Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

BORDEAUX EXCELS ITSELF IN 2016 VINTAGE – PART II

December 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 the rest 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 II).

 

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

 

<< BORDEAUX 2016 VINTAGE PART I : Pessac-Léognan, Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Haut Médoc

 

 
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