Suggestions to make this a weekly occurrence back in our London office have been declined at this point. However, even if it is merely an en primeur tradition, I feel quite strongly that it is a tradition that should be aspired to!
Château Margaux described 2016 as a season of opposites. This really struck a chord and rang true, having heard a similar story from each producer of how the année unfurled. It’s a suitably succinct way to encapsulate the 2016 as a vintage. At this property at least this has, in turn, been reflected in the wine's tension between disparate parts. This is a superb characterisation of both the season and their wines. Weightless power. Such tension. Really tremendous. In fact, Pavilion Rouge is surely approaching Grand Vin level this year. 2016 Pavillon has the highest percentage of Cabernet ever in the blend at 84%. Also aiding its considerable class is the inclusion of fruit from the 2.4 hectare L'Eglise vineyard (nestled next to an incredibly picturesque church). These berries typically go into the Grand Vin but not being necessary this year Pavillon was a very worthy recipient. I will refrain from describing Margaux's top wine in detail here, however, suffice to say it's in the topmost echelon of the vintage.
At Latour - who ceased releasing en primeur after the 2011 vintage - 2016 was the first vintage that the entirety of the estate was organic. As a result the vagaries of the vintage, the rains and inconsistency, posed huge potential problems but these were managed and overcome. A valiant display of resolve and staying loyal to a philosophy intended to increase quality even if it is occasionally at the expense of yields and means making fewer bottles. Upon sampling it proved that from adversity brilliance can be born. A stellar set of wines. The back vintages showed how great these wines can become. Pauillac 2012 had a stunning nose and may well be sitting at the pinnacle of maturity - a ballerina tracing a graceful line between primary fruit and secondary development. Forts de Latour 2011 was humble and softly spoken in its delivery of brilliance. Latour 2005 is a symphony just beginning to hit all the right notes. Though, one suspects, with more time to rehearse it will only continue to improve. The 2016s were assured and look set to ascend even beyond their more mature brethren.
Director of Mouton Rothschild, Philippe Dhalluin, commented that the 2016 is the single most balanced wine he has personally overseen in all his years in wine. This included a 15 year stint at Branaire-Ducru and he has been at Mouton since 2003. As such this is very high praise indeed. Le Petit Mouton continues to improve and the Ram itself was as Dhalluin inferred: impeccably appointed with great equilibrium with polished fruit, redolent of lilac, violet and blueberries. The only criticism could be that it is so 'classic' and linear that it lacks a certain charm and is a bit devoid of charisma - at least to this tasters palate. As a caveat to this it was only tasted once and I am sure many will want to continue existing verticals regardless. Aile d'Argent was my pick of this trio, offering its best expression yet and should provide relative value compared to the admittedly better but significantly more expensive names in the Bordeaux Blanc category.
Ok, so I confess this is a bit of a cheat but we tasted Haut-Brion on Thursday and it only felt right to visit five producers on our inaugural FGF. Pontet-Canet filled this spot with aplomb. Fragrant, quite charismatic fruit, all delivered in a package that showed a great deal of confidence, whilst staying true to the estate's philosophy. Furthermore it adds to the growing catalogue of vintages in which this wine has elevated itself far above its Fifth Growth Status. More and more producers are beginning to follow Pontet's lead in striving to explore the benefits of organic and biodynamic practices. They remain the instigator here though, the original. Their efforts and to an extent risks in this regard, which began in 2004, have been rewarded and recognised. A serious wine.
Finishing at Lafite, there is clearly a lot on offer here. Definitive charm suffused the suave fruit. No one thing stood out rather it was incredibly integrated and harmonious. Dark plummy fruit with supple spice. Deep cherry notes, herbal elements and a serene level of nuance and detail in conjunction with an intensity of body allied to an elegance. Everything in its right place. Fine through and through. Perfumed and powerful.
Wines of the vintage for the team are: Lafleur, Latour, Palmer, Pichon Lalande and Calon Ségur. For us these were the pinnacle to which the others should aspire. There is a second tier beneath this in which there are many superlative wines at a range of prices revealing that it is not always the wallet puckering wines that come out on top. More details on these and under the radar gems to follow.
So, what happens next?
We are of course reliant on fair and appropriate prices. We will offer a balanced view once pricing is released and advise if indeed we still consider the wines to offer you, the customer, good value. Let’s hope they get the prices right; if they do, there are some truly great wines which ought to be part of your cellar, wines that will be simply delicious over the next 10, 20 years and more in some cases.
It is our intention to wrap everything up into our vintage report, recommendations of which wines to buy and release our scores and details about our favourite wines late next week. Then, when each wine releases, we will confirm what we thought of the quality and indeed whether we think the price is a fair reflection of that quality.
We are genuinely excited about this selection of wines. We have an excellent vintage on our hands.
Oli Smith, Private Client Team