The sun shone on Bordeaux during the en primeur tastings of the 2016 vintage, both literally as temperatures flirted with the upper 20s, and figuratively as we tasted some exquisite young wines. Believe me, even if you’ve not yet heard them, the Bordeaux jungle drums are picking up the beat for another big vintage; hopefully I have bought myself a little credibility by waiting until after the tastings before making any comment about the potential quality the wines. I almost feel compelled to whisper it but much of what I tasted from 2016 is looking absolutely stunning, with many wines to rival or even out-perform their 2015 brethren.
In brief, 2016 was born of a wet winter followed by a warm, dry summer – crucially, with cooler nights – a sprinkling of rain just before the harvest period and, finally, a prolonged period of clement weather during picking. If I had to pick one factor that shaped the vintage it would be that warm, very dry spell in the summer. At Cheval Blanc we were told that you have to go back to the late 19th century to find a vintage with so little rainfall during the same months. The late season rains helped refresh the grapes, and the cooler nights to preserve their acidity, but the drought certainly raised the spectre of hydric stress in the vineyards. In particular, the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot struggled with the lack of water whilst the later ripening Cabernets were better able to take benefit from the rains and the beautiful late-season weather. That said, the wet winter had replenished water reserves in the soil and clay-based terroirs in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, for example, retained sufficient moisture for even Merlot to survive the drought without negative impact and there are some magical wines from both villages.