Bordeaux You Can Actually Buy
(November 4, 1999) Im not exactly talking about
bargains here, but some of the prices arent yet out of sight.
Last weekend, I attended the "Hearts
Delight" charity wine tasting in Washington, D.C. Hosted by Robert
Parker, Jr., it featured a broad array of 1996 Bordeaux. And you know
what? Theres great stuff to buy and drink in this vintage after all.
Up until now, I had been boycotting this
vintage as just too expensive, no matter what it offers. But Im humming
a slightly different tune now.
The Cabernet-based wines seemed well-balanced
to me, with supple, albeit ample tannins. Quite a few were amazing,
and some were even priced within a mortals budget. Happily too, some of
the more modestly-priced Chateaux have put out beautiful efforts.
One warning, though. Do not, repeat, do not
buy the Medocs unless youve got a cellar and the patience to wait
anywhere from three to ten years and maybe a little longer. A few of the
wines from Haut Medoc and Pessac-Leognan would be tasty tomorrow, as would
some Pomerols and St. Emilions, but the truly exciting stuff should locked
away and forgotten about.
And a handy tip. Bob Parker had all the reds double-decanted two hours before serving. It worked very well -- you
could taste and appreciate even the biggest monsters. So if you just cant
wait to break into your trophies, soften em up and you may get away
Onto the notes. First we got our noses wet
with two WHITES:
Comtes de Jonqueyeres 1996 has some sulfury aromas, a bit of
floral stuff, thin melon flavors and tastes a little tart for this boys
palate. Its just okay.
But *Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc pleases me more.
Seems dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas of pineapple, gooseberry
and cat pee. Lively acidity, but nice and slippery on the palate.
Moderate length. Definitely on the raunchy side and I have a friend who
would hate it, but I like it!
Then FLIGHT ONE. This features wines where
Cabernet plays a major role, but other grapes tone down the structure:
may be the lightest red in the
tasting, but its utterly charming Bordeaux. Tobacco, cassis, light on
its feet. Try it tonight.
Chateau Belgrave (Haut Medoc)
*Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognon) has more grace and
finesse, plus some sexy oak. Aromas of toast, coffee and cigarette all
marry well. Thins on the finish, but a beaut all the same. Id buy this
one for an everyday wine.
And I like ** Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte (Pessac-Leognan) a lot!
If you love the big cigar aromas of stuff like Haut-Brion or Pape Clement,
this could be your smart buy of the vintage. Lots of sweet strawberry and
cassis flavors on the palate too. Approachable and sexy.
By contrast, I found Pape Clement (Pessac-Leognan) disappointing,
maybe partly because Ive liked it so much in previous vintages. This not
the reincarnation of the heavenly 1990, Im afraid. Some cassis and
tobacco show, but it seems both tannic and thin on the finish and I dont
have high hopes.
But *Chateau Cantemerle is a back in form. Characteristically
backward, but grows more and more charming with study. Currants, Bordeaux
smoke and allspice. Nice!
FLIGHT TWO showcases the right bank, where
Merlot plays a heavy role. These are wines that usually charm me a lot.
With a couple of exceptions, though, this flight was a let-down:
Vieux Chateau Certan (Pomerol) features some chocolate and
plum. Nice flavors, but kind of thin.
*Chateau Le Bon Pasteur (Pomerol) did terrific things with what
God gave them. Bitter chocolate and cherry aromas with a whisper of
tannin on the palate. Opens impressively revealing plenty of red fruit.
Excellent wine, just short of outstanding.
Chateau Clinet (Pomerol) dumbfounds me. For all the decanting it
got, this baby is really reticent. Some plum. Maybe a little
unripe? Ill pass.
But **Chateau Monbousquet (St. Emilion) pulls a rabbit out of
the hat! Fudge and coffee aromas, and the fruit is full and flamboyant.
Flaunts her stuff, beckons you into the alley, hollers, "Hey
sailor, want a good time?" Maybe its not the equal of the 1995,
but I like it a lot.
Chateau Angelus (St. Emilion) is usually one of my favorites.
While its not quite as inscrutable as the Clinet, I still have to
wonder, though. Asian spice, tannin, a lot of extraction, a hint of
cherry flavor -- but will this wine ever emerge? Shrug, on to the next.
Finally, FLIGHT THREE shot out the lights.
These wines from the heart of the Medoc were rippling with muscular fruit.
Tannins were big but in balance.
seems atypically rich and
sweet for their normally austere style. No complaints.
*+Chateau Calon Segur (St. Estephe)
+**Chateau Cos D-Estournel (St. Estephe) is flashy. Big coffee bean
aromas, followed by a whallop of cassis. Lot of concentration on the
palate. Lot of wood, too. Maybe too much wood? Big, beautiful wine all the
same, but oak-allergic folks should beware.
***Chateau Montrose (St. Estephe) is massive, but wonderfully
supple. You get the expected Montrose flavors of brass, blood and berry
and a long, clean finish. Showing even better than I expected, given the
***Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac) is pumping out pure, sweet
fruit. Unlike Cos and Ducru (below), these guys soft-pedaled the oak and I
love the result. No tarting up -- just an ocean of blueberry and cassis.
Maybe the wine that surprised me most was ***Chateau Ducru
Beaucaillou (St. Julien). So many so-so, musty wines in the past
decade. But here -- heaven! Lots of coffee, cassis, followed up by stone
and flint. Very backward for a Ducru. Flat-out great wine.
But the "buy" of the evening, by my lights, is ***Chateau
Leoville Poyferre (St. Julien) Huge concentration, beautiful tobacco
and cassis flavors, and finesse as well. Gorgeous Bordeaux. I checked
local prices afterward and it was selling for $50 -- less with a case
discount. For a great 1996 Bordeaux thats not shabby at all.
***+Chateau Pichon-Lalande is a perennial favorite of mine. And
this one is just awesome -- but I doubted I would have ever guessed it for
Pichon-Lalande if it had been served blind. Intense, violet-tinged aromas.
Immense, almost hurtful concentration. Tremendous presence on the palate
with a lingering finish. But this is a big brawny Cab-type thing, instead
of the Merlot-influenced lady Im used to. Biggest Pichon-Lalande Ive
ever tasted. Ill drink it gratefully, but Im not sure I want them to
stick with this style.
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