Bordeaux en-primeur 2016
Wine Cellar has been offering Bordeaux en-primeur since the 2002 vintage. The en-primeur system affords wine collectors and enthusiasts the opportunity to buy a selection of 500 châteaux in the desired bottle size at the lowest possible price. The 2016 vintage will be sold in an en-primeur campaign from April through to June 2017. Wines are offered in 6 or 12 bottle cases, unless packed otherwise, for bottling and import mid-2019.
The Wine Cellar buying team visited Bordeaux in early April 2017 to taste samples from the 2016 vintage. Spring air had completed their malolactic fermentations and, although exceptionally tannic and youthful, the wines were a pleasure to taste. It is too early to call the vintage outright but the common view is that 2016 is very unique and very exciting. The classic 2016s are finer than 2015 and 2009 with a degree more or less alcohol than 2010. Some have suggested that 2016 lies somewhere between the bright 2005s and rich 2000s. A number of châteaux owners told us that it harks back to fine vintages from 50-100 years ago where great, long-ageing wines were produced at low alcohols.
The conditions can be considered those of a drought with precipitation in July only one tenth of Bordeaux's 30-year average! However, there was sufficient water in the soils from previous vintages and only a few vineyards battled with major stress. Not ridiculously hot during August and September, cool nights and rain when was needed produced a dream ripening season. Light rain in early September gave the vines the finishing kick they needed for phenolic maturity to match the accumulated sugars. Harvest then stretched into late October under ideal conditions. The wines look to be marked by ripe fruit, serious tannins and ample energy.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the star in this slow-ripening vintage, whereas Merlot is more variable. Lesser terroirs produced excellent wines and terroir really shines through in the top tier.
One of the most exciting aspects of the vintage is the ripeness of the tannins. Due to the drought conditions and cool nights during ripening, many of the wines are well under 14% alcohol with a pH of 3,5. The tannins are super concentrated in 2016 and 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 between 80 – 100 IPT. An average Bordeaux year would see 65 IPT. The high level of tannins, good pHs and low alcohols mean that 2016 will be an extremely long-ageing vintage.
Should I buy 2016 Bordeaux en-primeur?
2016 is for lovers of fine Claret; classically styled wines that will take time to mature and offer tremendous rewards down the line.
Much like 2015, your decision to buy the Bordeaux 2016 vintage en-primeur could hinge on your view of the Rand in the medium to long-term. Many of the top vintages have not appreciated in Euro terms over the last decade as the top vintages of Bordeaux have become ever more expensive. But, with a stronger Dollar and bigger appetite in Asia, strong demand is expected and the 2016s will sell quickly. En-primeur also offers the customer access to all the fine wines of Bordeaux and this selection will not be available elsewhere in South Africa. This, and the fact that 2016 offers a vintage that will age for many decades, makes it a great opportunity as a long-term, non-Rand based investment.
2016 is considered a ‘Left Bank Year’ as Cabernet Sauvignon performed so strongly, even in lesser terroirs. Top wines from the Right Bank will however match the peaks of the Left Bank. We tasted almost no poor wines and customers are urged to buy deep from 'petit châteaux' through to Grand Cru Classé.
Pessac-Léognan – One of the communes of the vintage, offering exquisite balance in both white and red. There is ample ripeness, tannin and lovely freshness at moderate alcohols.
St Émilion – Very rich wines with powerful, sweet fruit. As per usual, there is large variation in the styling, with the modern producers offering 14.5+ alcohol wines coupled new oak and sweet tannins. Pick carefully according to your style preference.
Pomerol – Good if not spectacular. The top wines of Pomerol are as good as ever although the bottom tier is more variable.
Margaux – Uneven throughout the commune with major success in the top wines. There are some over-ripe wines that lack poise and character
St Julien – Finely textured wines with powerful Cabernet fruit. Perhaps a touch less consistent than Pauillac.
Pauillac – Spectacular wines. Cabernet Sauvignon performed well and offers supreme purity and fine tannins.
St Estèphe – One of the finest communes of the vintage. The deep clay fed the vines with moisture during the dry vintage and most wines are deep rich and beautifully balanced.
Sauternes – An excellent vintage with rich botrytis, high sugars and good acidity. On par with the great vintages.
Whites – Whites from the Left Bank are remarkably fine and balanced whilst the whites of Pessac-Léognan are elegantly textured and concentrated. The acidities are not as high compared to cooler vintages such as 2014.
Other communes – Petit châteaux from the Medoc, Entre-deux-Mers and the Côtes of the Right Bank all offer phenomenal value. While they may not have the finesse of tannin and beguiling depth of the Grand Cru Classé, they offer medium-term, fine drinking.
The modern wines of the Left Bank seem more tempered in 2016, but the Right Bank once again shows stylistic variation. Modern styles of St Émilion are rich in oak and alcohol with a palpable fruit sweetness. Read our notes on each wine for consideration or enquire with us about which châteaux suit your palate.
Would you like us to purchase a basket for you?
For those less familiar with the wines of Bordeaux, we can select a basket of wines for you. Once we have ascertained your style preference and motive for buying, we will choose a selection of wines that suit your budget. Email Roland@winecellar.co.za for further information.
– Roland Peens (April 2017)