Bordeaux 2016 High Flyers
The chateaux below are some of the smartest addresses in all of Bordeaux, encapsulating the pinnacle of viticulture and winemaking. Still at their release prices this is a brilliant opportunity to snap up some stellar wines to lay down for future drinking.
56% Merlot, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6.5% Cabernet Franc. Beneath its youthful reticence there is no doubt a great wine here. Deep ruby in colour, this has subtle aromas of ripe black fruits, with a hint of liquorice spice. There is nuanced power in its complex palate. The tannins are tightly furled at this early stage, but their chalky, fine nature should evolve with great grace over the years. CP
The 2016 Haut Brion is a blend of 56% Merlot, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6.5% Cabernet Franc that was picked between 19 September and 13 October. Jean-Philippe Delmas told me that this represents a touch more Merlot than last year's vintage. It clearly has a more powerful and intense bouquet compared to the La Mission Haut-Brion, although maybe not the same killer level of detail and delineation. The palate is beautifully balanced with arching tannins that insistently grip the mouth. There are layers of black fruit, minerals, sea salt and a touch of crushed violets. Unlike the 2015 Haut-Brion, this is more linear, stricter and you could argue more nimble on its toes. Yet maybe it does not quite have the same depth and labyrinthine complexity that made the 2015 such an astonishing wine. Nevertheless, this 2016 is not far behind and it will be fascinating to compare in the future. Drink Date 2026 - 2070
Even deeper colour than La Mission. Broad and spicy and very rich and a compote of warm bricks. (La Mission is more muscular and obviously tannic.) Firm and not over the top. Prances. Transparent and very much Haut-Brion. Drink 2028-2050
This is a monument for Haut-Brion and reminds me of the great 1998 but in a modern and bright style. Full-bodied, very tannic and superbly structured yet always agile and vivid. Its energy and dynamic nature grabs you by the shoulder and tells you it’s great. Staggeringly precise. It can’t get better than this, can it?
The 2016 Haut-Brion is shaping up to be one of the jewels of the vintage. Towering, powerful and intense, the 2016 is marvelously complete in all of its dimensions. Gravel, bacon fat, black cherry, smoke, leather and licorice are all pushed forward. The 2016 is quite rich, but never heavy. It is especially polished, even understated Haut Brion built more on finesse than power.
This opens very beautifully in the glass with a high level of aromatics, but just needs a few minutes to reveal these tight citrus peel and pink grapefruit flavours. Haut-Brion have navigated a tough year for whites far better then most, as you would expect. This has volume through the mid-palate and a well constructed, dancing minerality on the finish. 30% grand vin for the white, from a blend of 70.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon aged in 35% new oak.
The splendour is evident from the off with a veritable tsunami of black fruit engulfing the palate and drenching every taste bud in stunning fruit. This is yet another epic Haut-Brion and it is so controlled and considered it is incredible. The tannins are, admittedly, huge, but they don’t back into the wine, staying discreetly on the finish. These tannins are seriously plush and exuberant and the fruit joins hands with these elements embracing their unique partnership. Their relationship with the oak is, too, incredible. Complete harmony is evident already in this wine. This is a masterful Haut-Brion and it is one of the wines of the vintage.
Ambitious, concentrated and built for the long haul, this is a superb Haut-Brion that’s combines density and concentration with grace and fine balance. Scented, grassy and floral, it shifts into another gear on the palate, with layers of fine tannins, dark, savoury fruit and refreshing acidity. 2028-40
As my children would say “OMG”! This vies as one of the most exciting wines I tasted all week and I simply can’t wait to try it again. Unquestionably first growth in all but name. This is a simply great wine and I am tempted to go as far as to say it is the greatest Las Cases I have ever tasted, and that is saying something… I’m not sure where to start! Dense opaque colour, with hints of eucalyptus, black cherries and black fruits on the nose. These follow through into the palate, with hints of blackcurrant. A hugely bold wine, with great breadth of fruit. It has the power of its famed neighbour Ch Latour, but with a degree of St Julien sensitivity, poise and grace. It finishes with chocolate, mocha and a delicious degree of richness. Almost perfection, and a definite addition to my cellar this year. DR
The 2016 Leoville-Las Cases comprises 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc picked between 30 September and 19 October, during which the harvesters were out in the vines for 16 days. It is matured in 90% new oak and delivers 13.60% alcohol and an IPT of 82. It is initially tightly coiled on the nose and needed coaxing from the glass. There are scents of small black cherries, boysenberry, crushed violets and a slight flintiness that emerges with time. The definition is very impressive—you can almost pick the aromas out one by one. The palate is awe-inspiring. The tannins are so filigree, in fact not dissimilar to their neighbor across the border at Château Latour. That seam of graphite lends this Léoville Las-Cases a Pauillac-like personality, but ignoring stylistic similarities, it is the intensity, depth and arching structure that astounds, with detail on the finish that rivets your feet to the spot. Then the finish is ultra-precise, one of the most mineral-driven that I have encountered in almost 20 years visiting the estate, plus it is endowed with one the longest aftertastes you will find in 2016. Yeah, it's good. Drink Date 2030 - 2070
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc picked between 30 September and 19 October, the result aged in 90% new barrels. IPT 82. Amazing combination of the stoniness and backbone of traditional Las Cases with extraordinary vitality and energy, all overlaid with fully ripe fruit. Such richness! Round tannins but the most youthful wine I have yet encountered. Extremely minerally and thrilling. Jean-Hubert Delon bemoans the fact he will not be alive to see it at its peak, and is convinced it will shut down at some point. It is glorious to taste now. 13.6% Drink 2026-2050
A unique Las Cases that harkens back to some of the great classics such as 1985 or 1986 with its solid backbone of tannins and a walnut, licorice and blackcurrant character. Full and powerful, characterized throughout by a steeliness that shows its strength and energy. Better than the 2015. Ultra-classic.
Léoville Las Cases is usually a brutish, powerful wine, especially when young. The 2016, on the other hand, is a wine of total finesse. There is almost no sensation of tannin, even though the wine has the highest degree of tannin ever measured here. Sometimes wines can go from the merely outstanding into the realm of the sublime. That is very much the case with the 2016 Léoville Las Cases. I could describe the aromas and flavors, but that seems superfluous for a wine that delivers so much pure pleasure. Silky (yes, silky) tannins wrap around a super-expressive finish laced with the essence of blue/purplish fruit, crème de cassis, lavender and blueberry jam.
Very profound, very focussed and also amazingly exotic, there is a mind-bending amount of class here and it is so dense and so classy that it completely baffles the palate. The weightlessness and also intensity of the flavours are nothing short of amazing. The tannins are complete and not at all drying but they are incredible and they will arm this wine for a fifty-year life. The colour and turbidity is insane, too. Sitting here tasting this wine is a seriously unnerving out of body experience and I will make it my mission to taste (and drink) this wine as many times as I can for the rest of my life! This is a truly amazing Las Cases and it is a ‘classic’, at the same time as defining a new era of classicism in this commune. Phenomenal.
Jean-Hubert Delon has made the most of the superb vintage in 2016 to produce a Las-Cases that’s typically concentrated, backward and even a little forbidding. But scale the walls of the tannins and savoury, compact berry fruit and the view is beautiful. 2030-45
This glorious wine typifies everything that makes La Mission Haut-Brion so appealing and why it is a habitual winner in blind tastings amongst the first growths. Beautifully polished loganberry and wild berry aromas, with hints of dark currants. This balances a lovely silky texture, with volume and richness, whilst maintaining a continuous flow of tannic structure throughout the palate. Vibrantly fresh, the finish of mocha and chocolate give added complexity and enormous appeal. This glass was hard to put down, I loved it! DR
The 2016 La Mission Haut Brion is a blend of 57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon picked between 19 September and 14 October, one of the longest ever. "We had to be patient and wait for each plot," Jean-Philippe Delmas told me. "It took longer than usual." As is customary, I allowed my sample, and likewise all the wines poured at this tasting, around 40-45 minutes to open since they always transform in the glass. It has a clean and precise, quite understated bouquet with fine mineralité, cold stone aromas infusing the black fruit. This has incredible precision, perhaps even more pixelated than the "gaff over the road" Haut-Brion. The palate is medium-bodied with supple and lithe tannin. I appreciate the line of acidity here, the smoothness and harmony that takes your breath away. Every atom is infused with life-affirming freshness. It is a wine bridled with incredible focus and delineation. I thought that the 2015 La Mission Haut-Brion flirted with perfection. The 2016 has that extra edge, a "je ne sais quoi" that leaves you reaching for the thesaurus looking for superlatives. Drink Date 2026 - 2070
Glowing deep crimson. Very intense and ripe. Snazzy and spicy. Polished and racy. Very firm and lots of ripe tannins – very much à La Mission. Super-sophisticated. Inky and fresh and so ripe and confident. A dry style but great. Racy but tannic. Drink 2027-2050
The texture to this is very beautiful with chewy yet very polished tannins. Full-bodied, tight and mouth-filling. Starts very slowly and then takes off. Love the energy in this.
The 2016 La Mission Haut-Brion is a total knockout. Vertical and powerful, but not at all austere, it exudes class. Fine-grained tannins support the fruit, but they are barely felt, as the wine's balance is so extraordinary. Lifted floral notes and a host of red fruits give the 2016 energy and verve. I can't wait to see how it ages.
Wonderful La Mission this year, graceful but with an unmistakable sense of controlled power. The wine just expands outwards and upwards in your mouth - insistent but terribly polite about it. It is deep and silky, shot through with coffee grounds, damson and soft cassis on a creamy mid-palate, utterly beautiful. There is a real energy and vitality here, with a caressing texture to the tannins and huge persistency on the finish. Dense, and yet so finessed that you could almost drink it today. Wow. The blend is 57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon with a pH of 3.66, harvested between 19th September and 14th October.
A lovely, wild nose of macerated berries and old library books greets the taster. This is a historic flavour and it shows amazing complexity and thrilling tannins. The fineness and richness of the skin elements are incredible. Long and smooth, this is a superb La Mission, built along a red fruit theme and even though it is very dry and savoury it is certain to blossom in a decade into a lithe, sensual creature.
Tight, focused and even a little backward, as it’s entitled to be at this young age, this is a very intellectual claret, rather than an exuberant fruit bomb. Fine oak, granular tannins, taut acidity and savoury red and dark berry fruit flavours. 2026-36
47% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. The extreme conditions of 2016 put a lot of pressure on growers, particularly biodynamic ones like Palmer. They held fire, and whilst their yields suffered (Palmer came in at 29 hl/ha where others were hovering around 40 hl/ha), the concentration and composure of the wine did not. Where the 2015 was exuberant, the 2016 is more nuanced, suggestive and delicate. Savoury tones swirl around the palate, which is spiced with some black pepper. A textured wine with a fresh balance. CP
The 2016 Palmer is a blend of 47% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot cropped at 29 hectoliters per hectare between 3 and 18 October. Matured in 65% new oak (my sample coming from a used barrel), the bouquet is perhaps not quite as intense as some of its peers and takes time to click into fifth gear. Eventually it offers tightly wound blackberry, briary and mineral scents; it is very focused, but maybe less extrovert and more classic in style compared to recent vintages. The palate is medium-bodied with a gentle grip on the entry, quite firm in the mouth with slightly tarry black fruit, hints of black truffle developing towards the finish that feels masculine and linear. It has very impressive length, completing what is an intellectual Palmer, one that I suspect will really blossom in bottle. Drink Date 2024 - 2055
47% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. No sulphur dioxide until after MLF. Very dark, velvety look - really bright. Complex and energetic. Not simple and sweet but quite a step change. Feels a little transitional because it's so different and more energetic than the old style. 65% new oak, as always, but the wine can absorb it better. Some bitter chocolate. Lots of sweetness. Energy and freshness. Drink 2025-2045
I wrote that the 2015 was incredible, and this 2016 is again. It’s equally structured and powerful as the 2015, yet there’s an underlying intellectual serenity to this wine. You taste it, and you want to know and experience it even more. Full and tannic yet ever so polished and beautiful. Mesmerizing. Made from biodynamically grown grapes.
Sophisticated and polished from the outset, the 2016 Palmer is utterly captivating. Dark shades of fruit, accented by hints of smoke, leather and discreet French oak open up in the glass, but it is the wine'e effortless, gracious personality that stands out most. The 2016 literally hovers on the palate with exquisite grace. I can't wait to see how it ages.
The grand vin represents 65% of production in 2016, the highest ever. It has many similarities in style with the 2001 and 1986, being a classically styled wine full of soft slate, fern, liquorice and cassis, but from the modern era where you can achieve so much more precision. This is a wine that makes you smile from the first sip, and keeps on getting better, caressing you gently across the palate. There is never any let up through the mid-palate, and the biodynamics that have been practised here for the past few years are clearly paying off. Elegant, utterly silky and precise, the structure is just effortless with reasonably fresh alcohols that are the result of late ripening. A perfect example of the appellation, it has the florality, density and slow tannic pace that means it takes you right along with it as the flavours build. The blend is 47% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. Intellectual without being overbearing, and built to age. This is impressive stuff.
Winemaker Thomas Duroux explained that 2016 could have been disastrous. The pressure on a biodynamic vineyard, with the amount of rain that fell in the first half of the season was, near-catastrophic. The Palmer team worked their socks off and as we all now know, the rain stopped at just the right time and what followed was a remarkable growing season, refreshed by the famous rains on the 13th September, and remembered as the latest harvest on record - between the 3rd and 18th October. The Grand Vin is a terroir selection mostly and in 2016 is one of the most captivating and joyous wines of the vintage. Very shy and very complex and it is impossibly long and it unravels brilliantly and incrementally on the palate. This is a masterpiece because it is the epitome of restraint and composure. With superb tannins and serious finesse this is a wine which has risen from great terroir in the most trying of conditions to confound and delight the drinker.
Tighter and much more compact at this young age than the 2015 was at the same stage, this is a serious, focused, age worthy Palmer with dense cassis and damson fruit, stylish oak, refined tannins and pithy acidity. “Intellectual,” says Thomas Duroux. 2024-35
85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Alexandre Thienpont explained how they were “saved by the rain” in September. Some vines were nevertheless affected by drought (around 8%), but these were carefully marked and discarded before picking. Further layers of sorting were carried out before the fruit reached tank, and the result is a rich wine with a gorgeous density, with no hint of raisined fruit. Sophisticated oak spice is built around elegant, luxurious fruit with a smoky, herbal lift from the Cabernet Franc. Their diligence has paid off. CP
The 2016 Vieux Chateau Certan is a blend of 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon that was picked at 40.50 hectoliters per hectare, in three stages of picking: 3-7, 10-11 and 17-18 October. It has a high IPT of 82 and a pH of 3.77. It has a very refined bouquet with blackberry, briary and morello cherries that are tightly wound at first, but open gradually with aeration. The Merlot is fully in control aromatically; this is not a VCC governed by the Cabernet Franc this year, consistent with the 2016 vintage. The palate is medium-bodied with fine-grain tannin. There is plenty of dark berry fruit laced with hints of earl grey and bay leaf, a complex and cerebral Pomerol with a long, precise and (to put it banally) delicious finish. This is another outstanding wine from Alexandre and Guillaume Thienpont. Drink Date 2022 - 2060
85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sumptuous nose. Great lift. Real race and dancing stuff. Good structure and line. Nothing sweet or fleshy about this but lovely ripeness and nobility. Amazing persistence and elegance in claret mode. Drink 2025-2045
The balance and finesse to this wine are really beautiful with ultra-fine tannins and beautiful fruit. It’s full and structured yet so long and intense. It’s a wine that seduces you with every sip — already. Great selection here. Quite simply turbocharged at the end.
The 2016 Vieux Château Certan is a wine of extraordinary beauty. Rich, seamless and voluptuous in the glass, it exudes sensuality in all of its dimensions. Tasted as a hypothetical blend, the 2016 is less expressive than the separate lots were when I tasted them a few months ago. A rush of dark cherry, inky blue/purplish fruit, crushed rocks, lavender and rose petal infuses the creamy, voluptuous finish. The 2016 manages to be dense and rich, but with no excess weight. It is quite simply a remarkable wine.
Guillaume Thienpont said that 2016 was a Merlot year and only his largest Cabernet Franc plot, planted on clay, worked whereas the other two on gravel didn’t perform and so the fruit went into his second wine. He reported that 25mm rain fell on the 13th September and also that it was a very rare year when you actually needed water before harvest as opposed to the other way around! He also explained that some of the young vine Merlot fell into ‘manageable stress’ levels and these were, once again, sorted out. Three or four days before picking they tagged every single vine with a marker to show pickers which they wanted - 5% of production was rejected straight away. This is a very powerful vintage with more muscle and strength than usual and yet there is some superb freshness and lift which helps it enormously. ‘It was easy to make a massive wine, but we had to make a balanced wine, too’, said Guillaume. The stronger notes do not only come out in the power but also in the intensity of cherry fruit making this an epic wine which is more immediately expressive and urgent than the laid-back Pétrus. It will be one of the most longest lived vintages ever. Guillaume’s father, Jacques Thienpont, said, ‘come back in fifteen years’ for another tasting of this wine at the start of its life! Jacques thought that precision is the reason for his property’s continued improvement year in year out. They have gone from selecting by plot to selecting by vine using GPS etc. The other lovely expression that I noted down during our tasting was that this wine was saved by two rains, making it ‘winemaking on a razor blade’! In order to underline just how dry it was prior to the September rain, the grapes that were set aside from the drought affected vines were so shrivelled that Jacques described them as, ‘like 2003 or ‘Cretan’ wine!’. Joking aside, this is one of the most remarkable wines that I have tasted from this property.
“A 2010 plus,” is how Guillaume Thienpoint describes this powerful, rich, dense VCC, made with slightly less Cabernet Franc than usual because of the summer heat wave. Bold, grassy and plush, with masses of underpinning tannin and satanic, dark berry fruit. 2026-40