen its share of struggles this year: its gravelly soils did not retain moisture like clay and limestone soils did, so it is only in vineyard management, hard work and tenacity that great wines could be made there. And they did make it, one year after the amazing 2015. Alter Ego, the second wine, was charming right out of the gate, and if you don’t have the $250-$300 to fork out for Palmer, you may want to invest wisely in Alter Ego.
Palmer MTW 99-100
Alter Ego MTW 95-97
The following day started in the Margaux appellation: after a quick stop at Rauzan Segla, where the wine showed understated elegance, the general tasting of the Union des Grands Crus was at chateau Kirwan, a very beautiful property. What a bunch of beautiful wines we tasted there! I mean, a huge wealth of sensual, racy wines, each with slightly different complexity but all with extreme length and exactness in mouthfeel. We were amazed by the overall quality given that we had been pre warned that the better wines were up North in the Medoc!
Lascombes MTW 97-99
Cantenac Brown MTW 97-99
Malescot St Exupery MTW 96-98
Brane Cantenac MTW 96-98
Rauzan Segla MTW 96-98
Marquis de Terme MTW 94-96 great work from this property, not ususally at the forefront in Margaux.
Special final notes on Margaux. We will review both Chateau Margaux and its white version, Pavillon Blanc in later issues.
Pavillon Rouge was so, so close to the Grand vin quality that you could hesitate to want to pay the price for Margaux while you can get Pavillon for less than half the cost. Biggest satisfaction though, came at Issan. That winery makes better and better wines each year under the watchful eyes of Emmanuel Cruse and while it was always one of the best $50 wine values around, it is now one of the best wines around. Like Palmer, complexity, purity, length, elegance, density are all there, in a perfect exercise of balance. WOW, WOW!
Margaux MTW later review
Pavillon Rouge MTW 95-97
Pavillon Blanc MTW later review
Issan MTW 98-100
Before lunch at Pichon Baron, we sampled wines from the estate. Pichon Baron shone through with its very polished tannins and great polyphenol concentration. The wine shows outstanding focus and is once again one of the contenders of the left bank
Pichon Longueville Baron MTW 95-97
Before our final UGC stop in St Julien, we stopped at Latour…like they say, tough job but someone has to do it!
Everyone is aware that Latour only releases wine when it deems they are ready ( current release on the Grand Vin is 2006, on Forts de Latour is 2011 and Pauillac by Latour is on the 2012 vintage). The 2016 Latour is majestic, strong with its 92 % cabernet sauvignon and what comes off as perfect fruit maturation. We will review it later with other first growths.
Latour MTW later review
Final stop was at UGC St Julien at Chateau Talbot. Unfortunately, by that time, our tasting buds were starting to be damaged. We made a last ditch effort though and were rewarded by the quality exhibited by many wines. On top are the perennial winners, Leoville Barton and Leoville Poyferre, followed closely by St Pierre. My tasting neighbors were all impressed by the rising quality of Beychevelle, but sadly for me, I did not get that in the wine…
Leoville Poyferre MTW 94-97
Leoville Barton MTW 95-98
St Pierre MTW 94-96
So, as recap, it is obvious that the left bank has experienced an excellent vintage, much to their relief after a good vintage in 2015 that had them overshadowed by the right bank. Quality is everywhere and we truly have only tasted a few wines we found unpleasant. Most were showing the vintage’s qualities and most producers were able, through knowledge, vine maturity, techniques and hard work, to handle whatever nature gave them. The wines are traditional, classic in style, which brings a smile to my face: this is Bordeaux, not Napa or the Rhone valley and these wines are very representative of what producers want to make. As a matter of fact, all say: we made the wine we wanted to make in 2016…with the help of the Heavens!!!
Best left bank wines: Palmer (99-100) in Margaux, Issan (98-100) in Margaux as well, Pontet Canet (98-100) in Pauillac and Calon Segur and Montrose, both 98-100 and both in st Estephe
What conclusions can we draw?
Quality overall is very high
Most of the wines are drinking well out of the barrel
-the quality is traditional Bordeaux: understated elegance
The vintage is homogenous with excellent wines made up and down the Medoc
There are a lot of stars but few superstars
In addition to the usual top wines, there are a couple of new contenders
The second wines are making a huge comeback!
En Primeur offers will be released throughout the month of May. We’ll keep you posted as pricing becomes available.