Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

BORDEAUX EXCELS ITSELF IN 2016 VINTAGE I & II

November 2018. A splendid range of clarets from the 2016 vintage was recently presented in London by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. What follows are my descriptions of some forty of the numerous wines on show. Colours were universally dark and lustrous; few wines were over-oaked or over-extracted. Harmony and refinement were the keynotes.

 

PART I : PESSAC-LÉOGNAN-SAINT ÉMILION-POMEROL-HAUTMÉDOC

 

PESSAC-LÉOGNAN

 

2016 DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER

Smooth and oaky on the nose, but with optimal concentration of fruit, this exhaled a medley of plum jam, chocolate/cocoa, and cinnamon. I’m struck by the wine’s lovely ripe-grape sweetness. There’s a sense of massive, held-in concentration, of classic restraint. Smooth-textured, full of energy, the wine, though still in chrysalis, shows considerable length, with refined earthiness typical of top Pessac-Léognans.

CHÂTEAU DE FIEUZAL

The nose is more immediately assertive, with a special kind of thrust I associate with the Petit-Verdot grape (5% at Fieuzal). On the day, the PV / Cabernet-Sauvignon duo seem to dominate over the 45% Merlot, especially on the nose, though this can change as the wine evolves in bottle. It smells like sweet prune, black fruits, and roast chestnut. A well-crafted wine.

CHÂTEAU DE FRANCE

The colour is of maximum depth, the nose buoyant and suggestive of black cherry and damson. Very dense in the mouth, but fresh and with uplift, it tastes like a meld of blackberry and damson. Good acidity underpins the fruit and the tannins provide additional support. A bit less refined than the two preceding wines but very good.

CHÂTEAU MALARTIC LAGRAVIÈRE

The colour, only medium deep, could mean they’ve tried to avoid over-extraction. The very precise, focused aroma conjures up blackcurrant and damson with a flowery element too – peony in particular. The flavour is soft and cushiony, but with all the structure it needs for long ageing. The subtly tannic finish is long and silky. A lovely Malartic and, like any fine claret from a top vintage, able to improve for decades.

2016 CHÂTEAU PIQUE CAILLOU

The nose is soft and creamy (hints of fine clay) and very focused. A second sniff evokes suggestions of red rose, lingonberry, and Victoria plum. The flavour is likewise smooth and inviting, its ample flesh tautened by judicious tannins. Medium long at present (that could change as time goes by. A very sound wine with good P.C. character.

2016 CHÂTEAU SMITH HAUT LAFITTE

Darker than most, this emits an intense, noticeably oaky aroma of real intensity, suggestive of black cherry, blackcurrant, and damson jam, with a lovely ripe-grape sweetness at its core. It‘s well balanced, long, and homogeneous, with close-meshed tannins providing just the kind of graininess needed. It’s so ripe – but not to excess – one could almost think there’s a gramme or so of residual sugar. Very stylish.

 

SAINT ÉMILION

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BEAUSÉJOUR-BECOT

A vivid crimson, this gives off a strikingly fresh scent that suggest cherry, sweet plum, and raspberry. The globular aroma, full of generous fruit, is Merlot-dominated (70% at this property). The flavour is dense and sumptuous, though the tannins on the finish leave a dryish farewell. But tannins are protean: hard one day, soft another. This will develop well.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CANON

The aroma comes out to meet you, giving off strikingly pure, seductive scents reminiscent of raspberry, cherry jam, and peony. It’s a buoyant, flowery nose promising depth, intensity, and length. The refined flavour, while typically Saint Émilion, shows a certain affinity with a fine Chambolle-Musigny. There’s so much going on here I resolve to retaste it later (but as things turned out, time’s hurrying chariot frustrated that intention!).

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CANON LA GAFFELIÈRE

Very dark, this gives off a smooth aroma that’s both compact and assertive. Reeking of ripe fruit, it smells like black cherry, chocolate, and carnation. There’s a reprise of that sumptuous fruit on the palate and a feeling of unforced concentration and depth. In short, a wine that’s rich and weighty but in no way heavy. Good ripe tannins keep the ample fruit in order.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LA COUSPADE

Once again, a Merlot-rich wine of maximum depth of colour. The nose is forceful yet lushly fruity, promising depth and definition. The oak is noticeable but should recede in time. Weighty on the palate, it’s patently a very solid wine. But the aftertaste lacks the nuances that distinguish the previous Saint Émilions.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU FIGEAC

Others ‘16s may be darker, but Figeac has that special lustre that separates the superlative from the merely good. The lovely, expressive aroma is full of nuances, a blend of black cherry, raspberry, and blackcurrant with a hint of peony soon augmenting the other scents. The flavour, too, is rich yet with classic restraint, with a cascade of sub-flavours leading into a fanning out of damson and crème de mûre savours of great persistence.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LA GAFFELIÈRE

This lustrous wine possesses a smooth, notably fresh aroma of damson and raspberry with a core of pronounced ripeness. It’s a round, even globular scent with a seamless quality. Voluminous, yes; but buoyant too. Red fruits are in the ascendant, with hints of carnation and peony supplying additional nuances. There’s a dancing quality to the flavour, the wine seeming almost to hover in your mouth. The tannins are of the finer kind.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LARMANDE

Solidly dark, this has a smooth aroma, of black fruits in general and damson and black cherry in particular. Quite full on the palate, with plenty of flavour with a fruity groundswell finishing on a note of ripe Victoria plum.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU TROPLONG MONDOT

The rich, blackish colour suggests that extraction was pushed to the limit. True to type, both nose and flavour are forceful and assertive, with ample fruit. Solid almost to the point of heaviness, it is long on exuberance but a bit short on subtlety. But it will shed excess flesh as it matures, and its tannins soften, and should show well when at its peak a couple of decades hence.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU TROTTEVIEILLE

Containing 53% Cabernet Franc, this Trottevieille has a noble, authoritative aroma that conjures up black cherry, damson jam, and roast chestnut. It’s a superbly balanced wine that, while densely fruity, remains aerial. The strikingly fresh finish is protracted and delivers mouth-watering acidity. This will mature beautifully in the decades to come. Surely one of the best in recent decades.

 

POMEROL

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LE BON PASTEUR

This property is owned by Michel Rolland, an oenologist whose declared aim is to achieve the maximum possible level of alcohol. His wines are not among the most refined but are always richly fruity and hedonistic. This has a full, globular aroma, crammed with fruit, but buoyant too. My mind turns towards cherry, pomegranate, and chocolate. It’s fullish and distinctly fleshy on the palate, with plenty of savour. On the day the tannins seem a bit dryish but that’s doubtless a passing phase.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CLINET

The nose is full and expressive, sending out wafts of blackcurrant and raspberry. In the mouth it’s very fresh, with a flowery aspect, and ends on a note of Victoria plum and cherry. This charming wine possesses typical Pomerol grace, growing increasingly nuanced and velvety in the glass and showing the kind of lively freshness that augurs well for the future. Very good.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LA CONSEILLANTE

This beauty of a wine has a richly expressive aroma, sending off wafts of black cherry, and peony/iris. One is instantly struck by a fusion of exceptional harmony, restrained sweetness, and silky texture. The flavour more than lives up to this, with its gorgeous texture and delectably fruity flavour of real distinction and complexity. Tasting it blind, one could be forgiven for guessing at a top Vosne-Romanée. A wine of great poise and one of the finest in the entire tasting.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DE GAY

This well-coloured wine has a fine, vigorous nose of liquorice, black cherry, and damson. It shows all of the Merlot’s (98%) best traits: freshness, roundness, and a delectable sweetness of fruit, with hints of crasse de fer in the subsoil lending a subtle hint of truffle.

 

HAUT MÉDOC

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LA LAGUNE

This reliable wine has a solid look that promises a full, vinous aroma that, sure enough, is soon delivered to your nose. What’s instantly noticeable is the backbone and rigour jointly supplied by the Médoc subsoil and the dominant Cabernet-Sauvignon grape. Suggestions of black cherry and graphite rise from the glass, backed up by a subtle minerality. A copybook Médoc of distinction.

 

 

PART II  : MARGAUX-SAINT JULIEN-PAUILLAC-SAINT ESTÈPHE

 

MARGAUX

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BRANE CANTENAC

Lovely colour, with an aroma, of pronounced Cabernet rectitude – smooth, nuanced, full of grace. It presents first a sequence, then a consonance, of refined scents: red rose, violet, and cherry. An aroma that commands your full attention. The flavour lives up to this, showing perfect harmony with all manner of sapid undercurrents. The total ripeness of the grapes provides lots of flesh – flesh tautened by perfectly ripe tannins. A copybook example of a classic Margaux in full flight. A great Brane Cantenac.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CANTENAC BROWN

This vivid wine gives off a vigorous scent – very Cabernet – its ample fruit showing copybook Margaux traits. If both oakier and less refined than the Brane Cantenac it’s nonetheless very well crafted. A solid, workmanlike wine that will evolve well in coming decades.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU DESMIRAIL

The facetted aroma suggests black cherry and truffle within a silky carapace of largely Cabernet (60%) fruit with ample backup from the voluptuous Merlot (37%). The two coalesce perfectly on the palate, with a discreet tweak towards structure supplied by 3% Petit Verdot that leads into a harmonious flavour of black cherry, cinnamon, and blackcurrant. A finish of notable freshness.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU DURFORT VIVENS

This dark wine has an expressive, richly fruity nose suggestive of blackcurrant, peony, and damson (at the risk of repetition, these sort of scents constantly recur in Médoc wines). A sure sign that the wine is made from totally ripe, healthy grapes (the kind you’d happily eat by the mouthful!). It’s perfumed, not only on the nose but (I can’t explain it!) on the palate too. The aftertaste is prolonged. Very good (this Château was in the doldrums for decades, but no longer).

 

2016 CHÂTEAU GISCOURS

This has a sumptuous aroma evoking black cherry jam, violet, and raspberry – a nose that’s at once globular and complex. Within a minute or two, blackcurrant enters into the picture. That sumptuousness is sustained, indeed amplified, in the mouth, delivering all the fruit one could desire, backed up by firm but amenable tannins. A superbly proportioned wine that gives full expression to Giscour’s intrinsic excellence.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LASCOMBES

To judge from the blackish colour and weighty aroma, the team at this château went for maximum extraction. Blackish, with a full, oaky nose suggestive of smoked meat, fig, saltpetre, and black fruits, it delivers an emphatic, full-bodied flavour that’s rich to the point of Rhoneishness (what the French call a “sudiste” character). Probably best with game when mature.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU PRIEURÉ LICHINE

Richly pigmented, this gives off smooth, very round aroma that hints at plum, carnation (Merlot), and black fruits. Though satisfyingly dense there’s a sense of restraint too. It’s pretty closed-up on the palate, its tannins being in an assertive phase, and clearly needs a decade at least to show a degree of maturity. A solid, well-wrought wine that will develop well into mid-century and beyond.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU RAUZAN SÉGLA

It’s easy to make a dark Margaux in a vintage like ’16; but this particular effort possesses a blackish colour with that special lustre found only in top wines – the difference between stained glass and a ruby in sunlight. That depth of colour derives not from over-extraction but from healthily black grapes at full ripeness. The nose is lovely, being full of finesse, with ample fruit given rigour by the perfect tannins only found in top wines. Purple and red cherry scents meet and coalesce with damson and other black fruits. Though it’s closed up, you can anyway register the subtlety and depth of this splendid wine. The flavour is wholly in tune with this and the finish, with manifold details still to be filled in over coming decades (as with an early draft of a great poem), is very long.

 

 

SAINT JULIEN

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BEYCHEVELLE

The velvety, purposeful aroma is a fusion of Cabernet (rigour) and Merlot (sensuous) scents. There’s a distinct shape to this excellent wine, which has both spread and centre, the flavour exhibiting true Margaux nobility, with both flowery and fruity aromas. Peony and blackcurrant meet and fuse on nose and palate while the aftertaste is long and full of nuances. Very good indeed.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU

The masterful aroma carries a whiff of new oak but also emits a rich charge of black cherry fruit, soon merging with raspberry. Lots of savour, plenty of concentration, and a pleasing freshness on the finish. Very good.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LANGOA BARTON

This must be one of the most forceful Langoas of recent times. It looks and smells like crème de cassis, with only the faintest hint of new oak vanillin. It’s packed with energy, very sapid, with ample ripe tannins. Very Médoc in general, Cabernet to the fore, and very Saint Julien in particular. This is a serious wine of real force, sure to improve over several decades.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LÉOVILLE BARTON

If Langoa is unwontedly powerful, Léoville Barton shows an almost Pauillac-like resoluteness and authority. Even darker than its sibling, it gives off a composite scent of black cherry, liquorice, truffle, and crème de cassis. It’s truly masterful in the sense that it exudes power and complexity but also shows great underlying subtlety. The truffly element will grow stronger as the years roll by. A superbly structured LB, good for 50 years at least.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU SAINT PIERRE

A dark, weighty wine exhaling typical Cabernet scents – blackcurrant, black cherry, damson. It’s well-crafted with good Saint Julien character if (on the day) a bit lacking in the pronounced individuality of some of its Saint Julien peers.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU TALBOT

The nose is notably flowery (peony and red rose) but amply fruity too, with a strong blackcurrant element. The flavour shows optimal concentration and excellent balance. It’s full of energy, with just the right kind of tannins to provide support to the fruit. Harmony carries through from nose to palate. The wines from this excellent property, always reliable and able to age over many decades, seem to grow more suave year by year. It’s certainly less “gamey” than it used to be.

 

 

PAUILLAC

 

2016 CHÂTEAU D’ARMAILHAC

Though not the weightiest of Pauillacs, Armailhac is always a typical example of its commune, exhibiting power, concentration, underlying finesse. The aroma is poised and focused, evoking black cherry and stone. It possesses the kind of purity only attainable when grapes are harvested at perfect ripeness. There’s a promise of velvety texture too. A structured wine for the long haul – though probably approachable while still relatively young.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU BATAILLEY

The superb nose bursts out of the glass, smelling of sublime juices channelled by deft hands towards excellence. It speaks volumes in the vocabulary of scent, emitting perfumes of great distinction and complexity. One scent after another presents itself, first in sequence, then in unison: blackcurrant, chocolate, and the kind of truffle/liquorice smell I associate with the crasse de fer that’s often found in Pauillac subsoil. An exciting wine, close to super-second quality. (Pauillac is blessed with quite a few Fifth Growths that now approach second growth quality: Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste, and now – to judge from the ’16 – Batailley.)

 

2016 CHÂTEAU CLERC MILON

This has a broader, denser nose than Armailhac, conjuring up chocolate and a medley of black fruits. The flavour delivers the burliness promised by that scent, but it’s very closed-up, though clearly full of matière. What one does find is true Pauillac weight and distinction, with an underlying promise of future complexity. A wine for the long haul.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU GRAND PUY LACOSTE

This has the subtly nuanced look that distinguishes the excellent from the good. The nose is focused and beautifully balanced, its various elements seamlessly melded into one integrated whole – a synthesis crafted from perfect grapes from many different plots harvested at just the right moment, when at optimal ripeness. In the mouth, a harmonious blend of black fruits, liquorice, and chocolate. This excellent property makes first-rate wines in every vintage and – to their great credit – markets them at very fair prices.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU LYNCH BAGES

This is invariably one of the glossiest wines in all the Médoc, showing an almost Pomerol-like sumptuousness yet always with an underlying power and backbone that’s quintessentially Pauillac. Black as the ace of spades, it smells like black cherry jam, sweet damson, and truffle (the latter will grow stronger in the years to come). In the mouth it moves gently towards lingonberry, with a luscious aftertaste balanced by perfect fruity acidity. The finish is exceptionally long. Yet another great Lynch Bages. A wine for hedonists – but always with lots of depth.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU PICHON BARON

Blackish even in this dusky company, the “Baron” exhales a fascinating composite scent of chocolate and blackberry with smoky undertones. It’s an aroma of striking distinction and depth, exuding the kind of Pauillac authority similar to that of a Latour if a shade more reticent. Like all top clarets it’s somehow both seamless and multi-facetted, filling the mouth with fruit that’s as concentrated as can be yet seeming to hover weightlessly. Its multiple elements, each of them distinct yet beautifully dovetailed, add up to an exceptional wine. Great.

 

2016 CHÂTEAU PICHON LALANDE

How wonderful that both Pichons, their vines almost contiguous, achieve greatness each in its own unique way. How wonderful that the Baron always shows pronounced masculine traits, with the Comtesse always having a distinctly feminine style (tasting it blind, I’ve more than once mistaken it for a Pomerol). The latter’s nose is notably flowery, emitting gusts of violet and peony, but with lots of fruit too: black cherry, blackberry, and truffle. It’s beautifully poised in the mouth – poised the way a ballerina on tiptoe is poised – with a hint of ripe plum on the extremely long, nuanced aftertaste. Truly great.

 

 

SAINT ESTÈPHE

 

2106 CHÂTEAU LAFON ROCHET

Lustrous appearance. The nose is forthright and vinous, suggestive of damson and newly sharpened pencil. There’s also a faintly metallic note (“goût du capsule”), the sort of superficial smell that will vanish in time. In the mouth, I’m struck by the wine’s vigour and freshness, in no way lessened by a hint of smokiness from toasted oak. A solid, respectworthy wine.

 

 

Though time was short I couldn’t resist a quick sampling, among a dazzling array or Sauternes, of 2016 Château de Fargues, a property owned by the former proprietor of Yquem. Very like that great Premier Cru in style, it had a lustrous green-gold colour and a wondrous aroma, of great finesse, reminiscent of all manner of tropical fruits, inclusive of pineapple, and acacia honey. Wonderful!

 

© Frank Ward 2018

 

One Response to “BORDEAUX EXCELS ITSELF IN 2016 VINTAGE I & II”

  1. […] Bordeaux Excels Itself in 2016 Vintage – Part I […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s