UGC San Francisco: the 2016 Bordeaux

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.

I tried all the 100 or so wines at the NYC UGC. My wotn was carmes hb.

AWESOME report Pat. Thanks for taking the time to post it!

Pat, excellent notes, wonder if we crossed paths. My notes are in this thread:

Sounds like we’re in quite good agreement on a lot of the wines, perhaps with the exception of Canon. And when I went back to Haut Bailly late in the evening, to a bottle that had probably been open for some time, it had gained a lot of depth and intensity.

I was at the LA version, came late and didn’t stay for the consumer part in the evening but first thing I noticed was that it was more sparsely attended than NYC ever was, and more so than SF as well. Not sure why that was. Also, a number of chateaux didn’t show up. Rauzan-Segla was one I was particularly interested in, since I have a few of those from 1998, 2000, and 2005 and tend to like it. They didn’t show, which was kind of disappointing but there you are.

It’s a real nice vintage IMO. I didn’t come across anything particularly flabby or jammy, unlike some of the St Ems from a few years ago. I tried to taste through an entire region to get a sense of it. I kind of liked Pessac-Léognan most - it seemed to show great balance. As far as the ageability of the wines overall, they’re fairly tannic but balanced wines. The tannins aren’t astringent or bitter for the most part, although there were a few exceptions that I didn’t care for, but my guess is that as a rule, most of these wines are going to be very enjoyable after a few years of settling in.

Do they need the time that might have been required in the past? Probably not. But unlike a lot of wines that drink well out of the gate and don’t really call for any aging, these aren’t wines that you’re going to want to pop and pour today.

As to the whites, I was running short on time and headed to Sauternes. As usual, my favorite by a mile was Guiraud. The others were nice, but the problem I have with most of them is that they’re often not as acidic as they need to be. Or maybe I’m just more used to Tokaji-aszu. So I went from there to Carbonnieux, because I was interested in tasting their white and had promised to come back. They poured it, I took the glass, thanked them, and was unable to put it into my mouth. I’m not a huge fan of SB in general, although it seems to work pretty well for Guiraud and I’m happy to drink it from the Loire. But this smelled like horseshit and was just too offensive to try. So I went back to Guiraud and since it was going to be my last glass, he said I needed a generous pour.

I’ve attended quite a few of these events over the years and just off the top, this is one of the most elegant vintages I can think of. But I am FAR from any kind of expert regarding Bordeaux in general. I’ve been there and have had many of the wines over a number of years, but don’t collect classified growths, couldn’t ID which was which in a blind tasting, and may be way off base.

SUPER WELL DONE, Pat and Alan!!!

Great post, Pat, you’ve captured so much of your experience. As you’ve seen, the views on Comtesse are pretty divergent from those of us who’ve posted (my notes are in the thread Alan references above). A thought/note that SF is at the tail end of the road show for the UGC and the reps may not be as fresh and energetic as at the beginning (we’re fortunate to be about the 2nd or 3rd stop).

A question for you—well, 2 questions actually. Were your faves all wines which you went back for multiple tastes of? And if you did, was the 2nd or 3rd taste of the wine better than your first? Would love to get that perspective, as it’s something I have never done at these events. Much thanks


Loved the Carmes Haut Brion. Thought it was one of the top wines of the tasting. Pichon Lalande was the wine of the tasting. Amazing depth and complexity. The main problem with the 2016’s is that given the acidity and tannins in these wines, that the top wines will take 25-30 years before being ready.

Great report Pat, a very enjoyable read and chock full of info. I have a tough time maintaining focus in large tastings of the sit-down variety, and do even worse in the environment of a UGC tasting.

Hearing that the wines appear really well balanced is a big plus for me. I’m a believer in aged complexity winning out over time if the wines are well balanced, even in the face of “modern” or “polished” fruit and tannins. I guess time will tell. The question is, how much time? I’m seeing estimates all over the place, from true vins de garde to opening up and drinking well relatively early. I’m hoping they come of age before I’m over the hill. Drinking windows on young Bordeaux are very hard to predict, even after the wines have been bottled, let alone from barrel. I’m continuously revising mine as I open bottles.

Very good points, David. I honestly have no idea how quickly the 2016s will develop, mostly because we may have caught them in a fruit-forward, baby-fat stage. But if what I tasted is representative of the fruit and tannin levels on these going forward, I do think many of these will drink well in the medium term-- as this is Bordeaux we’re talking about, that probably means 15+ years, instead of the 20-25+ years in an “old-school” tannic vintage. Most of what I tasted showed just so friendly, refined and balanced with lovely fruit, it’s hard to imagine them all mean, hard and nasty like the 2000s and 2005s (to say nothing of the 86s and 88s) have been for so long.* Of course, drinking well after 15 years doesn’t mean the 2016s won’t have a long drinking window, I am sure these will.

But I am in my late 40s and I am not buying more than 6 of the Branaire and 6 of the Langoa Barton (which I bought as birthyear gifts)… for now. Even 15+ years gets me into my 60’s, and like many of us, I have way too much wine already, and these 2016s are expensive.

*I’m a believer in both of the 2000 and 2005 vintages, I have just found that they’ve needed oodles of time. Keep in mind I like my claret on the mature end of things, but at 18+ years most good-to-excellent 2000s are nowhere near primetime in my book.

Pat, we have similar palates and preferences for aged Bordeaux. I bought more 2016s than can logically be rationalized. Someone will enjoy them in 15-20 years. Hope it’s me.

David, I am in same the boat. Collecting is a disease. But what the heck, I “plan” to drink well in my mid-eighties on. I boight a few mixed cases each of the 14-16 vintages.

Neal is willing his to me, you should as well. I am easily your favorite Berserker among the Bordeaux-philes, at least that’s how I declare it. Even I skipped the vintage and I’m a decade younger. But. Tempted. Ugh.

If I will them to you, there will be a stipulation that you must drink the Angelus and Pavie before the rest are released to you. neener

David, why not take one of your 2016s for a spin before they shut down and report back?

You bought that?

I don’t think I know you…

He is now dead to us AFWE…

You will all be haunted by the ghost of Pavie past, present, and future.


I was a big fan of 1989 and 1990 Angelus and bought it regularly for a while. Been a long time since I’ve bought either Pavie or Angelus.

Alfert. Fine. Wine. Experience.

Glasser is DTM.

All ghosts are dead to you.