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Neal Martin - Pessac-Leognan

Neal Martin - Pessac-Leognan

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Château La Mission Haut Brion

The 2016 La Mission Haut Brion is a blend of 57.5% Merlot and 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon picked between 19 September and 14 October, one of the longest ever. “We had to be patient and wait for each plot,” Jean-Philippe Delmas told me. “It took longer than usual.” As is customary, I allowed my sample, and likewise all the wines poured at this tasting, around 40-45 minutes to open since they always transform in the glass. It has a clean and precise, quite understated bouquet with fine mineralité, cold stone aromas infusing the black fruit. This has incredible precision, perhaps even more pixelated than the “gaff over the road” Haut-Brion. The palate is medium-bodied with supple and lithe tannin. I appreciate the line of acidity here, the smoothness and harmony that takes your breath away. Every atom is infused with life-affirming freshness. It is a wine bridled with incredible focus and delineation. I thought that the 2015 La Mission Haut-Brion flirted with perfection. The 2016 has that extra edge, a “je ne sais quoi” that leaves you reaching for the thesaurus looking for superlatives.

Drink Date 2026 - 2070

98 - 100 Points


Château Haut Brion

The 2016 Haut Brion is a blend of 56% Merlot, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6.5% Cabernet Franc that was picked between 19 September and 13 October. Jean-Philippe Delmas told me that this represents a touch more Merlot than last year’s vintage. It clearly has a more powerful and intense bouquet compared to the La Mission Haut-Brion, although maybe not the same killer level of detail and delineation. The palate is beautifully balanced with arching tannins that insistently grip the mouth. There are layers of black fruit, minerals, sea salt and a touch of crushed violets. Unlike the 2015 Haut-Brion, this is more linear, stricter and you could argue more nimble on its toes. Yet maybe it does not quite have the same depth and labyrinthine complexity that made the 2015 such an astonishing wine. Nevertheless, this 2016 is not far behind and it will be fascinating to compare in the future.

Drink Date 2026 - 2070

97 - 99 Points


Château Haut Bailly

The 2016 Haut Bailly is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc picked between 26 September until 18 October. Coming in with 13.6% alcohol and an IPT of 81, which is quite close to 2010, this was quite closed at first and so I allowed my sample 15-20 minutes to open while discussing the vintage with Véronique Sanders and technical manager, Gabriel Vialard. It has a classic bouquet that is certainly less opulent and extravagant than recent vintages. This is more controlled and focused, beautifully delineated with blackberry, cedar and Earl Grey aromas that gently waft from the glass. The palate is medium-bodied with very fine-grain tannin, sappy with superb delineation and real weight and presence in the mouth. There is just the right amount of spice and salinity, the latter beckoning you back for another sip and there is a haunting pencil lead note that forms the closing credits on the aftertaste. What a brilliant Haut-Bailly, perhaps the best that I have tasted in almost 20 years of tasting at this estate.

Drink Date 2024 - 2060

96 - 98 Points


Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte

The 2016 Smith-Haut-Lafitte is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot that was picked between 29 September and 19 October at 35 hectoliters per hectare. It is being matured in 60% new oak for a total of 18 months. “We have never been so proud of our Cabernet Sauvignon,” winemaker Fabien Tietgen told me. Now, this has a much subtler bouquet than recent vintages, you could argue, more intellectual than the 2015 Smith-Haut-Lafitte. First there are aromas of blackberry, briary and just a hint of iodine, then underneath that, marine-like aromas such as freshly shucked oyster shells, pressed flowers and a touch of brown spice. There is wonderful delineation here. The palate is medium-bodied with plenty of tightly-wound black fruit, intermingling with smoke, black pepper, spice box and a touch of bay leaf. This is an extremely precise Smith-Haut-Lafitte, certainly a cerebral 2016 that might well be approachable young, yet will certainly age in consummate style. The château’s own tasting note reads “What more could one possibly want from a wine?” The answer to that is: “Another bottle.”

Drink Date 2023 - 2050

96 - 98 Points


Château Les Carmes Haut Brion

The 2016 Les Carmes Haut Brion is a blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 39% Merlot, with 13.8% alcohol and a pH of 3.55, the lowest acidity for many years. It was vinified in their Philippe Starck-designed “submarine” (this is what their aesthetically arresting winery looks like as it surfaces in the Bordeaux city suburbs!) with 48% whole berry fruit. Winemaker Guillaume Pouthier (ex-Chapoutier) showed me a large inflatable ring used to submerge the cap to create more of an “infusion” rather than a maceration. The 2016 is matured in 65% new oak, 30% one year old and 5% in amphora. It has a very pure, very attractive bouquet with ample blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and fresh fig aromas, a little more extravagant than some other Pessac-Léognan 2016s, yet it maintains impressive control and focus. It develops more pressed flower aromas with time. The palate is medium-bodied with tannins that gently grip the mouth, tertiary notes on the entry, fine acidity vis-à-vis the fruit, then a slight tarriness towards the broody black fruit on the saline, marine-influenced finish. It is an intriguing take on the vintage, classic in style like many others, detailed with impressive complexity. You know, it is not a million miles away from Lafleur in Pomerol, but in the same sense, it will require a decade in bottle to show what it can do. It is a new benchmark for this estate with big ambitions. Tasted twice with consistent notes.

Drink Date 2026 - 2050

95 - 97 Points


Château Pape Clement

The 2016 Pape Clement is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon this year, picked from 30 September until 19 October at 48 hectoliters per hectare. The first bottle that I tasted with Bernard Magrez and his team felt a little overdone, but I had a strong suspicion that it was not a representative bottle. A second bottle was more restrained on the nose with blackberries, red plum, a touch of cloves and a light iodine influence. I love the delineation and detail here. The palate is medium-bodied with a graphite-infused entry, plenty of black fruit, saline in the mouth with great depth and cohesion on the long and tender finish. It continues Pape-Clement/Bernard Magrez’ move towards a more classic style compared to the previous decade. Tasted four times, once as I mentioned, unnecessarily richer in style, but the other three consistent.

Drink Date 2024 - 2050

95 - 97 Points


Château Malartic-Lagraviere

The 2016 Malartic-Lagraviere is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot picked between 13-20 October at 46 hectoliters per hectare. It is matured in 80% new oak and the remainder one year old. It has a very composed and pure bouquet with blackberry, mint and just a touch of blueberry, the new oak neatly integrated and menthol developing with time. The palate is very well balanced with crisp acidity, fine structure and a keen line of acidity; this is a pixelated Pessac-Léognan that exudes style and panache. There is an effortless nature to this wine and it feels so persistent in the mouth that you cannot wait to take another sip. This is (another) impressive release from the bonny Bonnie family and do not be surprised if it eventually surpasses the outstanding 2015.

Drink Date 2023 - 2045

94 - 96 Points


Domaine de Chevalier

The 2016 Domaine de Chevalier is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot picked between 4-21 October at 45 hectoliters per hectare, and matured in 35% new oak. Oh yes! This is a perfumed bouquet that unfolds beautifully in the glass with blackberry, cedar, smoke and a light marine influence, not unlike Japanese nori. The palate is medium-bodied with such fine tannins that it bought to mind Burgundy rather than Bordeaux. There is a grainy texture here, quite saline in the mouth with an entrancing sense of symmetry, very classic but not austere on the finish, with a long and saline aftertaste. This is an outstanding Domaine de Chevalier from the busiest man in Bordeaux, Oliver Bernard. Tasted twice with consistent notes.

Drink Date 2025 - 2060

94 - 96 Points


Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc

The Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2016 Blanc is the classic blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Sémillon, picked from 12 to 24 September and matured in 50% new oak. It has a complex bouquet with citrus fruit, peach skin, lemon curd and a touch of lanolin that unfolds wonderfully in the glass. The palate is very well balanced with a touch of wild honey on the entry. There is a spicy vein to this white Pessac-Léognan with a dab of ginger enlivening the refreshingly feisty finish. Bon vin!

Drink Date 2021 - 2040

93 - 95 Points


Château Haut Brion Blanc

The Haut Brion 2016 Blanc is a blend of 70.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 29.5% Sémillon picked from 1-13 September. I found a little more complexity and mineralité here compared to the La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc this year, scents of chalk and lime flower complementing the citrus fruit. The palate is medium-bodied with crisp tannin, notes of lime cordial, orange zest and grapefruit, almost flinty towards the finish that lingers long in the mouth with great vigor from start to finish. This is excellent, but not the best Haut Brion Blanc that I have tasted in recent years.

Drink Date 2020 - 2045

92 - 94 Points


Château Pape Clement Blanc

The 2016 Pape Clement Blanc is a blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Sémillon that was cropped at 45 hectoliters per hectare between 12-27 September. It has quite an understated bouquet, stony and a little distant at first but then opening up with lime flower, kiwi fruit and a touch of limestone. The palate is fresh on the entry, the Sauvignon Blanc driving this Pape Clement along, perhaps less flamboyant and viscous in style than previous vintages, but I appreciate the tautness and delineation here, the persistent and slightly saline finish. This is excellent.

Drink Date 2019 - 2032

92 - 94 Points


Château La Mission Haut Brion Blanc

The La Mission Haut Brion 2016 Blanc is a blend of 62.7% Sauvignon Blanc and 37.3% Sémillon picked from 5-13 September. It has a crisp bouquet with kiwi, grapefruit and cold stone aromas, although it does not convey the vigor or complexity of the 2015, due to the lower proportion of Sémillon. The palate is well balanced with a pleasant texture; there is orange zest, lime, a touch of stem ginger and a very satisfying, quite persistent finish. It is a well-made La Mission Haut Brion Blanc that should give 10-20 years of drinking pleasure.

Drink Date 2020 - 2040

91 - 93 Points


Château De Fieuzal Blanc

The De Fieuzal 2016 Blanc has a rich, tropical tinged bouquet with scents of guava, pineapple and mango, nicely defined and probably one of the most commercially minded dry white bordeaux. The palate is well balanced with crisp acidity, with subtle notes of orange rind and nectarine dovetailing into a lightly spiced, stem ginger finish. Certainly this is one of the better examples of its kind this year.

Drink Date 2019 - 2029

90 - 92 Points


Domaine de Chevalier Blanc

The Domaine de Chevalier 2016 Blanc has a somewhat delicate, nuanced bouquet this year, one that demanded gentle coaxing from the glass. It reveals delineated aromas of green apple, gooseberry and kiwi fruit, flintiness tucked just behind. The palate is well balanced and slightly Burgundy-like on the entry (strangely, not unlike a Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc!). It opens nicely in the glass but never looses its head. The palate is well balanced with crisp acidity and fine delineation, with pretty lemongrass and shaved ginger notes judiciously sprinkled over the finish. It is a Domaine de Chevalier Blanc that I would be inclined to consume in its youth rather than cellar, but hey, you never know the longevity of these wines; they can always surprise you.

Drink Date 2019 - 2029

90 - 92 Points