Serge et Bruno Sourdais Chinon 1993
There are many lessons I could take away from my recent week in Bordeaux, tasting the 2016 primeur barrel samples. One is that wine always has the potential to surprise. It is no secret now that the wines of 2016 have turned out to be rather good. Exactly how good, of course, deserves much consideration, and that's exactly what I will be doing in my vintage reports, starting tomorrow with my detailed examination of the vintage. I would tell you how many tasting notes I have lined up for publication over the next three to four weeks, but I am afraid I have not had the time (or the stomach) to count them. Let's just say it's a lot.
That 2016 Bordeaux turned out to be a vintage worth knowing about surprised not just critics, tasters and drinkers, it was also an unexpected finding for many that live and work in Bordeaux. Early on the season was very wet, and by the end of June the cumulative rainfall was greater than the entire rainfall for 2015. If conditions continued on in the same fashion it was certain to be a disaster. The Bordelais began steeling themselves for another 2013, which as I am sure most readers know by now was the worst vintage in thirty years. But then out came the sun, and four months later the pickers were out bringing in beautifully ripe fruit in perfect condition. Even so, the more cautious types still couldn't believe what they had on their hands until the first tastings after the malolactic fermentations had finished.
Of course 2016 Bordeaux isn't alone in turning out to be much better than expected. The story of the vintage reminded me somewhat of the 1993 vintage in the Loire Valley, another year that was dogged by rain. It was the year that I first visited the region, in July if I recall correctly, and I remember a mix of sunshine and storms. Overall it was a cool growing season, and there was rather wet weather throughout the harvest too. This was quite different to 2016 Bordeaux, the major concern in 1993 being rain at the end rather than the beginning, but it still cast a huge doubt over the potential quality of the vintage. The weather at harvest is vital in determining quality, so much so that Pierre Couly of Couly-Dutheil once said there are only six weeks that really matter when it comes to the quality of a vintage in the Loire, three for the flowering, and three for the harvest.
Ultimately, despite initially having little hope, the Ligérian vignerons of the early 1990s ended up pleasantly surprised. This was a vintage which gave us some decent dry whites, and some surprisingly good sweet wines. The 1993 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Première Trie from Domaine Huet, for example, is still drinking very well, and should continue to do so for decades, even if it wasn't good enough for Noël Pinguet to continue releasing it under the 1993 Cuvée Constance label. As for the reds, even these turned out to be good. Not great, sure, but classically styled and very competent. The 1993 Chinon from Bruno Sourdais and his father Serge of Le Logis de la Bouchardière is a case in point. In the glass this wine, which in terms of age is now knocking on a quarter-century, still shows a good depth of colour, although it does communicate its standing with a maturing oxblood hue, the pigment very centralised, surrounded by a broad and fading rim. The aromatics, however, are just glorious, and for me this is the major selling point for this wine. They are classic for maturing Cabernet Franc, with intertwined tobacco, green peppercorn and mint, all dressed with a touch of dusty cabinets. Enjoy it while it lasts though, as it soon starts to fade in the glass. The palate is gently textured, and as a reflection of the more challenging harvest conditions it is certainly on the leaner side, the wine's texture defined by its acidity, fresh and incisive, pointed and pure. The flavours remain stimulating though, starting off with redcurrant fruit, liquorice and dried red cherry, with a twist of violets and dried peppercorns. The tannins are completely resolved, leaving the fresh acidity to give structure to the middle, before it washes across the finish. This is charming, but also vaguely challenging in its structure, and for my palate it is time to drink up. 15.5/20 (10/4/17)