2016 Chablis


Straight to the point:

  • 2016 is like 2015 in that it is another delicious vintage in Chablis.
  • Differing from 2015, the wines of 2016 are, generally, more classically Chablis due to having a fresher fruit profile – they have finesse and punch – but I quickly found 3 style types (see below)
  • Still, 2016 is not a hyper-classic, über-covetable vintage for the cellar (do people still do that?) such as 2012 or 2014.
  • Some vintages have overt citrus/agrume, others are more yellow and riper lemon in style – 2016 is a real hotch-potch of a blend – but the wines could only come from Chablis.
  • Like in 2015, the Petit Chablis wines are as ‘accessible’ as I have ever seen. For that reason, and for the second vintage in a row, I didn’t make a separate blind tasting of these – though please note that Petit Chablis was particularly badly hit by frost, so there is very little.
  • Versus 2015 there is less salinity but more overt minerality to be seen in the 2016s.
  • Like 2015 there are very few wines that suggest the ‘seashore’ in their aromatics – at least at this early-stage tasting.
  • 2015 or 2016? it’s a question of focus, of definition, but not of balance or concentration – there are great 2015s, but I have a modest 2016 preference.
  • In 2016, for the first time, I’ve seen some blends of local grapes with others sourced from Mâcon – for example Samuel Billaud and Séguinot-Bordet – and unlike similar blends in the Côte d’Or where the extra sun of the southern grapes is easy to see – it’s hardly visible in these blends. They are such a success that the domaines will probably do it again in 2017. These wines, necessarily, are labeled as Bourgognes.
  • Don’t forget that it’s a small volume vintage for the Petit Chablis and Chablis – a few important domaine Chablis Villages such as those of Fevre and Long-Depaquit were already sold out in France – in November! Of-course your local market may vary. From the perspective of volume, Chablis is actually not bad when compared to Auxerois where there’s practically nothing, and that includes St.Bris and Irancy. The small volumes (in 2017 too) are delaying any realistic resetting of Chablis’ bulk-wine market pricing issues.

So what are the style types of 2016?

  1. A ripe fruit that reminds me of 2009 and with a similar richness but with a more interesting balance as the minerality and acidity are more overt.
  2. A more classic, and direct, mineral style even suggesting rigour with a little finishing austerity.
  3. Some places had yields of only 5 hl/ha – although winemakers still have good acidity and minerality the wines lack elegance due to their concentration.

    95+% of wines lie between styles 1 and 2, and of those about 80% would sit right in the middle. Returning to the theme of ‘overly concentrated’ wines – Whilst I see lots of fabulous wines made from yields of 15 hl/ha they are not better than those with 35 hl/ha and even the great names of Chablis are still happy with 50+ hl/ha. Indeed one vigneron imparted the following “Looking at back vintages, normally it’s those with a proper yield that are the better long-term wines – short volume vintages rarely show their best after more than 10 years.” At 5 hl/ha the profile of the wine is certainly different – I hope that the elegance will come, but in January 2018 it wasn’t there for some wines.

Exactly as was the case last year, the ‘cognoscenti’ will clearly prefer 2014s and 2012s, but for the general wine-buying public this is another very commercial vintage for buyers if less-so for the producers due to low yields. I think it another great vintage for those who wish to learn about the region and its wines, without the associated austerity of a youthful ‘classic vintage.’

Because everyone loves lists:
Of-course the relative position of respective domaines in their elevage has an effect on how brilliantly – or not – their wines show, but in 2016, from 60 domaines visited and 536 wines tasted, some personal favourites were:

Domaine Eleni & Edouard VocoretWilliam Fevre, Chablis Les Clos
Domaine François RaveneauJean-Claude Bessin, Chablis Valmur
Domaine Garnier & FilsTestut, Chablis 1er Forêt
Domaine Laurent TributFrançois Raveneau, Chablis 1er Forêt
Domaine Louis Michel

And wines to drink now?
Of-course if you 2008-2010 in your cellar, then the 08s and 09s are ready and you can wait a little longer for the 2010s if you wish. The 11s have (~70%) never been my favourite because so many have an accent of asparagus – but if you have good ones, then it’s no shame to start drinking them. And from the 2012-2016 vintages that I’ve reviewed in Burgundy Report, I’d be drinking the 2013s first, followed by the 2015s, followed by the 2016s, followed by the 2012s and then the 2014s. Enjoy if you have any or all of those!

A little 2016 Background

It was a mild 2015-2016 winter – rarely with minus temperatures – continuing the run of years where the Autumn melded into Spring without the whisper of a Winter interlude.

It should come as no surprise that such a mild Winter meant that the bud-break was early – it came around the middle of April. Given the precocious growth, a late-Spring frost would always be of concern – in Chablis there came three of them: 27, 28 and 29 April. This was one of the defining characteristics of the vintage – but not the only one! Two weeks apart, the vines were hit by two hail-storms – this would be another defining characteristic of the vintage – Chablis from north to south covers quite some kilometers, so it’s not a surprise that storms never affect the whole appellation, but the two storms in two weeks did their best to share out the damage. That said, The 1er Crus and Grand Crus were relatively spared the worst of it – the combination of frost and hail disproportionately cutting swathes through the vines of Petit Chablis and Chablis.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten how wet the first half of the year was – treatments were washed away by rain every couple of days, sometimes treatments could only be made with back-pack ‘aspirators’ as the ground was too wet for tractors. This, combined with the hail, left the door open to an attack of mildew, of a ferocity that you might only find in textbooks – this was a third defining characteristic of the vintage – some domaines lost 25% of their crop to the frost, 25% to hail and then another 25% to the mildew!

At least the flowering was under quite good conditions, mainly running its course between 22-28 June. I say mainly, because those frosted vines tended to have a later flowering about 2 weeks later which would complicate the harvest.

The weather finally became settled and consistently warm from early July right up until the harvest. This brought its own problems due to a lack of rainfall and even some grillure – sun-burning of grape-clusters. Some vines shut down a little, whilst others that had only a tiny crop – from the second flowering – actually ripened a little faster as they had so few grapes for the vine to ‘service’ – in the end the difference between the ripeness at harvest was just a handful of days – not the 2+ weeks that could be seen in July. Let’s not forget that many producers also harvested fruit 1 week earlier than expected in 2015 due to the late hail.

So, frost, hail, mildew, hydric stress, sunburn and even the threat of some rot just before harvest. I try to note all that happens in each vintage – what’s clear is that 2016 certainly had a longer list of issues than I’ve previously seen! Even the most mature of wine producers claim never to have seen such a confluence of climate-related incidents as they witnessed in 2016. Given then that a reasonable amount of wine was made, and more than in the hot vintage of 2003, many are relatively happy with the volume result – most are much, much happier with the quality of the the result!

But what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ amount of wine? Well, the local BIVB suggest that the potential production of the Chablis vineyards amounts to 330,000 hectolitres – or in non-wine parlance that’s 33 million litres or 44 million bottles worth. The actual production in 2016 was declared as just over 20.9 million litres – or 28 million bottles – that’s 63% of the notional potential yield, which over-estimates actual production – so ~70% of a normal vintage sounds a better representation of reality.

Of-course, depending on who is your favourite producer, there could be much more, or much less wine. The right bank did relatively ‘well’ – if I might use that word – this side of the river contains all the grand crus and a number of well-protected (candles, water-sprays et-cetera) premier crus. The left bank despite plenty of 1er crus is generally less well protected – and it showed in 2016.

This year I learned that the ‘quality of rain‘ had much to do with the ‘violence’ of the mildew attack. Spores of mildew are in the soil rather than on the vines, and the rain was so heavy, particularly on stone and clay soils that the bouncing of the rain, splashing the leaves from below was a primary source of mildew spores. The mildew doesn’t actually effect the quality of the final grapes, but it’s a major impact on the number of grapes…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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