1996 Vintage Ratings:
Médoc Rating: 95
Pessac-Léognan Rating: 88
Saint-Émilion & Pomerol Rating: 88
Sauternes & Barsac Rating: 90
Dry Whites Rating: 93
1996 Top Three Bordeaux Wines Today:
An early budburst in 1996 sparked fears of frost. While April brought some nail-biting cold temperatures, there was minor damage to report. By the time the first flowers emerged in late May and early June, the weather had turned warm and sunny. Despite the near-optimal conditions at this time, the Merlot suffered from millerandage, accounting for the relatively small crop of this variety.
Mid-July to mid-August was warm and sunny. However, varying amounts of rain fell in mid-August, ranging from heavy on the Right Bank and in Sauternes to moderate in the Médoc. The result was a slow, uneven veraison for the more rain=impacted areas.
The beginning of September was warm and sunny, and the dry whites came in under excellent conditions, making for a great vintage for this style. However, mid-September rains forced the hands of many Merlot growers, some bringing the fruit in a little earlier than they would have hoped. The rains had less impact on the Cabernets, which came in a few weeks later under drier conditions.
The best reds of 1996 come from the Médoc, although Haut-Brion, perhaps a couple of ticks down from the other first growths, is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve tasted each of the ’96 first growths at least several times and again within the last few years, and all are spectacular. But if I had to choose a top one, it would be Lafite, followed closely by Latour. Montrose is also stunning, with many years left to go, and Pichon-Lalande is also well worth seeking out. The style of the vintage is classic, medium-bodied, solidly structured wines with plenty of muscle and satisfying savoriness.
The onset of botrytis was relatively late in Sauternes, but it was eventually triggered by light rains in mid-October, and finally, there was the opportunity to make complex, balanced, age-worthy wines. Highlights include Yquem, de Fargue, and Lafaurie-Peyraguey.