This blog was written by ex-Roberson employee Paul Williamson...
Now that my liver and stomach have finally recovered from the intense Bordeaux boot camp that is En Primeur week it is time to put my thoughts and observations into words. It has to be said, and at the risk of sounding too salesy, 2016 looks like a truly wonderful vintage. However, with my uber critical cap on, I must point out that there are some duffers out there still to be avoided. That is the reason we donned our glad rags, dodged spitting splash stains and risked our health, to be able to give a true assessment of the quality of the vintage and to advise what chateaux are worth parting with your hard earned cash for.
While we might complain that it is hard to taste so many wines and it is a real drag to visit so many beautiful chateaux, it really is a privilege to experience Bordeaux during the EP week. It is not often you get to experience the beautifully creative ways in which the Bordelais like to display their millions. I jest. It’s wonderful. The most tiring aspect though is trying to give every wine the full attention it deserves, in order not to miss a gem here or over play a first growth there. It is only fair on our clients to be unbiased and thorough in our assessments. While this was only my second full En Primeur tasting week I can already say that 2016 was a lot less tiring than the 2015 campaign. My simple explanation for this beyond experience is the freshness of the wines.
The three most common words from my hundreds of tasting notes must be ‘freshness’, ‘balance’ and ‘elegance’. While the 2015s are very good wines they were difficult to taste with their higher levels of extract and tannins. The 2016s also have high levels of tannins but they are wonderfully silky and smooth and sophisticated.
By the end of the week it almost felt like there was a mantra learned by the chateau staff to preach to the tasters: ‘after a wet spring we had a dry and hot summer; the vines were able to soak up the required water from the soils’ reserves; the gradual and even ripening as well as big day/night temperature differences during harvest has resulted in very good fruit and freshness'.
However they have a fair point. On the most part the fruit is wonderfully sweet and ripe, rarely overripe, save for some unscrupulous right bankers who might be still living in the Parkerised past, tannins are silky and freshness abounds. The majority of alcohol levels haven’t exceeded 13.5% yet there is plenty of concentration and power.
This leads me on nicely to the observation that there is a genuine sense of terroir in the 2016s, especially on the left bank. The Margauxs are elegant and floral, the Pauillacs are dark and brooding and the Graves are minerally and ethereal. The Northern Medoc in particular benefitted from favourable conditions and this is reflected in the overall high quality of wines across the board from there.
Margaux was a big winner in 2015 and I’ve read elsewhere people down playing its merits for this vintage, which is somewhat understandable given the consensus that the further north you travel on the left bank the better in the 2016. However I am a big admirer of the wines from here in this vintage. Ethereal, floral silky soft tannins and beautiful fruit. Some of the wines using younger vines or higher percentages of Merlot are not as strong but there are plenty of chateaux worth raving about. Rauzan-Segla again is a stunning wine, Palmer is incredibly strong and Cantenac-Brown is one to look out for. The big boy of course is not to be forgotten, a top top Margaux.
Saint-Julien is one of our favourite appellations of the vintage. Very classic, very pure with some chateau potentially making some of their best ever wines. Leoville Barton have made a classic, Las Cases is stunning, Ducru-Beaucaillou is big and bold but beautifully balanced and fresh, Beychevelle continues to improve. On the value end Saint-Pierre and Clos du Marquis stood out as excellent.
The wines of Pauillac are very classic Pauillac. Powerful, dark and brooding with quintessential cassis fruit, pencil shaving minerality and cedar complexity. Followers of the 1st growths will have zero complaints. Grand Puy Lacoste have made a really classy wine, Pontet-Canet s one of the wines of the vintage, without question. Pichon Baron is a big complex wine that has a long life ahead of it. Clerc Milon is beautiful and fruit forward.
Cos d’Estournel surprised us all by releasing very early last week. It was a welcome surprise as the price was the same as last years, a trend that we don’t expect to continue unfortunately. The wine is super, I can highly recommend it. Saint-Estephe has also produced the potential wine of the vintage. Calon-Segur is an absolutely stonking wine and I’ve no doubt it’ll be highly sought after. Montrose is also worth a mention, very polished and sexy.
Some mixed quality to be found here, but some real highlights. All the wines from Haut Brion and La Mission are very strong indeed. Other big names such as Pape Clement, Domaine de Chavalier and de Fieuzel are all very solid but the one chateau which has stood out for me is Malartic Lagraviere. Both the red and white were extremely impressive, very well made, expressive and classy. A special mention to Carmes Haut Brion. What an incredibly beautiful chateau and new chai. Without doubt this is a wine to follow. The quality there is going to steadily improve. The 2016 is very solid and should be great value.
This is always a difficult appellation to make judgement on given the vast amount of chateaux with various styles and terroirs. It appears on the surface that winemakers are beginning to evolve once more to appeal to the modern palate for lighter less extracted wines. Yet there is plenty of plushness and concentration still here. We are huge fans of Tour Saint Christophe, which embodies the positive changes happening in St Emilion; true terroir expression, bags of fruit, yet classy, elegant and fresh. Cheval Blanc as always is superb. Angelus for me is just stunning and up there with my wines of the vintage. Canon have produced another winner, hopefully can get our hands on some this year.
The wines of Pomerol seem to have a substantial plushness and big juicy fruit. There is certainly balance and freshness in places. Lafleur is supposed to be spectacular, from reports. Vieux Chateau Certan is a beauty. Beauregard, La Pointe and Gazin all deserve consideration.
The Roberson Approach
As always, we will only recommend chateaux which we believe offer a good enough proposition for the buyer in terms of quality and value. Given our independent nature, we are in a great position to be able to give an honest assessment of the merits of individual chateaux.
We hope that the chateaux owners release at prices which provide value against 2009 and 2010. If they creep near to the current market value for those vintages then it won’t be a successful campaign. Without doubt 2016s prices will have a premium on any vintage since 2010, including 2015. However, with our recommendation, certain chateau are definitely worth buying if released at the right price.
Let the fun and games begin.