1996 Bordeaux wines – 24 classed growths tasted

Two years ago in Bordeaux I tasted several of the classed growth clarets from barrel and found them incredibly rich with terrific ripeness of fruit and already very fine tannins and acidity. They showed huge promise, so I have been eagerly awaiting a chance to taste the 1996’s in bottle, even though such young clarets would inevitably be hard work at this stage. Even quite minor wines need a few years for tannins to soften and many of these will need 8 years to come good, but should easily last for 20. This selection spans moderately priced wines, both Crus Bourgeois and Crus Classés, through to first growths. I thought as a group they were very, very promising. They have a core of solid, ripe cabernet fruit that suggests decent longevity. Whilst many are still brutally tannic, there is a structure and elegance beneath. I think there are also a couple of relative bargains in this selection: the unfashionable Château Lynch-Moussas has produced a deliciously complex wine with terrific character for £15 ($24), as has Château Cantenac-Brown in Margaux for £19 ($30). Lafon-Rochet is a massively tannic, but beautifully concentrated and structured wine at the same price. If you are prepared to wait 10 years, it should be superb.

The Wines

Château Batailley (Pauillac) 5th growth – £15.99
Vivid deep crimson colour. Creamy nose with classic scents of blackcurrant and cedar. Oak, but not overpowering. Palate is rather astringent with high acidity and grippy tannins. Creamy texture and nice cherry fruit. Rather lean, but elegant, dry and decent length. Nicely structured and plenty of fruit. Pauillac or St-Julien? Needs 5 years.

Château Duhart-Milon-Rothschild (Pauillac) 4th growth – £19.99
Darker, dense, even crimson/purple. Charred oak and deeper, more vegetal aromas. Earthy, solid black fruits. Palate has good ripe fruit. Blackcurrant but a mineral edge and cedary flavours. Good integration of tannins and nicely balanced. Long, spicy finish. This has good weight and plenty of fruit, fine tannins and overall structure. Very good. My first experience of this wine – really quite impressive.

Château Rauzan-Gassies (Margaux) 2nd growth – £18.99
Lovely deep, even, crimson. Classic claret nose of pencil-shavings, cassis, cream and red berries. Sweet vanillin oak too. Pure fruit on the palate though swamped by lemony acidity and firm, lean tannins. The fruit is pure though, a touch leafy, but fine, light raspberry and blackcurrant flavours. Decent length. The acidity is rather high but the fruit quality is good in a lighter, pure and clean style.

Château Pichon-Longueville Baron (Pauillac) 2nd growth – £38.99
Big mocha-coffee scented nose of charry oak. Quite overwhelming at present and masking fruit. Fruit powers through on the palate: bags of damson and bitter cherries and firmer black fruits. Nice creamy texture, high acidity and well integrated tannins into a long finish. This is of high quality with lots of complexity and good structure. A big jump in class from previous wine. Very promising.

Château Monbousquet Grand Cru St-Emilion – £28.99
Even, deep, dense ruby. Another big charry nose. Coffee-beans, then rich, warm berry fruits, vanilla and cigar-box. Very solid core of deep, rich, plummy fruit. Quite masculine. Big, drying tannins. Intense, with highish acidity gripping the finish. Quite densely-textured. Very tannic. Could be very good indeed given some time.

Château Troplong-Mondot Grand Cru Classé St-Emilion- £33.99
Very dark, opaque, purple/black. Nose is quite different. Vegetal with herbal notes, but also caramel, spice and lots of vanilla. Palate is very lush, full and velvety. A big, dark, rich, merlot dominated wine though tannins are vice-like. Long, creamy, oaky finish.

Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot 1er Grand Cru Classé St-Emilion – £32.99
Very dark crimson/black. Big plummy aromas. A little bit of tomato. Ripe, darkly hued fruit with an almost minty edge. Oak in background. Lots of chocolaty rich fruit on the palate of plums and bitter plum skins. The tannins are dry and fine. Though the mid-palate is a little hollow, the fruit is deep, plummy and rich so I would expect this to come together into something very good. Merlot dominated. St-Emilion?

Château La Conseillante (Pomerol) – £59.99
Dark ruby/black core with ruby rim. Sweet black coffee, blackcurrant and plums on the nose. Warm, toasty vanillin scents too. Plush, deep and rich. On the palate there are good, ripe berry flavours. Lots of sweet ripe black fruits wrapped in fine, drying tannins. Long, spice-infused finish. Probably a Pomerol and very, very nice. Actually drinking quite well now, but will improve.

Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan) 1st growth- £109.99
Very dense black core to ruby rim. Quite high-toned, mint-edged fruit. Real quality of fruit, forest-berries and deep plummy notes. Some leafy blackcurrant, chocolate and sweet vanillin oak. Again, loaded with high quality fruit on the palate. Very dry, through big, all-embracing tannins and good acidity. Some earthy flavours, density and real structure. Very long. This is swamped by tannins at present but is very classy indeed and should have great ageing potential.

Château Leoville-Las-Cases (St-Julien) 2nd growth 1985 – £74.99
Warmth to a deep, ruby red. An older wine. Lovely enveloping aromas, warm and fudge-like bouquet, notes of vanilla and mocha-coffee, deeply scented classic cigar-box, spice and incense nuances. This is still quite young. Powerful tannins and highish acidity give a chewy, savoury appeal with firm black fruits. Nice and long and pure. Very good, mature claret. A couple of years since I last tasted this. It is a fine claret and represents reasonable value for a wine that should hold 8-10 years (current vintage is £100).

Château Beaumont, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc – £8.99
Deep, opaque, blackish/purple with ruby rim. Very attractive blackcurrant fruit and some powerful oak. Quite high and volatile. Punishing acidity on the palate and severe tannins, but there is good fruit that is pure and blackcurranty. Moderate oak and good length. Good.

Château Cissac, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Haut-Médoc – £11.99
Very dense and opaque purple/crimson. Closed, but more fragrant, sweeter nose. Good blueberry fruit, quite aromatic with violet scents but also meaty notes. Good, rich blackberry fruit on the palate and very drying tannins. Some vanilla flavour and more character. Rather short. Good.

Les Fiefs de Lagrange (2nd wine of Lagrange), St-Julien – £13.49
Dark, solid, crimson/purple to black. Attractive, aromatic nose. Blackcurrant and lighter, raspberry fruit. Quite pure, with some coffee aromas. Quite elegant on the palate, maybe a little austere: high acidity and plenty of grippy tannins. Good length but might be a battle for fruit to outlast tannins and acidity.

Château Lagrange, 3rd growth, St-Julien – £24.99
Really intense, brilliant purple/black. Lots of coffee-bean scented new oak masking a deep core of dusty black fruit. Creamy palate. Huge, drying, ripe tannins. Very soft pillow of fruit beneath. Full, but good acidity too and a nice weight of fruit with classy tobacco and cedary notes. Finesse, and very good indeed.

Château Lafon-Rochet, 4th growth, St-Estèphe – £18.99
Dark purple colour, almost black. Very backward. Very earthy too with an edge of mineral scents and a deeply hued set of aromas. Massive wine. Huge concentration of dense, brooding fruit and thick, chewy texture. Very drying new-oak tannins but that plummy depth stands up to them. Very serious and structured. Excellent potential 10 years+.

Château Calon-Ségur, 3rd growth, St-Estèphe – £24.99
Medium to dark ruby/purple. Appears a little more evolved. Tight, but nicely perfumed nose with notes of blackcurrant, cherry and coffee. Rather astringent with firm, somewhat metallic flavours and high tannins. There is some blackberry and plummy fruit but it is a little medicinal and disjointed. (might be “shocked” from recent transport – other samples had arrived a week or two earlier).

Château Lynch-Moussas, 5th growth, Pauillac – £14.99
Very even, dense purple/black colour. Massive charred-oak nose. Big and vegetal with mushroomy, undergrowth aromas, roasted coffee beans and glimpses of sweet black fruit. Sweet and full on the palate with copious quantities of oaky flavours and tannins, moderate acidity and lovely complexity of sweet blackcurrant and more earthy fruit. Drying tannins into a long finish. Excellent, and outstanding at the price.

Château Clerc-Milon, 5th growth, Pauillac – £21.99
Very dark, even blackish purple colour. Sweetness of ripe fruit on the nose and again some coffee notes. A good concentration of pure fruit, cream and vanilla. Good depth, dry, powerful tannins and a broad underpinning acidity. Fruit really is pure and concentrated if buried at the moment. Good length. Very good.

Château Grand-Pontet, St-Emilion – £19.99
Very dense crimson. A little more warmth to colour. Fragrant nose, lovely aromas of sweet cassis, confectionery and ripe cherries. There’s a chocolaty depth too which emerges over time. Creamy, fleshy texture with more merlot character, flavours of blackcurrant and a bitter plum-skin edge. Good, firm tannins and acidity lead to a dry but long and concentrated finish. Very good.

Château Larmande, Grand Cru Classé, St-Emilion – £19.99
Opaque, blackish but a touch lighter. Closed but chocolaty nose. Some perfume emerges. Very firmly structured but so closed it is quite difficult to assess. Gripped by tannins and high acidity, there is also a lot of oak. I wonder if this has the fruit ever to come fully into balance?

Château Cantenac-Brown, 3rd growth, Margaux – £18.99
Very dark, even, purple/black. Gorgeous nose. Big and barnyardy with meaty, gamey, truffle scents and coffee-bean oak. Creamy and exotic. palate is very closed and hard to see past massive tannic structure but there is a solid depth of plummy fruit in there and a fine, long finish. Very good indeed.

Château Coutet (Barsac) 1st growth – £13.99 (half)
Very bright, lemony yellow. Lemon meringue pie on the nose. Light, flowery, even spritzy. Botrytis emerges with aromas of honey, orange, orange blossom, melon and citrus. Beautifully sweet with fine peach flavours and more exotic notes of pineapple and mango. Botrytis evident, lots of honey, hints of treacle and figs. Toasty oak in the medium/long finish. Very fine, balanced with good acidity. Elegant and already lovely.

Château Suduiraut, 1st growth, Sauternes – £27.99
Lovely bright gold with a tinge of emerald green. Good botrytis, loaded with honey, fig and butterscotch. Peach kernels too, lots of vanillin oak. Chewy oak flavours and intense sweetness on the palate. Mid weight, mid glycerine but pure orange and fig fruit persists into a long finish. Unobtrusive but very positive lemony acidity keeps it clean. Excellent.