1996 Claret - Medoc
After the disappointments of 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 in Bordeaux, the two middle decade vintages, 1995 and 1996, came as a considerable relief. Early on there were proponents for both years as the better of the pair, but there is no hard and fast rule. A moderately useful generalisation is that 1995 is better on the Right Bank, 1996 on the Left. The stylistic (and qualitative) difference is marked in some properties, with little to choose between in others. The best 1995 Left Bank Médocs have a generosity and density of fruit which is sometimes missing in their 1996 counterparts, but most also have a marked dryness of tannic texture which reflects the extreme summer drought conditions. If there are some notable 1995 Left Bank ‘highs’, the hit rate is lower than in 1996.
The late season weather pattern in 1996 was complicated, and geographically irregular. The last two weeks of August were cool and wet, but with the rainfall varying enormously across the region, sparing the northern Médoc almost entirely. The first seventeen days of September were dry, warm, blue-sky sunny, allowing even ripening, with cool north winds and cold nights keeping the fruit fresh and rot free. The second seventeen were overcast and rainy in much of Bordeaux, but once again the northern Médoc was spared, and here the Cabernets continued to ripen and concentrate, as they then continued to do in the hot, dry, sunny conditions which obtained again from October 5th. And it is this fine, ripe, northern Médoc Cabernet fruit, harvested over the rest of the month, which formed the base of the best Left Bank 1996’s.
Set next to 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010, 1996 is probably a four star rather than a five star vintage, but these three Pauillacs, two St Estèphes, two St Juliens, and single Margaux are lovely, fully mature, classic clarets, the cream of the year outside the First Growths, with wines ranging in price from around £90 to £200 a bottle.
1996 Grand Puy Lacoste, 5th Growth Pauillac
1996 Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac; second wine of Château Latour
1996 Palmer, 3rd Growth, Margaux
1996 Pichon-Lalande, 2nd Growth Pauillac
1996 Montrose, 2nd Growth St Estèphe
1996 Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth St Estèphe
1996 Ducru Beaucaillou, 2nd Growth St Julien
1996 Leoville Las Cases, 2nd Growth St Julien
8 Wines, with cheese ...... £139.00