The Grand Cercle tasting of en Primeur 2016 Bordeaux took place in the grand setting of the second floor terrace of Le Meridien Piccadilly on March 15th 2017.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘en primeur’ concept, this can be described in two broadly different ways: producers and brokers might tell you it is a chance for interested buyers to get their hands on the latest vintage of Bordeaux’ most sought-after Château before before they have even been bottled, and at the lowest prices they will ever be. Sceptics might tell you it is a marketing trick to bring in much needed cash and interest to the Château at a slow time of year. I would say it is a bit of both.
There has been a lot of noise going on in the trade press recently about 2016 being a ‘miracle vintage’ – and this is just the sort of spin that tends to bring out the sceptic in me – indeed, Le Grand Cercle’ described in their press pack the wet and miserable spring, then dry summer from June, followed by much-needed rain three months later in September. In their words: ” Who, last may, would ever have believed in a vintage year after an unprecedented record amount of rainfall?”
All that said, the spin worked, and the result was a packed terrace full of tasters eager to see if it was true. I even put on a tie for the occasion (ties are not great at tastings, you have to keep them in check so as not to spit on them) – I think this may be an indication of my assessment of the vintage! .
So was this a miracle vintage? Producers I spoke to agreed that the last great vintage in Bordeaux was 2010, and without exception compared 2016 to that vintage. I tasted 25 or so wines, white as well as red, and not an unripe or lean one among them (you rarely get to say that about Bordeaux). The whites were lovely, ripe wines, with a beautiful mouthfeel, and nervy acidity, the reds full of bright ripe crunchy fruit, rich but melted tannins, and mainly good levels of acidity (although some of the Merlot based ‘right bank’ wines lacked a little).
It was the Cabernet Sauvignon Left Bank wines that impressed me the most, though. I look for a combination of ripe blackcurrant fruit with tobacco and meaty savoury notes as indicators of great Cabernet wines, and all of them had this, so the descriptions below only include additional features. On this side of the river my list of favourites was:
Château Serilhan, Saint Estephe – All the descriptors above apply, with an attractive oak polish like a veneer to endear it.
Château Haut Lagrange, Pessac Léognan – 40% new oak, but integrated and wrapped around the tannins
Château Roquetaillade la Grange, Graves – Delicately oaked (25% new) with velvety tannins and potential
Château la Tour de Bessan, Margaux – Classic margaux restraint, but blessed with charming fruit sweetness
Château de Villegeorge, Haut Médoc – This had a higher Merlot content, so was a softer wine than some others, with lower acidity, but lots of charm
On the Right Bank, I found less balance, with a few low acid wines where the alcohol showed more. A certain American critic may like them! I liked:
Château Mazeyres, Pomerol – Lovely bright and creamy fruit, 14% alcohol not showing, a polished wine
Château Godeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru – Ripe and sweet, with great depth and richness, great potential
Château Fombrauge, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – Charming sweet fruit and spice, with 45% new oak integrating already
Château Yon-Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé – An almost delicate wine, with notes of violets, ripe red fruit, and firm tannins enveloped in 1/3 new oak
The whites were super too. In Entre Deux Mers, Château Sainte Marie refreshed me, and in Graves Château de Cerons had great balance and potential, and Château Saint-Robert was rich and satisfying.
My verdict: No spin or hyperbole, 2016 was a great vintage!