Following our round up of the 2016 vintage in the northern regions of France, this week we will be focusing on the southern regions including Bordeaux, the Rhône, the Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence and Corsica.
Left bank reds: 19/20
Right bank reds: 17/20
Dry whites: 16/20
Sweet whites: 16/20
2016 was a vintage of contrasts in Bordeaux. Many different climatic conditions came together to make this vintage all in all quite difficult. The weather in the first part of the year was (too) humid and the region saw 850mm of rainfall during this period, a stark contrast to the 400mm that fell in the same period in 2015. As a result, powdery mildew plagued many vineyards during the spring. Luckily, like most other regions in France, the summer drought in June helped to chase off the disease but this drought nonetheless outstayed its welcome and nearly three months without a drop of rain caused water stress in many vines. Cool nights were Bordeaux’s saving grace and allowed the grapes to mature slowly (which is always the best way for grapes to mature). Another blessing came in the form of some moderate rainfall on the 13th and 30th September which helped revitalise the somewhat tired vines after a long, hot summer. These wines will therefore mature slowly and develop great depth which suits the local grape varieties perfectly. Despite the far from ideal weather, 2016 will certainly go down as an exceptional vintage, particularly for the Cabernet Sauvignon led wines from the left bank. 2015, a powerful and sunny vintage, is a tough act to follow but 2016 has stepped up to the occasion, displaying balanced wines that are more elegant and fresh in style than their 2015 counterparts. The 2015/2016 vintages are reminiscent of the famous 2009/2010 pairing.
The left bank appellations (Médoc and Graves) have come out on top this year, with excellent wines coming out from big name and small name domains alike. The best Crus Bourgeois will prove a sound investment for the savvy collector. Right bank Merlots are also very good but with a higher ABV the balance will be ever so slightly compromised compared to the left bank reds. Wines form the Côte de Bordeaux and the Fronsac appellations will also be very good. The particularly savvy buyers will want to consider some of the more ‘generic’ Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur bottles that have come out of this vintage as there are many superb everyday wines to be had at good prices.
On the whole the whites have also done well and show good depth and ripe aromas (even a little exotic at times). The 2016 vintage won’t be a particularly memorable one for Sauternes: with not quite enough noble rot developing on the grapes the wines are lacking some power. Nonetheless, there are many delicious, albeit more delicate, white wines to be found in this vintage: they should be drunk young and enjoyed for their fruit.
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You guessed it, 2016 also proved to be complicated in the Languedoc. A cool and humid spring encouraged disease and a horribly dry summer prevented the grapes from maturing well. Unfortunately the Languedoc really drew the short straw as it also suffered badly from water deficit in the winter of 2015/2016. Terroirs that were fortunate enough to be situated at higher altitudes survived best as they managed to escape the drought and the heat. Generally speaking, 2016 was kindest to those appellations situated farthest from the sea, such as Pic Saint-Loup and Terrasses du Larzac, with some even having a better year than 2015. Wines made from old Carignan vines did well in 2016 as this grape variety tends to handle drought well. Be warned though, the Languedoc will certainly produce some harsh wines this year with under ripe tannins (due to water stress). The higher altitude vineyards where the grapes have managed to reach optimum maturity are a safer bet and will deliver fresher tasting wines. As is often the case in difficult vintages, the more established and trusted winemakers have come out of this troublesome 2016 the least scathed.
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Like the neighbouring Languedoc, Roussillon also witnessed a severe drought that had its repercussions: the region was plagued with low yields and grapes often struggled to reach good maturity. The resulting grapes were often small, thick skinned and excessively concentrated and produced less than fresh wines. Strangely, the whites have come out on top and are dense and powerful but with good structure that will profit from some years in the cellar. Once again, in such a difficult year it would be wise to stick to the most trusted producers whose experience and savoir faire will have certainly helped them navigate this tricky vintage.
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2016 in Provence will be marked by the unprecedented drought that gripped the region. While the climate here is generally quite dry, 2016 saw record breaking water shortages. White wines (not that this region produces very many) and rosés were particularly affected, especially those made from younger vines whose roots could not bury deep enough into the soil. 2016 was therefore a somewhat dismal year that brought with it water stress and badly matured grapes.
As for the reds, wines made from (the often old) Mourvèdre and Grenache vines fared better than the whites, especially in Bandol (the only area in the region that produces an important amount of red). The reds from Bandol will be fresh with some acidity and good concentration but will not keep as long as they would in other vintages.
Corsica managed to escape the worst of 2016’s excessive weather and, on the whole, the reds, whites and rosés are of a good quality and fairly consistent throughout the appellations. The wines here are generally well-balanced and somewhat fresher and more delicate than their 2015 counterparts. This is especially noticeable in the reds and you would do well to drink these young.
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The Northern Rhône Valley
The northern Rhône valley received its fair share of bad weather in 2016. Once again, a cold and humid spring, a hot and dry summer and a good spell of pre-harvest weather was the order of events here. Luckily for the northern Rhône however the climatic misfortunes weren’t too excessive and, all in all, 2016 was a very good vintage. The reds were lighter and fresher in style than 2015 while the whites were of a noticeably higher quality this year, especially in Saint-Joseph and Saint-Peray. Although the reds are not as consistently good as the 2015 offering, there are nonetheless some very good wines to be had from some of the finest terroirs in the Côte-Rôtie. Hermitage has also produced some beautifully concentrated reds and Saint-Joseph boasts wines with beautifully balanced maturity and freshness. Crozes-Hermitage, as usual, offers the most consistency. Be sure to stock up with some of the bigger name producers as they are certain to be excellent.
The Southern Rhône Valley
After an outstanding 2015, 2016 follows suit in the southern Rhône valley but in an altogether different style: the wines are less sunny but show elegance and a delicate maturity with quite remarkable tannins. Much like the left bank Bordeaux, many critics think that the 2016 offering in the southern Rhône is one up on the already excellent 2015 vintage. Châteauneuf-du-Pape in particular has succeeded in developing grapes to a good maturity that has produced fresh reds with plenty of depth and finesse. These beautifully balanced wines will age well. Gigondas is another appellation outside of Châteauneuf-du-Pape that has done well out of 2016 but good wines have also come out of Ventoux, Vacqueyras, Cairanne and, particularly this year, Beaumes-de-Venise.
In general, the whites of the southern Rhône don’t live up to the reds this year. However, whites from Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the exception to the rule and have had a hugely successful year. Grapes here reached good maturity which has given the many different and interesting white grape varieties a chance to step out from behind the shadow of the big name reds that dominate this wine region.
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