James and Roland are visiting France to taste the latest 2016 Bordeaux en-primeur vintage, with further travels to Burgundy, the Rhône and Champagne.
UGC – Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
Day one’s mission was to taste 100+ 2016s from Chateaux that belong to the UGC – Union de Grands Crus. The organisation holds most of the Grand Cru Classé and top wines in its membership, but there are many Chateaux that market themselves individually. This is a great opportunity to get to grips with the characters of each commune within the vintage. I can confirm that 2016 sits alongside 2010 as one of the greatest vintages ever!
Pessac-Léognan: One of the communes of the vintage, offering exquisite balance in both white and red.
St Émilion: Very rich wines with powerful sweet fruit. Some wines are OTT in their styling with producers pushing the levels of ripeness and power. Pick carefully according to style.
Pomerol: Good if not spectacular.
Margaux: Uneven throughout the commune like most vintages. There are some over-ripe wines that lack poise and character.
St Julien: Finely textured wines but less consistent than Pauillac.
Pauillac: Spectacular wines. Cabernet Sauvignon performed well and offers purity and fine tannins.
St Éstephe: One of the finest communes of the vintage. The deep clay fed kept the vines moist during the dry vintage and most wines are deep, rich and beautifully balanced.
Sauternes: Excellent vintage with rich botrytis, high sugars and good acidity.
UGC - James and Roland
Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion 2016 from Pessac-Leognan. One of the day's highlights.
Delicious wine from the Graves commune that showed great promise.
Bar-a-vin: Aux 4 coins du vin
The most exciting aspect of the vintage is the ripeness of the tannins with moderate alcohol and high acidity. Due to the drought conditions and cool nights during ripening, many of the wines are under 14% alcohol with a pH of 3.5. The tannins are super concentrated in 2016 and the wines are almost black in colour with densely purple fruit. IPT levels, the index that measures total phenols, are of the highest ever. One producer told me that some tanks reached levels of 120 IPT, with many wines sitting at 80-100 IPT. An average Bordeaux year would see 65 IPT.
A tasting later in the evening of the 2011 vintage showed that the Left Bank wines are starting to drink well. Offering depth and complexity, there is no need to wait for the top 2011s, although there is enough tannin and depth for further maturation. However, the Right Bank 2011s are fantastic and quite shut-down at this stage. The Canon and La Conseillante took time to open up, showing beautiful minerality, pure fruit and layered tannins. La Consellante is said to be one of the greatest wines of 2016.
After a heavy day of tasting tannic, young Bordeaux, we found an amazing wine bar in the old part of town. The depressing news of SA’s junk status pushed us to go all out and order some unicorn wines. Clos Rougard is perhaps the most sought-after wine in the world at the moment and when you find it on a wine list, buy it. 100% Cabernet Franc, it is difficult to place, showing deep, savoury Burgundian notes, fine tannins, fresh acidity and ridiculous length. It is truly a special wine.
Rayas 2000 is just starting to drink well, showing deep richness, purity and power. Domaine de Lambrays Les Caillerets 2011 is from the stoniest of Pulginy-Montrachet soils. Almost impossible to believe that this wine is 6 years old, it shows stark acidity and extreme power.