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Bordeaux Unveils the 2016 Vintage

by admin / 2018-08-24 00:00 Click:

The London wine trade has had its traditional first taste of the 2016 Bordeaux en primeur and the signs are that this is going to be a fine – and in many cases excellent – vintage.

The Grand Cercle de Vins de Bordeaux is a loose grouping of 164 chateaux, from both banks, petits chateaux from Fronsac to Entre-deux-Mers, Cru Bourgeois, Pessac-Léognan to Saint-Estèphe, and all the way to Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. Some 50 showed their wines in London on Wednesday.

From most producers showing their wines, the simple question "What's the vintage like this year?" elicited a broad grin and and equally simple answer. "It's good." Vignerons are delighted – chiefly because they expected a disaster.

2016 was horribly wet until mid-June – a year's worth of rain fell between January and June – and extremely dry from then until September. "We were completely lost at the end of August," Caroline Perromat of Château de Cérons told Wine-Searcher. "The grapes had stopped ripening, there was no sugar – it was like no other vintage we've known."

But then the rains came in mid-September, drenching rains, followed by two weeks of glorious late summer sun. "The rain in September was necessary to hydrate the vines. We were a bit worried, but we have clay in Fronsac and that conserved some water in the summer. Then we had a slow, mellow harvest from 2 to 18 October," said Thierry Gauderie of Château Villars in Fronsac.

This up-and-down season is reflected in the character of the wines. Many are delightfully perfumed, the aromas leaping out of the glass, presaging something soft, sweet and rounded on the palate. But then come mighty tannins, especially in the Cabernet-based wines (berries tended to be tiny and thick-skinned). Both Merlot and Cabernet are so naturally rich in tannin that a good deal of restraint in extraction was called for. The best wines show this, with softer tannins and fine sharp fruit.

Acidity is a worry on the whites – as we reported in October last year – but is generally higher on the reds. Alain Raynaud, founder of the Grand Cercle, told Wine-Searcher that this is definitely a wine that will keep. "It's a classic wine with a big amount of everything – and it's perfectly ripe."

He added that the ripeness was "unexpected", and this theme will certainly be repeated as the campaign proper gets underway in Bordeaux at the beginning of April. The Bordelais love a vintage that was saved in the nick of time.

As for whites, while some vignerons are very pleased – "it's very unusual to have a perfect vintage for both reds and whites", Stephane Dupuch of Château Sainte-Marie in Entre-deux-Mers said – there is still some doubt as to how fresh they will turn out to be. The indications are that this is going to be a vintage that favors reds.

And producers have one more reason for being happy this year: quantity. "This is the biggest crop for Bordeaux overall since 2006 – and in terms of yields per hectare, since 2004," said Gavin Quinney of Château Bauduc, also in Entre-deux-Mers. "2016 is certainly a much better vintage than either of those. How lucky for Bordeaux compared to some less fortunate regions in this vintage."

Some have said this is a better vintage for Cabernet than Merlot, but any right-bank winemaker with a decent amount of clay, and long-rooted older vines, will have made very fine Merlot.

The verdict so far? An abundant vintage with some spectacular, long-lived wines. Whether quality will be high across all the appellations remains to be seen.

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