On the Trail

The 2016 Winners from the Northern Médoc

Jeff Garneau
The entrance to Cos d'Estournel in St. Estèphe

The entrance to Cos d'Estournel in St. Estèphe

The 2016 vintage in Bordeaux is remarkably consistent; there are wines of the highest quality in every part of the region and at every price point. That being said, 2016 is a vintage in which the wines of the northern Médoc truly shine. A few reasons why: 

The quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon in 2016 was especially good. Small, thick-skinned berries grown under drought conditions meant high tannin and anthocyanin levels, producing deeply colored, structured wines. Pronounced temperature differences between daytime highs and nighttime lows throughout the late summer and early autumn gave the wines great freshness and aromatic intensity. Most producers noted that the harvest was extended over a longer period and completed later than average. Ideal harvest conditions meant that each parcel could be picked at the peak of ripeness, favoring later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. You can see that in the composition of the wines with the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon ranging from 65% to 95%. 

The 2016 vintage seems to have brought out the very best in the wines of the northern Médoc, reducing them to their quintessential character by some alchemical miracle, stripping them of all excess and revealing the true nature within, resulting in terroir-driven wines of astonishing typicity. The vintage of 2016 has produced wines of immense power and grace, very elegant and precise. They are not bold and assertive, but rather self-assured and full of quiet authority. It is a style that seems expressly designed to showcase the wines of the northern Médoc. 

Tasting with the team at Cos

Tasting with the team at Cos

I cannot recall a vintage in which I have rated the wines of St-Estèphe more highly. The 2016 Montrose is a marvel—intense, concentrated and brooding. The 2016 Calon Ségur by contrast is understated and reserved, the epitome of minimalist restraint. The 2016 Cos d’Estournel brought tears to my eyes, a return to form that recalled the many great, classic vintages of the 1980’s. Tasting the 2016 vintage was like meeting an old friend—mon vieux!—whom you never expected to see again this side of heaven. Deuxiéme Cru Cos d’Estournel may give the Premier Crus a run for their money in 2016. Speaking of which... 

Like a trio of dowager countesses quietly establishing the standards for High Society, the three First Growths set the tone in 2016 for all of Pauillac with wines of incomparable quality. The 2016 Mouton Rothschild—grand and magisterial —eschews ostentation. The 2016 La te Rothschild is weighty and opulent, the 2016 Latour lush and convivial. With these wines, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up an astonishing 80% to 90% of the blends. 

With 85% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, the 2016 Pichon Baron is the very definition of Pauillac, a classic in the making. Though 2016 was one of the latest harvests ever here, across the road at Pichon Lalande they finished picking one day later still, ultimately deciding on a blend that is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. Polished, elegant, and re ned this has the potential to compete with some of the great vintages of the past. Comparable perhaps to 1982, 1989, or 1996? 

Tasting with Jean-Michel Cazes at Lynch-Bages

Tasting with Jean-Michel Cazes at Lynch-Bages

The 2016 Duhart Milon is ripe and concentrated, dense, dark and black-fruited. Plays to the strengths of the vintage with a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon to one-third Merlot. Tannins quite fine here. Deceptively easy to taste. 

The 2016 d’Armailhac may be the best I have yet tasted – big, brash, self-assured – but with a warm and friendly manner that puts you immediately at ease. The wine makes an immediate impression in the mouth, demonstrating obvious class and character. The 2016 Clerc Milon, too is a supremely polished effort with great presence and weight. Generous. Expansive. Dense and rich. Superb. 

Perennial ingenue Pontet-Canet is poised to please many a palate with this 2016 offering. It hits all the highlights of the vintage – intense color, aromatic nose, ne tannins – and adds to that a lush texture and plenty of ripe, sweet fruit. Sensuous and seductive. 

The 2016 Lynch-Bages was a study in quiet power, confident and self-assured. “Perhaps the best we have ever made from a technical perspective,” noted owner Jean-Michel Cazes. A wine of extraordinary concentration, it is, for me, one of the wines of the vintage. Transformative. An epiphany in a glass. Truly awe-inspiring.

-Jeff Garneau