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Claret of 1996

By Tom Cannavan, 06/00

Just over a year ago I tasted a couple of dozen clarets from 1996 and found them to be ripe, with classy fruit as well as good tannins and acidity. At the time I wrote "...high quality vintage with considerable cellaring potential. The wines as a group show very good balance and good structure. The merlot-dominated right bank wines also showed well I thought, though perhaps the fruit quality is better in the cabernet-based wines".

This was an interesting chance to re-assess the vintage, though only a few of the wines that were on tasting back in April 1999 were also included here. Those are indicated, with a link to the original note.

The tasting was not blind. Prices in pounds sterling, approx: £10=$16US.

Château La Pointe, Pomerol - £16.99
This has a deep, dark ruby colour. Very claretty nose, distinctly cedary edge to deep plum fruit. Real Christmas cake aromas. Quite cool, classy fruit on the palate. This has a gamy quality too and lots of sinewy tannins. There is some creamy blackcurrant in there. The finish shows quite highish acidity, suggesting this might be better with food. Quite good value.

Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot, 1er Grand Cru Classé St-Emilion - £32.50
Quite a deep, vibrant ruby with warmth at rim. More new oak and a much riper quality of fruit. Much sweeter nose with more obviously ripe, concentrated fruit. Lots of blackcurrant and plum with chocolate and coffee bean nuances. Medium-bodied, there is a little leanness on the palate with firm, chewy tannins gripping the finish along with toasty oak, but just a touch austere? Has structure, so should come together, but a little awkward at the moment.
I noted a hollowness about this wine on first tasting which is still apparant, but I do still think it could fill out in time. Tasted in 1999

Château L'Evangile, Pomerol - £74.99
First bottle corked. Bright, dark ruby. Opaque core. Very dark cedar wood and creamy dark chocolate nose with dried fruit, prune aromas. Lots of spice too and there is a blackcurranty note in there. Palate shows much greater concentration of fruit than previous wine; much riper too with a blue/black character of bitter-edged plumskins and cherries. Very long with spice and sweet oak bolstered by ripe, chewy tannins. Very long. Fine and should cellar well.

Château Chasse-Spleen, Cru Bourgeois Moulis 1994 - £17.99
Medium ruby colour, just gaining warmth. Nose a touch stalky. A bit dumb, with rather flabby fruit aromas though there's a gamy, meaty quality too. On the palate more definitely lacking fruit with tannins dominating along with some old tasting, cedary oak. Hints of sweet fruit and game, but this is not very well balanced.

Château Phélan-Ségur, Cru Bourgeois St-Estèphe - £18.99
Very deep and dark ruby/crimson. Loaded with coffee bean, charry oak and tobacco on the nose. Little violet notes too and some blackcurrant and plum fruit. Nice fruit on the palate which is quite cool and classy with grippy tannins. Medium-bodied, it has pretty good balance with integrated acidity. Good value, and with a touch more fruit would have been excellent.

Les Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac - £17.99
Second wine of Pichon-Baron. Very dark blackish/crimson colour. Sulphury bottle stink blows off (just about) to reveal a slightly rubbery, stewed black fruit. Not sure this isn't mildly corked either? Palate has good weight, but again fruit quality is a bit baked. Grippy tannins and some dry, mineral and ash flavours. Not a convincing bottle.

Château Duhart-Milon-Rothschild, 4th growth Pauillac - £19.99
Very dark ruby. Deep, dark toasted oak aromas, almost liquoricy. Beneath the fruit is slightly baked again, blackberry and spiced plum. Lots of concentration here. The fruit is dark and bitter-edged, but it is ripe and the acidity and firm, juicy tannins are balanced. Good length and purity into the finish. Very good.
Confirms my impression from previous tasting of a very nice, well-priced claret. Just closed down a little, so might be worth cellaring for five or six years. Tasted in 1999

Clos du Marquis, St-Julien - £25.99
Second wine of Léoville-Las-Cases. Medium/dark vibrant crimson/black. Restrained and elegant, classy nose with cedary, savoury oak but plenty of ripe blackcurrant fruit and a mineral quaity. Lovely sweetness of fruit on the palate. Very ripe, pure cassis, quite firm and grippy but also pure, juicy and fresh. Fine balance into a long, oak-infused finish which hints at a lovely future for this wine. Excellent.
I tasted this from barrel at the Château in 1997 when it was very promising: that promise is realised in bottle.

Château Pichon-Baron, 2nd growth Pauillac - £38.99
Tarry, dense, blackish colour. Obviously huge extraction. Lots of charry new oak on the nose with pencil-shaving aromas adding savouriness to ripe, crunchy blackberry, damson and plum. Silky mouthfeel with a palate of sweet, dark, bittersweet fruit and liquorice. Firm tannins are gripping powerfully though acidity is moderate. Very good indeed.
A lovely, balanced claret almost drinking well now, but better in eight to twelve years. Tasted in 1999

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, 2nd growth St-Julien 1989 - £49.99
Medium/deep ruby fading to orange at rim. Nose is a little rubbery, even slightly dank, with a hard cedariness that doesn't have enough freshness of fruit to really balance. Better on the palate, still not displaying enough quality of fruit to be really enjoyable at present, but there are blackcurrant flavours as well as some coffeeish oak and pretty good length. I last tasted this wine a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a lot more then, so a confusing picture. Perhaps a slightly out of condition bottle.

Château Rayne-Vigneau, 1st growth Sauternes - £19.99
Quite a deep glowing gold. Fine botrytis nose loaded with honeyed figs and notes of ripe melon and quince. There's a lightness about the nose too, a flowery acacia hint, but then another layer is like butterscotch and caramel. On the palate this has fine melon fruit with a candied pineapple note and citrus flavours. Medium-bodied, and only medium sweet, there is also an intriguing aniseed note in the finish. Very elegant and fine. Very good.