The 2016 is at least the equal of such renowned years as 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010, is the verdict from wine critics and professionals at the long-running Southwold-on-Thames group.
Three decades ago, in late January 1989, Simon Loftus of Adnams of Southwold hosted a tasting of the much admired 1985 Bordeaux vintage in The Crown, one of the company’s two hotels on the main street of the Suffolk seaside town.
The idea, with a group of wine trade friends and Clive Coates MW recording it in his monthly publication The Vine, was to assess a vintage four years on. Already by the mid 1980s the “en primeur” market was quite lively, although not so hyped as it later became. A later view of wines which had two or more years in bottle was a valuable concept.
This became an annual event. Bill Blatch, late of Bordeaux merchant Vintex, would collect two bottles of wine from the chateaux, pack them up and drive them to Southwold, Bill taking it upon himself to inform the owners of how their wines had shown. The fact that the tasters were professionals with many years of experience and the results kept very much “in house” made it a worthwhile exercise for both sides.
Wine writers were represented by Jancis Robinson MW alongside Coates until I was invited to join the group in the late 1990s. Today, the “scribblers” are Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and me. The other tasters – we are generally eighteen in number – come entirely from the wine trade and between them represent more than half the UK and export sales of classed growth quality of Bordeaux. Apart from Stephen Browett, CEO of Farr Vintners, I will not cite their well-known names.
With many new entries into the “quality” category over the last thirty years including the highly-priced “second wines”, the wines tasted have now reached 264 and are spread over two and a half days. They are tasted blind.
For three years now the tastings have been held at Farr Vintners’ splendid offices over-looking the Thames in Wandsworth, hence the title Southwold-on-Thames.
Before revealing the rankings of the top five wines in the most important flights, those present were asked their overall view of the vintage. One replied that, “2016 clearly stands up with the best vintages of the millennium.”
“Expectations were high,” the critic wrote, “and there was no disappointment” compared with 2015, which had given rise to similarly high hopes but was thought to be slightly overrated. They went on, ”You do not have to buy the most expensive wines in 2016 to get really high quality. This is a vintage for drinkers as well as collectors.”
Another comment at the end of the event was: “2016 is very, very good and the lows are not that low, whilst the very top end wines are not that detached from the others.”
At the end of the last day, the group normally votes on how the vintage ranks amongst those of the current millennium. 2005 was consistently ranked first until last year when it gave way to 2010. The group will be tasting the 2010s in a week’s time from my writing this, so a judgement will be made after that. In the meantime, Stephen Browett sent me this email:
“As far as how it is placed amongst other vintages, I think we all agree that 2016 is on the level of 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010. 2000 has the advantage of being fully mature but not a truly great vintage. 2016 is similar to 2005 in being a classically-styled vintage, but I think that 2016 is better thanks to more careful and gentle wine-making (and better selection). The 2016 tannins are softer and the wines are better balanced and less backward and austere than they were in 2005. 2009 is a blockbuster year but some of the wines are a bit too decadent. 2016 is cooler and classier – less hedonistic and more sophisticated. 2010 is the closest comparison and they have more power and more alcohol, but the 2016s are finer and more supple. We will find out shortly if the 2010s have mellowed into something really special or have remained a bit too powerful and unyielding.”
We will know after next week and my bets are on the 2016s to lead the pack.
The wines are marked on the 20 point scale, the rankings being totalled and divided by the number of tasters, to arrive at the first ranking. Then the top and bottom marks are eliminated to arrive at the second and final ranking.
The first score is the group ranking, and the second is Steven Spurrier’s personal score. He was not present for the dry and sweet whites.
Ch. de Fieuzal – 16.39
Ch. Smith Haut-Lafitte – 16.25
Ch. Malartic-Lagraviere – 16.10
Ch. Haut-Brion Blanc – 16.06
Ch. Pape-Clement – 16.04
Ch. La Tour Blanche – 17.10
Ch. Climens – 16.93
Ch. Suduiraut – 16.80
Ch. de Fargues – 16.57
Ch. d’Yquem – 16.50
Ch. Ausone – 17.97/18.5
Ch. Figeac – 17.95/18.5
Ch. Angélus – 17.88/17.5
Ch. Canon – 17.62/17.5
Ch. Cheval Blanc – 17.50/17.18
Ch. Pavie – 17.35/17
Ch. Belair Monange – 16.85/17
Ch. Terte Roteboeuf – 16.71/16
Clos Fourtet – 16.56/16.5
Ch. Lafleur – 18.18/18.5
Vieux Ch. Certan – 18.06/18
Ch Petrus – 18/18.5
Ch. L’Eglise-Clinet – 18/18.5
Le Pin – 17.79/17
Ch. Trotanoy – 16.82/17.5
Ch. Haut-Brion – 17.50/17.5
Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion – 17.44/18.50
Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion – 16.56/17.5
Ch. Pape-Clement – 16.29/17.5
Clarence Haut-Brion – 16.18/17.5
Domaine de Chevalier – 16.12/17
Ch. Margaux – 17.94/18.5
Ch. Brane-Cantenac – 17.03/18.5
Ch. Palmer – 17/17.5
Ch. Rauzan-Segla – 16.84/18
Segla – 16.25/17.5
Ch. Malescot St-Exupery – 16.19/17.5
Ch. Leoville-Poyferre – 17.24/18.5
Ch. Leoville Las-Cases – 17.21/18
Ch. Ducru-Beaucailou – 17.15/18
Ch. Langoa-Barton – 16.97/17.5
Ch. Lagrange – 16.91/17.5
Ch. Mouton Rothschild – 18.29/19
Ch. Latour – 18.26/19
Ch. Lafite – 17.71/18
Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste – 17.59/18.5
Ch. Pichon Comtesse de Lalande – 17.44/18.5
Ch. Pichon Baron de Longueville – 17.35/18
Ch. Lynch-Bages – 17.26/17
Les Forts de Latour – 17.24/17.5
Ch. Calon-Segur -17.12/16.5
Ch. Meyney – 17.12/17
Ch. Montrose – 17/18.5
Ch. Lafon Rochet – 16.56/18
Ch. Tronquoy- Lanlande – 16.44/16.5