My first UGC and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The event space K&L booked was nice and there was lots of tasty lighter fare to snack on. Most of the wine makers were pouring their own wines, so there was the opportunity for some short exchanges about the wines and vintages with the powers that be. Popular chateau had small lines at their stations most of the night, while many lesser know estates seemed bored and ignored.
In terms of my notes and impressions… I’ve never done a big event like this, so putting things into context is a challenge and it can be hard to process and stay on top of all the information flooding in. I didn’t take notes. The only new release Bordeaux vintages I’ve tried widely before are the 2000 and 2005, and these 2016s showed very differently than I remember either of those 2 years (both of which are true vin garde years). That all said, most wines that I liked I got to try 2-4+ times, all except for the Canon, Pichon Lalande and Pichon Baron which were gone by the time I passed by those tables a second time. I also didn’t bother trying chateau or appellations like St. Emilion in general that I don’t usually like, as one has to prioritize at these affairs.
The 2016 vintage is very pretty to be sure, with a modern display of pure, clean fruit but with plenty of freshness and amazingly tame tannins to underpin things. To my delight, new oak and alcohol are totally in check and non-evident in virtually every wine I tried, and in general I didn’t find these wines too big or heavy (note above that I avoided chateau that I know to be big and oaky). In contrast to the all the second-coming-of-wine-nirvana-talk, the best analog I can think of for the 2016s is a vintage like 1985 (which of course I never tasted young); I am a big, big fan of 1985, but it ain’t 1982. I compare these two years because the hallmark of these 2016s like the 1985s is the terrific balance between the elements and I think this along with modern tannin management will make them an relatively early drinking year but with a long window. What’s different now next to 30+ year ago is the polished, even slick presentation of fruit that nearly 100% of these 2016s showed. The Napa-fication of Bordeaux continues even in a vintage of moderate conditions (while across the pond the Barossa-fication of Napa continues). Honestly, if you really like your Bordeaux in an old school style, I wonder if current vintages are where you put your money-- selective backfilling even as recently as 2004-2006 are more likely to be your style, because the modernist philosophy hadn’t yet been fully embraced by virtually every major chateau in Bordeaux. I prefer old school wines (with enough age), but I can thoroughly enjoy well-made modern-styled wines that aren’t over the top, so all of my notes below are in that context.
A few generalizations:
-St Julien was the sweet spot for my tastes
-I was let down by Pauillac overall, finding many too soft and with an over-ripe note on the bouquet
-I asked about the often very high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon most of the Left Bankers had, wondering if that was because Merlot fared poorly in 2016, but what most wine makers said was that climate change was killing the utility of Merlot in Bordeaux, so they were moving to CS heavy wines in general.
-I have no real idea how these will age, my notes are mostly for how they showed on this night. The 2016s could blossom, deepen and add complexity with time, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they do, and that I underestimated these.
QPRs of the event (in order)
Langoa Barton ($53 in USA)
Branaire Ducru ($55)
du Tertre ($44)
Terrific, my favorites:
Pichon Baron- My WOTN, this had it all: power, poise, refinement, freshness, while eschewing any overripe aromas. Classic with graphite, cassis. Long.
Beychevelle- Regal, balanced, polished, amazingly integrated for such a young wine. The fruit profile is classic, with cassis and earth, but the volume is turned up. I loved this, but I did wonder if this had traded a little of its soul for its stylishness.
Branaire-Ducru- Nearly as good as the Beychevelle, lacking some of its depth and poise, but a classic in the making. Seamless. One of my favorites.
Canon- Terrific, deep, dark fruited, and engaging with tons of fruit but plenty of acid and tannin to hold it up. I could drink this all night, but not if I was in the mood for “Bordeaux”… this was nothing like the great Canon of yesteryear and frankly it suffers from an international make-up that leaves behind any sense of place as a quaint anachronism. Still, really impressive in its own way.
Gazin- Impressive, excellent stuffing and length, but not heavy at all. Plenty of structure, this will probably need time. Not an old school Pomerol, but not an uber modern one either. One of my favorites.
Clinet- Also impressive, quite delicious. A bit more fruit forward than the Gazin, but still very balanced. Darker fruited than most Left Bankers with an inky color. Very yummy.
Rauzan-Segla- Killer juice and my easily favorite of the Margaux. Elegance, poise, refinement, one of better wines at combining old school elegance with modern. Lots of well managed, pliant tannins.
Very Good or Better, worth seeking out if well priced:
Lynch Bages- Easily the most tannic wine of the night, seems like it is closing down as the aromas were quiet, but I like the potential here.
St. Pierre- Wow, super lovely for a Napa cab! Unlike other recent vintages, there is no obvious new oak signature here. Lush with a silky fruit-forwardness that is really engaging. A bit sweet and higher alcohol than some, but it pulls it off. I might have to reconsider my ban on this chateau.
Talbot- Round, engaging, integrated, lots of fruit. Maybe lacks a little tension and structural gravitas, but it still has character in a friendly, hard to criticize manner. Quite yummy.
Langoa Barton- Gorgeous core of ripe yet red cherries fruit, quite pure in its clean, calm, red-fruited attack. Has good acids, ample depth and excellent balance, really stood out in the crowd without any garish touches. My QPR of the night, and one of my favorites overall.
Leoville Barton- Tastes good, a bit more earthy than the Langoa, but seems a little muted next to its sister chateau. Not the blockbuster I was expecting, but probably shutting down.
Clerc Milon- Quite impressive, nicely balancing the fruit of the vintage with a classicism. Some vintages of this can seem bit rustic, but not the 2016. A bit pricey though otherwise I would be a buyer.
Domaine de Chevalier rouge- Like other recent vintages of this, I find this fairly modern for a Left Bank with lots of fruit and sleek mouthfeel, but I don’t care-- it is seriously delicious, and if served blind and told it was Napa, I’d probably like it even more. I tried this 4-5 times.
Gloria- Didn’t speak to me, seemed a touch dull. Closed?
Lagrange- Stolid and a bit low energy, doesn’t hold much engagement. I tried 3 times hoping it would rally, but it never did. Not bad, just meh.
d’Armailhac- Didn’t speak to me, perhaps a touch closed? Too modern for me to get jazzed about on this night. Others in my party loved it, had it as top QPR.
Giscours- Delicious in a ripe, modern, clean, international style.
du Tertre- Also super easy to drink with a rounded merlot-heavy impression. Spicy, reminded me of softer version of the terrific 2000 of this. Another internationally styled wine that I’ve always liked (its great pricing doesn’t hurt).
Brane Cantenac- This wad very good, and I told Mr. Lurton about the 2015 being named BWE WOTY, which he said he had just heard about the night before at the UGC in LA. Anyways, I liked this but the 2015 is better with more intensity and grip. The 2016 was a bit diffuse and light in comparison.
Didn’t Show Well, I didn’t like or closed:
Grand Puy Lacoste- Ok, I didn’t like this much. Too overripe, with a sickly rounded feel that several Pauillac showed that.
Pichon Lalande- I only got a minuscule pour and it was served too warm, but this did very little for me. Overripe and a bit limp in the glass, with a rounded, spit polished feel that seemed ‘international’. Judgment reserved.
La Lagune- This had a lovely bouquet and attack, but it had one of the coarsest finishes of any wines and the tannins were really poking out. But if I had to score it for its future potential, I’d probably still give it 90 pts.
Cantemerle- I was let down by this, came across foursquare and lacking in interest or elegance.
Haut Bailly- This showed closed down, didn’t give me much except some deep fruit.
Chasse Spleen- A touch overripe and simple, didn’t impress much after all the classified growths.
De Pez- Pretty gross. The most overripe and cloying wine of the night, simple.
Prieure-Lichine- Tried toward the end of the night, it didn’t stand out at all.
Kirwan- Oops, this is pretty garish and napa-esque. Not my cuppa.
I tried a number of blanc first, and I enjoyed them a lot. Not a big nor really deep year, nor a super bright yet, but they seemed nicely balanced to me. But I usually like Bordeaux blanc, so I might defer to the critics who say the 2015s or 2017s are a better year for whites…
Chantegrive- tasty, good sip, nice nose of butterscotch, bit simple, but good QPR.
Carbonnieux- I always seem to like this house, and the 16 is no exception. Bigger than the Chantegrive with lovely fresh herbal notes on the bouquet, a litter bitter on the finish. Nice depth. I am buyer at $35.
Smith Haut Lafitte- very light transparent color. Smells good, lean and floral at first, but too sweet on the backend with an oaky note of coconut oil. Not bad, but not my thang.
Malartic Lagraviere- Another blanc I am a fan of. Lovely wine, with 85% Sauvignon blanc, good mouthfeel and texture, nice attack of yellow fruits and acids, balanced and moderately deep with some refreshing herbal touches.
Pape Clement- light color and impression, not oaky at all, lean and intense, but this is surprisingly unsubstantial overall and could be easily missed with other wines on the table. But good Bordeaux blanc can deepen with age, and I bet this one will. Poor QPR.
Domaine de Chevalier- Light, inscrutable at first, delicate with good raw materials, lovely finish. Hard to judge now, but shows promise.