Saint Emilion Multiplex 2016

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

14 June 2017

Saint Emilion tends to be rather heterogenous in quality in any vintage. Given its size, variations in terroir and in style. Sure, a recent trend towards high alcohol and high extraction of tannin is (thankfully) dissipating.

Estates like Pavie Macquin and Larcis Ducasse, for example, are being made in somewhat fresher styles, and I liked both as nothing short of excellent in 2016. Seek them out!

It was a superb year for Cabernets – both Franc and Sauvignon. So, naturally, many Right Bank wines with Cabernet Franc tended to do well: see Figeac for example as one of the top wines of the vintage.

But the vintage is not so simply explained. Many Merlot-dominated blends are downright delicious from barrel.

Gorgeous photo of Saint Emilion evening shot as featured photo: by Miguel Lecuona.

Wines I like in bold. When red and bold, even more. When underlined, too? A kind of barrel tasting nirvana.

Favorites for price/quality ratios? Berliquet, Grand Mayne, Sansonnet, Yon-Figeac

Château Berliquet – Lovely cool blueberry and blackberry fruit. The tannins are foreboding, and the finish a bit tight, but this is promising. Give it time in barrel. The price should not be too onerous. 90-93

Château Belair Monange – Gorgeous floral aromas with vivid notes of blackberry and plum coming from this blend of 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. The palate is at once charming and delivers tannic power, as if there is a Pauillac aspect underneath. As fellow wine writer Jane Anson put it: “The epitome of St-Émilion plateau power and elegance.” This is the best barrel sample I have ever tried from this terroir from barrel. A premier grand cru classé to be reckoned with: 95-97

Château Canon– Not far behind Figeac, and altogether a different wine with Merlot coming from the splendid limestone plateau terroir. Perhaps the sample is less opulent than in 2015, but iodine freshness and gorgeous fruit succulence goes hand in glove with a serious tannic frame. Aromatics are floral with red and black fruit. There may be just a bit of austerity to the finish, but the mid palate is so juicy and promising and the finish has lift. 95-97

Gorgeous Cheval Blanc

Château Cheval Blanc – With another high price tag comes LVMH’s Château Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion. A superb wine for 2016. You get magnificent aromatic complexity, including violets and lilacs, blackcurrants and red cherries. Certainly there is much to enjoy here: aromas are creamy delicious, inviting the taster to indulge the palate, both full bodied and light at the same time, showing off smooth and fresh expressions that lead to a long and lifting finish. Alcohol is about the same as last year, at 14.25% with a similar pristine balance of acidity. While I recall just a bit more sumptuousness and complexity on the palate from the 2015 from barrel, the 2016 is indeed gorgeous. If you have the money … 96-98

Château Figeac* – Could we say that this rivals Cheval Blanc – and for less money? Yes, we can. Probably the best Château Figeac I ever have tried from barrel, and superior to last year’s wine, as Cabernet Franc proved particularly successful on cooler soils. The long growing season enabled a crunchy, cool fruit expression aromatically, with silky – and even creamy – tannins and superb depth and substance to the full-bodied palate. “The dryness of the summer slowed down ripening and the cool nights throughout much of the season lead to a perfectly controlled ripeness,” explained director Frederic Faye. I could not agree more. High acidity matched the 14% alcohol perfectly, and the 100% new oak is completely incorporated. There is an almost Médoc aspect to this, with the 38% Cabernet Sauvignon lending Pauillac-like graphite aroma and flavor. Veritable juiciness, no doubt coming from the savory 36% Merlot, makes the wine appeal immediately, yet fine structure and a long finish ensure long cellar life. Wow! 96-98

As much as I loved the 1966 from bottle, the 2016 – 50 years later – is even better.

Château Fleur Cardinale – Lip smacking ripe wine, with plum and blackberry fruit, although this would be most loved by fans of more prominent oak derived notes. 90-92

Château Fombrauge – I was surprised given the producer… You have to love the crackling red fruit freshness with underlying plum like richness. Indeed, the lift on the fresh finish comes with high-toned tannins, which make for a most intriguing wine. Time in barrel should make this quite good indeed. 91-93

Château Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse – Tasted at Joanne. Lovely wine, potential for much complexity, not giving out much now but one senses the matiere and when it sits in glass, it brings out more aromas. Fruit is quite pure, but rather closed in overall on the palate, but that is likely normal. This has much potential hence a rather broad range for the score. 90-95

Château Beau Sejour Becot – This is a very succulent wine, that is not really drying. But I do think that the 2015 was juicier. Still, a bit like Canon in that it starts out nice, but then gets a bit austere. 92-94+

Château Canon-La-Gaffelière – Loads of depth, opulent ripe fruit and density on the palate. Juicy, yes, but not quite as nuanced and suave as the Canon, tasted before. 93-95

Château Cap de Mourlin – A bit of a let down after the two preceding wines. This is somewhat stiff and stolid by comparison. Ripe plum and blackberry, yes, but the tannin seems more austere. 88-90

Château La Confession – Tasted at Joanne. The initial nose is appealing. Both Miguel Lecuona of City Wine Journal and I agree: the finish puckers the mouth; the gums are affected. As much as I like the juice on the mid palate, is the winemaker “trying too hard”? 86-88

Château Corbin – I usually love this estate but the tannins come across as just a bit hard in 2016. It is very good, to be sure, but why not spend your money on the already in bottle 2014, which conveys greater freshness and just as much succulence? 89-91

Château Dassault – Here we have some fresh appeal. The tannins are not as refined as either of the Canons, but the wine has pleasing sap and structure. Barrel aging will soften out the somewhat hard tannins but overall it is promising. 89-91

Château La Gaffeliere – I was somewhat surprised by this wine’s quite light touch. Fresh, certainly and barrel aging should fill it out. I bet it will be quite nice down the road. But I get the feeling that it lacks the substance and density of the best wines from Saint Emilion in 2016. I do like the lift and elegance. Good job overall. 91-94

Château Magrez-Fombrauge – Heady, sure. (Very) dense, as well. The tannins are not as drying as one would expect, but yes they do … dry out a bit. I prefer the basic cuvée. The oak here is more prominent. If the estate were to cut down a bit on the new oak, I would like it more. As it is, it is rather fun to taste, and a pleasant surprise. 89-92

Once again, Grand Mayne provides much bang for your futures buck.

Château Grand Mayne – Fresh nose. There is fine freshness overall, albeit a hint of drying on the finish, but not too much. Smooth overall, in fact a bit cooler than some premiers grands crus… Nice job. But – dear reader – don’t forget the fresher, more lifting 2014 as we saw with, say, Corbin. A second sample proved more suave and nuanced: a 2016 that rivals 2015. OK, a bit of drying on the finish, again, and I still adore the 2014 from this estate as a great purchase. But the 2016 is promising. 90-93

Château Larcis-Ducasse – Like Pavie Macquin – and perhaps even more so – this wine displays lovely balance and freshness in its expression of ripe fruit. Smooth and savory 92-94 tasted previously at Joanne negociant and not quite as impressive at that tasting (Floral and quite red fruit driven and delicious. A bit of oak derivation – but I am splitting hairs really. Much limestone soil so perhaps not as expressive immediately. Let’s revisit from bottle. 91-93

Château Pavie Macquin – Fresh fruit aromatics are pleasing here. Just 40% new oak in 2016 and it shows. How about that? 40%. The purity of fruit impresses me. The tannins are ripe but, hey-ho, not drying! Time in barrel will make this creamy. Nice job. 92-95. Consistent notes as tasted at Joanne: A bit over 10 years ago, when Bob Parker was praising low yields and the consequent high alcohol, Pavie Macquin was hard to appreciate. The 2005 was 15.5% alcohol, and I did not like it much. Just over 10 years later, we find a vintage where the crop is more generous – and lo and behold, when you have a fine terroir you do not need to make “ultra low” yields that frigging deaden the taste. Here we go: big AND fresh. And a darn good wine. I want to drink and not just taste … Let’s hope the price is not so high. 92-94+

Château Rol Valentin – Tasted at Joanne. Starts out really sweet and appealing, but then it thoroughly dries out your palate. What the heck? Monolithic wine. Some people would love this and for you: go and buy it. 88-90

Château Sansonnet – This is an impressive wine, cool and yet ripe, robust and tannic but not drying. Wow. These guys deserved to be promoted. Palate staining, cold clearing tannin, and yet there is freshness and juiciness on the mid palate. Nice. You want to drink it. 92-94. Impression not as high when tasted at Grand Cercle, but still positive: Quite a bit of density, the terroir is very propitious for finesse and body and we get both here in the 2016 barrel sample. The finish is somewhat austere but I think that the barrel aging should soften the edges. Good promise.

Château Soutard – This is smooth enough, perhaps a bit polite? Actually, I like this expression of balance in fruit expression and alcohol. And with time in barrel – don’t forget – the barrel aging will fill it out. 89-91

Château La Tour Figeac – This is a bit superficial in expression… Cranberry light. 86-88

Château Villemaurine – Quite a bit of juicyness, if only the tannins were a bit more refined. And yet, barrel aging folks! In particular here. 89-92

Château Yon-Figeac – Tasted at the Grand Cercle and the best Yon Figeac barrel sample in a while. Fresh and juicy and saline. There is richness on the mid palate, ripe fruit, and a lifting finish. Bravo! 90-92

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