The red harvest volume in 2016 was significantly below that of the the 5-year average of the vintages 2011-2015 – only the volumes of 2003 and 1991 of (relatively) recent memory can compare. Essentially that means that the oft-quoted 5 year-average is currently something of a meaningless statistic – there have been no ‘normal’ volume vintages since 2011, and for some areas, since 2009.
Of-course the frost of 2016 was the main actor, but there was a strong supporting role from mildew and a cameo from hail in some parts. Some domaines certainly lost as much crop due to mildew as they did from frost, 20%+. The most dire yields of the Côte de Nuits were in Premeaux to southern Nuits St.Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and its near neighbours of Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux plus Marsannay, though in the south, parts of Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Pernand, Pommard and Volnay saw equally brutal yields.
Unlike the whites, where the vintage signature was strong across producers and whether the vines had been frosted or not, the reds are, unfortunately, more complicated…
Getting to the point:
2016 may be a tiny volume vintage, but there are many great wines – some are greater wines than were found in 2015 – and 2015 is still a great vintage, despite that some vignerons are now talking it down as they’ve 2016s to sell.
- 2016, like 2015, is a rather sweet vintage – the fruit was very ripe – this is not so classic. But, despite its inherent sweetness, the pinot fruit in 2016 is much more pinot and much more classic than in 2015 – there is less spice, more pure red fruit and flowers. The 2016s also show really great terroir definition – better than in 2015.
- Whilst 2016 is less consistent than 2015, like that vintage, there’s not so much a lack of consistent quality, rather a lack of consistent style.
- There are 3 distinct styles that you might encounter in 2016, one of them I would wish to avoid, so that means that tasting notes are much more valuable in 2016 than they were in 2015, as the differences are largely on a by cuvée basis, not a by producer basis…
- Style #1: Is wine made from unfrosted vines. The generalised style here is of 2014-plus – i.e. with a little extra concentration and the extra sweetness of the 2016 vintage. Except for that sweetness, a super-classic style of wine – the most classic of the vintage – very many excellent wines can be found here, and with a very good level of consistency too.
- Style #2: Is the first of two styles of wine made from frosted vines. Here the concentration is amazing – particularly amazing because the wines are still so fresh and, hence, well-balanced – better than the best of the hailed Côte de Beaune wines in 2012. Here are some of the greatest wines of the vintage – more concentrated than 2015 but with very fine pinot fruit and freshness.
- Style #3: Is the second of two styles of wine made from frosted vines. Here the concentration is also amazing, still with very fine pinot fruit – yet, the energy is quite lacking. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be happy to drink the occasional bottle in the future – but I certainly wouldn’t want to drink more than an occasional bottle. I wouldn’t intentionally buy a wine with this type of balance. Fortunately (generally) there are more style 2 wines than style 3.
- Positioning 2016 Reds: There is always the chance that a very small volume vintage that follows a universally praised vintage can be lost from the consciousness of enthusiasts – 1991 following 1990 has some parallels to 2016 following 2015. I hope that’s not the case this time round – I think the quality of wine-critique and information is so much better today than it was 25 years ago. 2016 should be held up as a seriously great vintage – though as always, with some caveats.
But what to buy?
- It’s not possible to simply say ‘buy the regionals – they are great‘ like was the case for the 2015s. That’s because the Bourgognes – this workhorse label that normally accounts for 50% of the region’s production – were the worst hit by frost. There is, maybe, 20% of their normal volume that will make it into bottle. Great as many are, they will be hard to come by.
- The style 2 wines will be equally hard to find as, of-course they have been frosted – so there’s not much.
- The style 1 wines will be available in the largest quantities, and whilst they are not the very best of the vintage, they are classically fine, balanced and – possibly most important – they are available in normal quantities! It’s not a big list though – Santenay, some Aloxe, some Ladoix, some Vosne, Morey St.Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin…
- South to North, six great addresses with wine in 2016 include: Faiveley-Mercurey, David Moreau, Antonin Guyon, Comte Liger-Belair, Arlaud and Clos de Tart.
- Ignoring price and availability, my three top domaines in 2016 are: David Moreau, Joseph Voillot and Romanée-Conti.
- Pricing: Whilst many producers have indicated to me that they will not change their prices in 2016, given that 2017 was largely a normal volume vintage, some will still increase their prices and the merchants will have their own ideas based on lower volumes to sell. I expect it will be an insensitive, pitiless marketplace in terms of both pricing and availability.
And of-course, more important than ever with 2016, for individual recommendations, consult the individual reports and 650 wines tasted in this month’s Burgundy Report – ENJOY!