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Claret of the 1996 Vintage, part II

By Tom Cannavan, 04/99

I recently tasted a dozen mid-range clarets from the excellent '96 vintage and found a very high standard showing ripe, classy fruit as well as good tannins and acidity. This dozen moved towards the upper-end of the scale and reinforces my opinion that this is indeed a very 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 higher in the cabernet-based wines. It was a very nice touch to slip in a high quality Australian merlot after a string of merlot-dominated clarets: it showed very well and I would never have believed the price differential between it and the Château Haut-Brion with which it was paired. Based on this blind tasting, much kudos to the Australian wine - the Haut-Brion was my wine of the night. I also particularly liked the Monbousquet, La Conseillante and Pichon-Baron. In QPR terms, the Duhart-Milon would be my pick, along with the Elderton merlot. The Château Coutet Barsac (Sauternes) is delightful.
The tasting was blind. Notes are as written. Prices in pounds sterling, approx: £5=$8.

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.

Elderton (Australia) Barossa Valley Merlot 1996 - £14.99
Dark blackish crimson with light on rim. Odd, high plasticene note. Leafy vegetation and black fruits. Hints of chocolate and fudge, sweet ripe fruit energes from quite barnyardy first impression. Dense, fruit packed palate. Serious fruit, very jammy and ripe but with real depth. High acid, grippy tannins, but fat, pure and long. Very good. Well, I didn't spot this as a "ringer". Very dense and serious wine.

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 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.