The 2016 vintage in Bordeaux is shaping up as one of history’s most interesting. The vagaries of weather left many tales to tell, but it all led to a happy ending in which supreme quality was the settled result.
Yet in a wider sense the region is experiencing a perfect storm: such quality did not emerge in small, exclusive quantity, but rather in the biggest supply since 2006. This already tilts the law of supply and demand in favour of the customer. But all of this has also happened at a time when the Bordeaux market is already experiencing a certain softening, or perhaps correcting, of market prices.
As Antonio Galloni says: “High production and an uncertain economic climate create easy, face-saving reasons to keep price increases modest without tarnishing the prestige that many estates have built up over time.”
What this means to the buyer – you guessed it – is superb value. This value is amplified even further by the particular qualities of the fruit in 2016. Because in this remarkable vintage the wines produced are so luscious, clean and generous that even ‘lesser’ labels will drink like absolute treasures.
The vintage in question, if you can forgive the rugby analogy, was a game of two halves. Or rather three.
Until the middle point of June it was historically cool and…well, sodden. Rain of three times the average level left some vineyards simply so wet that all hope of quality fruit was written off. And flowering was late moreover, meaning the whole vintage would arrive late, if at all. This in turn amplified the projected hazards around fruit quality, particularly in the late-ripening varieties that form the core, spine and aromatic essence of many of the region’s defining reds – Cabernet Sauvignon and its parent grape, Cabernet Franc.
But by late June the picture had reversed. It suddenly became – of all things! – a very hot and dry vintage. Withering, historic heat. Gone immediately was the overdose of water, formerly much-maligned and now much needed. It was so desperately dry now that many of the vines actually suffered hydric stress, in which lack of moisture forces vines to shut down and stop ripening.
So from the frying pan into the fire the vintage hurtled, with opposite kinds of calamity alternating and ending with a severe threat to all but the very oldest vines (which had deep enough roots to reach moisture) and/or for those on clayish, water-retaining soils.
But then came the third act – a welcome dousing of rain in mid-September, which the vines drank thirstily to quickly resume ripening. Fruit not only thus retained the benefit of the previous hot period, but the final stage of ripening in September and October offered a long, slow, leisurely and complete development of ripe tannins. These dry and stable conditions were however notably cool – with temperatures veering back, believe it or not, to below historical standard. In particular, this last stretch of very cool nights gave these wonderfully ripe wines a driving freshness and aromatic brightness.
Galloni again: “The 2016s are absolutely remarkable wines. The word that comes to mind, unfortunately so often overused, is balance. In technical terms, the 2016s boast off the charts tannins that in many cases exceed those of wines from massive vintages such as 2010. And yet, the best 2016s are absolutely harmonious, with the tannins barely perceptible at all. The 2016s also have tremendous energy and bright, acid-driven profiles, with many wines playing more in the red-fruit area of the flavor spectrum.”
So most grapes and regions did beautifully. But the mid-term heat that served the reds so well meant the white grapes were slightly challenged. Only the very best white producers – such as the wonderful Clos Floridene we are offering – could find balanced freshness amongst the big richness of well-ripe Semillon. Cabernet Sauvignon too had some issues, but this was mostly the ‘nice problem’ of a long hang time creating some berry shrivelling. Cabernet yields were consequently low and proportions were smaller in many left bank wines. But the ripeness of the grape, so crucial for its quality in the glass, was far from questionable in 2016.
So there it was. A Great vintage? Perhaps, though too weird and dramatic to answer a simple yes. But a drinker’s vintage – certainly! And a cellar vintage too. Because the quality is there, with beautiful clarity and definite structure.
When excellent value is to be had, as always, there are also less pleasurable wines touting undeserved, inflated prices. So as en primeur customers – paying now for a wine you won’t receive for a couple of years – we strongly suggest you stick with a reliable, established and expert retailer like Caro’s.
For those new to this great method of securing the best wines early, our low en primeur prices are always a one off, final landed cost. So you’ll pay now and receive the wine in 2019, with no further outlay – not even a freight charge to your home. Moreover with the New Zealand dollar on a relative high, buying en primeur is a safe bet against paying a later, much higher price for the same wine on standard release.
As the best options from 2016 become available we will post them online . But in the meantime here is a link to our current range of superb offerings from the remarkable, outstanding vintage of Bordeaux 2016.