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1996 clarets and Yquem at the Châteaux


As part of my summer holiday touring France I spent some time in the Médoc and Sauternes and visited a few of my favourite Châteaux. These are tastings of the 1996s clarets from barrel at the individual properties, and of Yquem at Yquem (a wonderful visit).

Château Mouton-Rothschild, 1er Cru, Pauillac
Wonderful dark colour and immediate scents of tobacco and dark roasted coffee beans. On the palate the impression of density and richness continued with great warmth and very toasty, ripe tannins. Should be extremely good.

Château Léoville-Las-Cases, 2nd Cru, St-Julien
Dense purple colour, quite closed on the nose at this stage, but superb cassis fruit and extraction evident on the palate. Hugely complex and with great length and fine acid structure. Might take some considerable time to come round, but will be superb I think.

Château Léoville-Las-Cases, Clos du Marquis, 2nd wine
Almost as deep as the LLC and showing very similar characteristics. More open at this stage with more vibrant cassis fruit, cedar and vanillin oak flavours - but very well integrated and with great length. An absolute star and representing good QPR. This estate de-classifies a huge proportion of the grand vin harvest, but even this second wine includes only about 60 percent of the grapes reserved for it.

Château Potensac, Médoc, Cru Bourgeois
Very deep colour and rich spicy nose. Very muscular and chunky wine, with loads of grip and good berry fruit. A simpler but very well made wine.

Château Cantemerle, 5th Cru, Haut-Médoc
Not just because I've already bought this "en primuer", but this was easily the outstanding wine of the tastings when taking Quality/Price Ratio into consideration. Cantemerle’s 1996 is simply a superb wine. Quite a high percentage of Merlot in the blend gives a bold, purple/black clour and a wonderful nose of blackcurrants, plums and exotic spices (a small percentage of new american oak barrels employed as well as limousin). On the palate a glorious, silky mouthful of ripe fruit, firm but fine tannins and a sense of balance and purity. Very good length with delineation and staying balanced and luscious. Fantastic stuff - well worth considering.

Château d'Yquem, Premier Cru Supérieur, Sauternes 1989
Absolutely stunning. Vivid aroma soars from the glass of honeyed tropical fruits. Very, very luscious with loads of glycerin. Flavours of dried banana, apricot and peach. A lovely mineral, stoney acidity too, but overall a heady, rounded mouthful. Amazing finish - well into minutes. This is further evidence that just because the wine is capable of 50 years of positive ageing you shouldn't fear drinking it much younger. This is a superb, totally satisfying, obviously very special wine now - it will be great and no doubt different in 30 years, but it is also great now. Incidentally, The Cellar Master said he thought the '89 was better than '88 or '90.