James O’Connor and myself, have been on a voyage of discovery for 21 consecutive years, travelling to Bordeaux to taste their wines en primeur. We will use this post to give you an insight into what’s involved and give you an oversight into the 2016 vintage. If you would like to receive our detailed tasting notes – contact us here.
Sometimes buying wine en primeur is called investing in wine futures, so to avoid any confusion we’d like to briefly explain what en primeur actually means and why you might invest.
Put simply, en primeur is a method of purchasing wines early i.e. while the wine is still in the barrel. Therefore people have an opportunity to buy the wine before it is bottled. Why do this? Well, first of all, the wines may be considerably cheaper before it is matured and bottled and secondly, if the wine is only available in small quantities, it is one way of securing an allocation.
The caveat of buying wine from the barrel (en primeur), however, is that it is not a guarantee that the wine will increase in value. Therein lies one good reason for consulting experts such as ourselves. If you would like to know more about buying en primeur, contact James or me here in Green Acres and you can avail of our years of experience and knowledge.
I’ll continue with this blog post on the assumption that you have a little knowledge of the wine industry and may be interested in purchasing en primeur. James and I will be posting more articles that will cover other topics relating to wine (and different aspects of Green Acres). They will be focused on educating, entertaining and informing wine lovers everywhere.
Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur Vintage
As they say in sports parlance, 2016 was a vintage of 2 halves for the Bordelaise. The first half of the year was to be dogged by bad weather and lots of rain up to mid-June. So much moisture and humidity meant a worrying time with the threat of disease in the vineyard.
Fortunes changed for the second half, from July onwards when the Sun came out. A record number of days were recorded above 30 degrees, with August particularly hot. Drought conditions were becoming a problem, especially for the younger vines.
However, a burst of rain in mid-September was welcomed to relieve the stress of the wines. An Indian summer of warm days and cool nights from then on contributed to making 2016 a beautiful vintage. It is characterised by a freshness of acidity, a lovely purity of fruit, concentration, lower alcohol levels and rich tannins.
On our recent trip to the Bordeaux region, as usual, our first port of call was to visit a négociant that we have worked with for 14 years. To ease ourselves into the week that was to follow, we tasted an eclectic range of wines, from generic Bordeaux to wines from the regions of Cotes de Castillon and St Emilion.
What makes a trip like this into a voyage of discovery for us is that we were there when the 2016 crop was harvested. For instance, last year, at Chateau D’Issan we saw the quality of the Merlot on the vines; they were small, so healthy, uniform and so plentiful that it looked like a continuous black line as you looked along the vines.
In Pauillac, we saw the harvest arrive at Chateau Pedesclaux, again with lovely bunches and not much to be sorted at the tables. We had a spectacular harvest lunch on the lawn of Chateau Phelan Segur in the glorious sunshine of late September. We also witnessed the perfect grapes arriving in at Chateau Canon in St Emilion. They were small berries, perfect bunches and ripe. Confidence was very high amongst all the Bordelaise we met at that early stage.
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon vs Merlot
There is a lot of talk about 2016 being a Cabernet year. No doubt there are fantastic results from Cabernet, especially in the Northern Medoc. Merlot still features in many great wines, especially in Pomerol, and St Emilion and has also contributed so much in other years. Calon Segur in St Estephe has produced a remarkable wine this year and 35% of the blend is Merlot.
Petrus with 100% Merlot is perhaps the finest effort yet. Vieux Ch. Certan of Pomerol is a contender for wine of the vintage. Another contender is Haut-Brion with a huge 56% Merlot in the final blend.
So, it is not one grape performing better than the other in 2016. It is the quality of fruit that nature provided and the expert handling in the chateaux afterwards that has made 2016 as exciting as it is.
In our experience, each commune has produced great wine; each commune also has exceptional individual wines that stand out from the crowd.
A Sample of Our 2016 En Primeur Tasting Week
Usually, our days consisted of leaving our hotel at 7:30 am (6:30 at home!) to get to our first appointment of the day. Spending time in Bordeaux drinking wine in springtime, must certainly sound idyllic but when you’re there for work – it’s a different story. Here’s a description of a day and a half from our recent 2016 en primeur visit.
First stop – Montrose in St Estephe. We tasted the wines of Tronquoy Lalande, Dame de Montrose and the Grand Vin, Montrose. Montrose is riding the crest of a wave in recent years. 2014 and 2015 are considered by many as a “Wine of the Vintage”. They are still surfing that wave with great success – the 2016 vintage tasted glorious.
We then travelled the short distance south to the Indian-influenced, exotic building of Cos D’Estournel, with its Chinese-style pagodas and Indian elephants adorning the chateau. This chateau is in a wonderful location because it is the first chateau in St Estephe. It sits atop a hill that overlooks Chateau Lafite Rothchild across the field of vineyards. Goulee was the first wine we tasted, it has a lovely juicy and fresh palate. Pagodes de Cos was also very tasty.
We love Cos D’Estournel because it is always exceptionally well turned out. It is rich, refined and very elegant. We believe that it is one of the highlights of the region.
We backtracked slightly to the northernmost Chateau in St Estephe, Calon Segur, another favourite of ours. We understand fully, the sentiment expressed by its 19th-century owner Nicolas Alexandre, Marquis de Segur, (who also owned Lafite and Latour) when he said: “I make wine at Lafite and Latour, but my heart is in Calon Segur.” – interesting fact: a heart that now adorns the label of Calon Segur.
Here, we tasted what is potentially the best value to price wine – Capbern, it is so fresh soft and ripe, it will be delicious in 5 – 10 years time. We tasted Le Marquis de Calon Segur also before tasting the best Calon Segur we have ever tasted, with a lovely purity of fruit, freshness and elegance, the flavour of which lasted as we drove to our next appointment.
Arriving at the neighbouring commune of Pauillac, we had the first of our group tastings. This year the Pauillac and St Estephe wines are showcased at Batailley, which is inland from the glorious Chateau of Pichon Baron. Here we tasted – Phelan Segur, Lafon Rochet, Cos Labory, Ormes de Pez, Pichon Baron, Pichon Comtesse, Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste, Clerc Milon, Armailhac and Batailley amongst others. It was a great opportunity to get a feel for a region by tasting them all together. There are certainly very high achievers in the group whilst others we tasted, did not make it to the list above. We also stopped here for a wonderful buffet lunch with Chateau Batailley 2010 in the glass.
Pontet Canet was our next visit. Alfred Tesseron is certainly producing exceptional wines in recent years. Completely focusing on biodynamics and now organic practices; he is constantly fine-tuning his techniques in order to produce the best. In 2016, he has produced the best. As part of our tasting notes, we describe it as “finesse and elegance masking a powerhouse of a very, concentrated, structured and well-balanced wine”. It has a perfect score!”
Our next visit was across the road to Mouton Rothschild.
“On the birth of my first child , I purchased a Mouton Rothschild wine label to mark the year of the birth. I might have to put an end to this practice as, four children later, I am running out of wall space to hang the labels!” ….. Donal
We boarded the customary mode of transport – golf carts – and were driven through the estate to the tasting room. This is always a great tasting. We evaluate the wines of Armailhac, Clerc Milon, Petit Mouton, Mouton Rothschild and Aile D’Argent – Mouton’s glorious white wine. All of the wines here are excellent.
Our next stop of the day is Pichon Longueville Comtesse where Ingrid greeted us to show the estates Reserve de Pichon Comtesse and Grand Vin, Pichon Comtesse. We were well impressed with the texture and elegance of this wine, it seems to improve year on year.
Our 2nd group tasting of the day was in Chateau Kirwan when we tasted the wines from the Margaux appellation. Here we saw a few different styles emerging:
- we enjoyed Malescot St Exupery, Rauzan Segla and Giscours (Rich / Full Bodied)
- we enjoyed Kirwan, Brane Cantenac and Du Tertre (Medium Bodied / Elegant)
- we enjoyed Angludet; which is almost Burgundian in its style (Elegance / Finesse)
For us, the wine that wins first prize for “Expression of Terroir” is D’Issan. A short drive away from Kirwan, it is a moated Chateau whose vineyard is completely surrounded by a wall. The 2016 D’Issan is pure elegance and charm. It is intensely flavoured and retains its Margeaux style.
We finish the day at Chateau Margaux, For the first time in a decade, none of the 3 wines tasted here exceed 13% of alcohol. The Pavillon Rouge is sublime and is worthy of a place amongst the finest wines of Margaux. The quality is such with Pavillon Rouge these days that it would sit amongst older vintages of Margaux with ease.
Chateau Margaux is full bodied and savoury, made up of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux has high levels of acidity, more richness than normal, mineral and fruity. To strive and make the best wine possible, only 33% of the white harvest made it into Pavillon Blanc.
Just Another Day at the Office During 2016 En Primeur Week
The very next day, we started at 7:30 am, again, and headed to Lafite Rothschild for our 9:30 am appointment. The tasting room has changed here in the last year. They have moved us to a beautifully decorated, bright room overlooking a neighbouring vineyard, Cos D’Estounel on the brow of the hill in St Estephe.
Duhart Milon was the first taste of the day and a very nice way to start. Duhart Milon continues to improve every year, this year’s is concentrated, velvety textured with lovely tannins. Carruades de Lafite is very fragrant and well structured. The star of the show – Lafite Rothschild is immense with a layered palate and great concentration. Plenty of power, finesse and style. Our highest scoring 1st growth after receiving a perfect score.
After that, we had a short hop, down the D2, past some of the region’s most wonderful and fairy tale-like Chateaux. We entered the historic Leoville Las Cases to taste the range of wines from the Delon family. This was a lovely tasting, there were 2 styles. The 2nd wines from the estates, Chapelle de Potensac, Le Petite Marquis and Le Petit Lion were so elegant, expressive and charming.
The Grand Vins of Potensac, Clos du Marquis and Leoville Las Cases had an intensity to them. They were big and powerful and well balanced with the characteristic freshness and high tannins of the vintage. Leoville Las Cases, in particular, is nipping at the heels of the 1st growths.
Further down the road then, we went to the majestic Ducru Beaucaillou. Here we meet the winemaker Rene who was his usual exuberant self. Ducru Beaucaillou uses a very clever technique in that they have a buffet outside as you enter the Chateau so that you can cleanse your palate with a wonderful selection of charcuterie and cheese before trying their wine.
We tasted the Listrac wine first; Ducluzeau and Fourcas Borie – they were both very enjoyable. We then moved onto the wines of Lalande Borie, La Croix de Beaucaillou and Ducru Beacaullou. – The one characteristic the flowed through these wines is power.
Following this visit, we had another group tasting so as to get a retrospective view of the wines of St Julien. Chateau Talbot was the destination this year. We tasted: Langoa Barton, Lagrange, Gruaud Larose, Branaire Ducru, Beychevelle, Talbot, Gloria, St-Pierre, Leoville Poyferre and Leoville Barton amongst others. With the exception of a few, the wines there were very harmonious and of a high standard.
We then travelled to Leoville Barton to visit Lilian and re-tasted her wines at the Chateau. Both the Langoa and Leoville were powerful wines, rich and full bodied. A surprise here was her Mauvesin Barton from Moulis. It is delicious, concentrated and very elegant. We also got to taste the 2015 vintage of all three wines. They are all excellent.
Our final visit for that morning and our last in the Medoc was another group tasting. The tasting showcased the wines from Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac and Moulis, this time, at Chateau Cantemerle. There was a vast variety of styles on show here. What stood out above the crowd were – La Tour de By (Medoc), La Tour Carnet (Haut Medoc), Cantemerle (Haut-Medoc), Beaumont (Haut Medoc), Poujeaux (Haut Medoc) and Chasse Spleen (Moulis).
Do you know what? – just writing this blog post and remembering our week is making me tired all over again. We hope our sample day and a half gives you a feeling for the region and what we do when en primeur tasting.
Of course, we do it because we want to be in a position to advise you when / if you decide to invest en primeur. We would love you to contact me here or through our website so we can provide you with the professional advice required for your 2016 en primeur journey with Green Acres.
If you would like to receive wine updates from us from time to time, just send me your email address here.
We look forward to talking to you soon – cheers, Donal Morris.