BORDEAUX, France — The warm, dry summer of 2016 provided ideal conditions for an excellent grape harvest throughout the Bordeaux region.
The Right Bank, planted heavily with merlot and cabernet franc, was no exception. The merlot in Pomerol delivered outstanding color and concentration, as did the merlot and cabernet franc of Saint-Emilion. Even the few plots of cabernet sauvignon that typically struggle to ripen in the cold clay and limestone soils east of the river Gironde matured to perfection.
The quality of the vintage was exceptional, and the yields were bountiful, a welcome gift for the Bordelaise, who are all too familiar with so-called "off" and often "short" vintages. Vintage 2016 has the whole of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion smiling.
The Right Bank is a large area with many satellite appellations that produce excellent wines in good years, but my evaluations are based upon the selection of wines presented by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, or UGCB, at its annual en primeur tastings, the coming-out party each spring for the new wines from the previous year.
The wines presented by the UGCB represented producers of Saint-Emilion grand cru and a number of top chateaux from Pomerol, which has no classification system. There is worldwide interest in the quality of these wines because many are offered for sale as futures — to be delivered when the wines are ready for commercial release in a couple of years. Futures prices are generally lower than release prices two years hence, when the quality of the vintage has been firmly established and demand is at its peak. Futures prices for the 2016 vintage have not yet been announced.
For the purpose of this report, my focus is on the more affordable wines presented at the UGCB tastings, not the prohibitively expensive wines of star chateaux, such as Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Ausone and their ilk. That is not to imply the wines evaluated are not expensive. They are but less so than the trophy wines hunted down by well-heeled collectors and speculators.
I use a four-point range when evaluating barrel samples, due to the volatility and fragility of young wines that have yet to be bottled. I look for color, concentration, balance, quality of tannins and overall potential based on more than 35 years of experience with very young and very old Bordeaux.
My personal assessment of the 2016 vintage in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion is very high, with the caveat that I believe the Left Bank is slightly more consistent. I attribute much of the difference to the obsession with new oak in Saint-Emilion, which can be a flaw if it either overwhelms the fruit or imparts astringent wood tannins, which can influence a wine throughout its lifespan, however long that may be.
That said, there were many stunning wines produced on the Right Bank in 2016, and overall, the wines of Saint-Emilion grand cru were more successful than those of Pomerol. The following are my personal recommendations.
Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere — Good concentration, richness and length on the palate without being overextracted. Could blossom well. Good long-term potential. 90-93.
Chateau Dassault — Excellent concentration, pretty red fruits, integrated tannins, suave elegance. Outstanding long-term potential. 91-94.
Chateau La Dominique — Good concentration, complexity of black and red fruit, elegant tannins. Excellent long-term potential. 90-93.
Chateau Grand Mayne — Pretty wine with a suave palate. Good concentration. Integrated tannins. Complex layers of fruit. Excellent long-term potential. 93-96.
Chateau La Tour Figeac — Rich and bold, with fleshy ripe fruit and firm tannins. Exceptional long-term potential. 94-97.
Chateau Troplong Mondot — Excellent concentration, dense and rich, with firm tannins. Black and red fruits. Excellent long-term potential. 93-96.
Chateau Beauregard — Suave and rich on the palate, with good concentration and supple tannins. Exceptional long-term potential. 91-94.
Chateau Le Bon Pasteur — Fleshy but with firm structure. Nice plum notes. Very good medium-term potential. 88-91
Chateau La Cabanne — Red fruits, concentrated, with bold and aggressive tannins. Very good medium-term potential. 89-92.
Chateau Clinet — Fleshy fruit on the palate with firm tannins. Excellent structure and balance. Very good medium-term potential. 88-91.
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