As we wait with baited breath for most of Bordeaux to let us know how much they need a new kitchen/sports car/holiday/renovation of the East wing etc. (delete where applicable), sorry, I mean release their prices for the 2014 vintage, it’s always interesting to look back to a time when release prices were sensible(ish) and whose wines are in or approaching their drinking window.
1996 is considered one of the top post war vintages and can be mentioned in the same breath as 90′ 00′ & 05′. Though the quality may not quite be up there with the recent legendary vintages of 09′ & 10′, when you look at current market prices and consider storage costs etc. up to when you will finally get round to these vintages you can see the attraction of vintage like 1996. The tasting was led by Jimmy Smith, headmaster of the most excellent West London Wine School on 16th March 2015 in London.
Where were you in 96’?
This was a year blighted by natural disasters (and I’m not talking about the Spice Girls getting their first number 1 with ‘Wannabe’), snowstorms in the U.S, tornado’s in Bangladesh and a category 4 cyclone in India to name a few. In England we were still being bombed by the I.R.A and having to deal with the catastrophe of mad cow disease. A nail bomb was let off at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Prince Charles divorced Diana and Will Smith was saving us all from Aliens in Independence Day. Now you remember?
In Bordeaux the weather was a lot more agreeable and a mild winter gave way to a two week heat wave in March, May was cool, June was hot, flowering was quick but in some places uneven. July didn’t start off great but temperatures soon picked up and everything was going well until a large rainstorm struck at the end of August, this benefited left bank Cab vineyards that badly needed a drink after the drought like conditions but hit the right bank pretty hard Merlot pretty hard. As so often happens, September saved the vintage and was dry with strong, windy conditions drying off the vines quickly, harvest officially started on September 16th. A left bank vintage, the best wines show concentrated, full bodied wines that are built for the long term.
Château D’Angludet 1996
£44 Fine + Rare (Cru Bourgeois) Margaux
Charred coffee, warm gravel and dried black fruit, fresh violets and blackberry, touch smoky on the nose.
Acidity is very forward with the fruit seeming a touch charred though there is still plenty of tension, tart tannin. Plenty of development on the nose and a dominated on the palate by slightly volatile acidity.
Château La Lagune 1996
£54.95 Roberson (3rd Growth) Margaux
Very attractive, ripe red berry fruit, truffle, forest floor, a touch of hoisin, leather with a floral lift.
In the mouth there is still a great freshness, lush red fruit, good acidity and refined light tannin. Elegant.
Château Cantermerle 1996
£25 Fine + Rare (5th Growth) Haut-Medoc
Plenty of smoky black fruit and cedar notes on the nose.
Good weight all the way through the palate, ample tannin and acidity, still
rather youthful with great structure. Punches well above it’s weight.
(My Best Value wine of the tasting)
Château Batailley 1996
£40 Fine + Rare (5th Growth) Pauillac
The dark berry fruit on the nose is still quite tight but well structure with a sweetness to it, forward, quite polished.
Palate has decent tannin, dark berry fruit still has freshness, decent overall balance. Overall quite restrained, be interesting to see this again in a few years.
Château Haut-Batailley 1996
£57 Berry Bros. (5th Growth) Pauillac
Opulent, slightly dried fruit on the nose with sweet cedar, gravel good mineral character.
Juicy palate with very attractive red fruit character but pretty tight, will benefit further aging or long decant/red meat.
90+pts (Voted best value wine of the tasting)
Château Calon-Segur 1996
£102 Berry Bros. & Rudd (3rd Growth) Saint-Estephe
Rather green on the nose, blackcurrant, black olive and some classy wet earth notes.
Palate is dominated by the wines acidity, quite sappy, tart. This has plenty of class and character on the nose but disappoints taste wise.
Château Léoville-Barton 1996
£85 Fine + Rare (2nd Growth) Saint-Julien
Developed nose but still with a good concentration of fresh black fruit. Palate,
though sappy and a touch tart has a good black fruit led frame, good length.
91pts (Voted Best wine of the tasting)
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1996
£158 Cadman Fine Wines (2nd Growth) Saint-Julien
On the nose the fruit here is fragrant, forward and really quite youthful with good concentration, smoky blackcurrant led.
In the mouth that dark berry fruit has a sweetness, wonderful structure
and overall balance. This is at a great stage in it’s life and is a
pleasure to drink though still easily has another decade+ in it.
93+pts (My favorite wine of the tasting, pure class!)
Final Thoughts – Is Bordeaux Still Relevant?
Of course it’s bloody relevant, it’s the world’s largest fine wine region! But is it relevant to you or the modern day wine lover? I know it has little or no relevance to me. I like it and I’m lucky enough to get to drink the good stuff on a fairly regular basis but hardly ever buy it, I couldn’t tell you the last bottle I bought (maybe a Château Olivier Blanc or something similar), though I suppose it’s not meant for a pleb like me!
As prices don’t look to be going anywhere but up or sideways (and they’re already way too high) and with incredible wines of a similar ilk being made in multiple other regions, for less, where’s the attraction to new or younger drinkers? They’re off discovering Barolo, Barbaresco, the Northern Rhone, new wave California, Jura and other interesting wine spots. Mere hours before this tasting I had been at another one, an almost polar opposite, Vault Tasting at The Winemakers Club where a number of excellent U.K importers were showing great wines, often at a fraction of the cost of these classed growths, infinitely more affordable and way more interesting. I know where I’d rather spend my hard earned.
Buying young Bordeaux is akin to buying a tailor made suit from someone on Saville Row, you do it if you have the money, you know its quality and will last you a long time, it’s a bit of a statement to yourself and others. The only thing is, that tailor makes millions of suits, and he’s actually got a bloody big factory and warehouses full of the things, hanging there un-bought, gathering dust, and slowly going out of fashion. Maybe they’ll never get worn. Who cares, I’m off to the second hand vintage fair to find me an unwanted old suit at a fair price.