1996 Bordeaux - 20 year retrospective tasting

1996 Bordeaux offline at Noir restaurant (Melbourne, Australia) 11 May 2016

I love 1996 Bordeaux wines. It was the first vintage that I comprehensively tasted at release (incl all the first growths). Loved the wines back ten. A decade ago we tasted all the Left back First growths at the 10 year mark. Again they looked fabulous. To get the intensity, poise and balance at 12.5% alc back then looked remarkable.
With that in mind I decided to host a tasting of 1996 Bordeaux wines for my wine group to see how the wines were travelling after 20 years.

This time around all wines came from my cellar.

One bottle of Domaine de Chevalier blanc looked a bit muted/advanced and a replacement was opened at home. The second bottle was decidedly better. Wine was not decanted.

One bottle of Cos was corked and was replaced.

All red wines were double decanted between 4 and 5.30 pm.
Dinner was from 7-10.30 pm

The stickies were from 2001 vintage and not from 1996.

Coffin Bay oysters, chilli, crab coriander
Champagne: 1996 Krug
Huge wine. Powerful. Structured. Expansive. Glorious.

Cured yellow tail kingfish salad of, congo potatoes, capers and mustard, kingfish and prawn aspic
White Wine: 1996 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
Great nose. Very pale yellow. Vibrant. So youthful. Opened up more as it sat in the glass. Amazing texture and mouthfeel.

Smoked venison tartare, pickled onions, carrots and harissa
Bordeaux Bracket #1
1996 Haut Bailly
1996 Rauzan Segla
1996 Pichon Lalande

Haut Bailly was medium bodied. Very aromatic. Lead pencil shavings. Sauve. Seductive. Perfectly poised.
Pichon was glorious. Again medium bodied but super length and balance. Very classy wine. So seamless.
Rauzan was bigger but a tad angular. Ripe but a bit coarse. (perhaps brett effect??). Lovely to drink but not as compelling as the other two.
Opinions were divided between Haut Bailly and Pichon as to the best in that bracket.

Jerusalem artichoke risoni, confit duck, black truffle and hazelnut pesto
Bordeaux Bracket #2
1996 Leoville Poyferre
1996 Leoville Barton
1996 Leoville Las Cases

Poyferre was the most open and ready to drink in this bracket. Fully evolved. More forward and hence more enjoyable on the day.
Barton was a bit more reserved. Impressive fruit. Earthy. Touch of aged meats. Just starting to show its character. Solid wine.
Las Cases looked like it was bottled only a few years ago. It looked the cleanest (i.e no brett). Very austere. Intense fruit. Fair bit of oak in the background but enough fruit to balance it. It was regal. Towering. Majestic. However, at that night it was not the most ‘enjoyable’ wine and was drinking on its potential which I guess could be decades from now.

Braised beef brisket, fondont potatoes, mushrooms and onion
French Fries
Bordeaux Bracket #3
1996 Cos d’Estournel
1996 Mouton Rothschild
1996 Chateau Margaux

Cos was a huge wine just entering in to its drinking window. Black cherry, spice. Cedary. Voluptous but not as refined as the other two first growths in the bracket.
Mouton had power but better balance than the Cos. Dark chocolate and mocha. Expansive and mouth filling flavours. Extremely well made wine. Loved it.
Margaux was the undisputed WOTN. The bouquet was supreme. Voilets and roses. Truffled. Immense depth yet so light on its feet. The texture and finesse was to die for.

Cheese platter

Chocolate and pistachio brownie, mandarin sorbet
Sweet wines
2001 Coutet
2001 Suduiraut

Coutet showed its rich barley sugary effect which I tend to notice in Barsac. Nice wine but perhaps a bit one dimensional. Suduiraut showed more depth and intensity. Lovely complex flavours. Both have got years ahead of them.

A wonderful tasting.

Thank you for these notes. I have a number of wines of this vintage lined up for an upcoming birthday including the Lafite, Mouton, and Haut Brion

Great wines and very valuable notes, Sanjay! Thanks for posting and appreciate the data points. Love the Pichon Lalande from 1996.


Would to hear your take on the vintage


Hi Sanjay, Fantastic notes! Bravo.
I see what you mean about Haut Bailly and Pichon Comtesse splitting opinions: two different styles. I would have fallen into the Comtesse camp simply because Comtesse was so amazing in that vintage.
Great comparison of the three Leovilles and really spot on, in terms of stylistic differences among the three, in that decade in particular.
And for the two firsts with Cos, cool stuff. I have one bottle of Mouton 96… Have only tried the Margaux 96 once and loved it as well… So, basically, the Mouton 96 is in no rush to be opened, eh?
Thanks for sharing!

Great write up. Always enjoy reading about a great horizontal. Had some sadness when you wrote about the Margaux. Stunning wine, made by a wine maker extraordinaire . One of greatest vintages he made in the last 30 yrs. I’ll miss him

Incredible lineup.

Nice Line Up. 1996 was such strong Left Bank year (Right Bank not so much), and they are starting to drink well nowadays 20 years later. If you ever get a chance to drink the Ducru Beaucaillou 1996, you might find it situated between your Poyferre and Las Case experience, but better than both.

Will do. 3 weeks and counting…

The consistent positive notes on the 96s are encouraging, and admittedly not surprising. Thanks for the details on the excellent line-up.

Dear Sanjay,

Thanks for the very useful notes. Sounds like the wines showed well. Was this tasting in Melbourne?

Did you form any specific impressions about how close to peak the Leoville Poyferre was? And also how much longer would you cellar the Leoville Barton and the Mouton & Margaux? Got some of these in the cellar but have been holding off trying them.

1996 is my eldest son’s birth year, lucky guy. He is 19 but has no interest in wine as yet. Will see how things develop. May have the drink the wines myself…


Hi Brodie,
Yes that tasting was in Melbourne with one of my wine groups. Incidentally, we will be tasting Clos St Jacques vs Malconsorts on Wed with the other wine group!!

If your son does not want to drink those wines I will gladly oblige flirty smile You can join in too.

Poyferre looked ready to drink but should hold for at least another 5+ years. Barton seems partially ready but gives the impression that there something in reserve.

The Mouton and Margaux are looking great. They are so well balanced that they whole package looks effortlessly put together. You can drink them from now to eternity.

My daughter who too is 19 has just developed a taste for sweet German rieslings…