“It was the most two-faced vintage I can remember”, is how Aubert de Villaine describes the capricious nature of the 2016 growing season in Burgundy. A soggy spring brought threatened mildew, followed by unusually severe April frosts that decimated the vineyards of Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux (only 980 and 710 magnums respectively of each will be produced). In mid-July a month of unbroken sunshine set in, followed by much needed rains mid-August. And just as more hot, dry weather looked set to close down the essential final stages of maturation, mid-September rains eased the pressure and resulted in a harvest of perfectly ripe, concentrated grapes – leading, albeit torturously, to one of the domaine’s greatest vintages.
“2015 was naturally perfect,” says Villaine, “but in 2016 we had to work to achieve perfection.” He notes how the personality of the individual climats (sites) comes through in 2016, with the Corton in particular emerging as a wine incontestably equal to its stablemates. “If 2015 was classic,” he elaborates, “then 2016, born from tribulation, is romantic.”
Corton Grand Cru
De Villaine is right: the 2016 Corton is surely the most complete, satisfying release yet. There’s a rich, smoky softness to the nose, with a delineated mélange of blueberry, plum, strawberry and blackberry fruit and a lifted, herbaceous note, leaning towards eucalyptus. The well-defined attack is initially crunchy, saline and stony, then a juicy succulence envelops the mid-palate, blackberries, cranberries and stony earth all leading to a plush finish with a touch of ivy and graphite. SCORE: 17.5
Romanée Saint Vivant Grand Cru
Production levels were near normal (26hl/ha) as frost touched only a few of the higher vines. Chalk, hedgerows and light pepper underpin the fresh blue-and-red-fruit nose, which finishes with an earthy flourish. The palate has black truffle, more pepper and a touch of tea leaf to offset the tangy red berries; cedary tannins draw the fruit to the top of the mouth, leading to a cool finish. SCORE: 18
Richebourg Grand Cru
The usual swagger of Richebourg, but with more gravitas. A broader, richer nose than the RSV, with five spice, cumin, red cherries and plums, all stored in a humidor. An immediately opulent mouthfeel fans out, with spice cupboard, tobacco, sandalwood and a note of chalk among the dense forest fruits, powering through for a juicy finish. A monumental wine. SCORE: 18.5
La Tâche Grand Cru
“A strict palate but benevolent nose,” suggests de Villaine. That charming, powdery sweetness plunges you into delicately perfumed depths, intermingling violets, teriyaki, hedgerow strawberries, fennel fronds and smoked oyster. The palate is supple but fresh, and taut with cranberry, red berries and coastal herbs. There’s a tangy lift to the long, dusty tannins, which give the mid-palate formidable density before drawing to a structured, layered finish. SCORE: 19
Romanée-Conti Grand Cru
The bouquet simply stuns, with more old autumnal woods than in the La Tâche, and truffles evolving beneath mulchy soil. A faint blood orange-skin note opens, followed by ripe plum, cassis and Turkish delight aromas. The palate is rich, deep and moves seamlessly from front to finish, with some coffee grains and cacao dust sprinkled among the peppered black and red berries and cherries, leading to a resonant crumbled limestone conclusion. Chiselled and poised, but with an exuberance under the surface, this is true thoroughbred that longs to be given its head. SCORE: 20
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter.