TN: Right Bank 1998 vs. Left Bank 1996

A small four-bottle tasting from the last spring, pitting two exceptional 1990’s vintages (right bank 1998 and left bank 1996) against each other.

I’ve always preferred left bank over right bank, but even without any preferences, the rightbankers didn’t really stand a chance in this fight. The match ended quickly with scores 2-0 in favor of the lefties.

  • 1998 Clos Fourtet - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru (27.3.2021)
    13% alcohol.

Somewhat translucent blackish-red color with a subtle, slightly evolved maroon hue and a pale ruby-red rim. Brooding, somewhat earthy nose with somewhat understated but thoroughly classic aromas of ripe blackcurrant, some woody notes of pencil shavings, light autumnal notes of damp leaves, a little bit of humus, a hint of toasted oak and a sweeter touch of black cherry. With air the earthier tones seem to gain a bit more prominence, lending a vaguely TCA-like note of earthen cellar. The wine is dry, somewhat restrained yet quite nuanced on the palate with flavors of fresh redcurrant, some gravelly minerality, light woody notes of pencil shavings, a little bit of damp forest floor, an autumnal hint of leaves and a touch of earth. Enjoyably firm acidity and smooth, powdery, mouth-coating tannins that don’t make the wine feel particularly grippy but frame the texture of the wine nicely. The finish is quite long and slightly grippy with flavors of ripe blackcurrants, some sweeter notes of dark plums, a little bit of tobacco, light earthy notes of damp leaves and earthen cellar and a hint of gravelly minerality.

I found the wine a bit odd. It was a classically built 1998 Right-Bank Bordeaux, but to me there was a subtly earthy hint that felt a bit out of place, reminding me a bit of TCA. However, the wine didn’t really feel corked, as the wine didn’t feel off as a whole and the flavors were pretty much there. There was only this subtle off note that seemed to jump out when returning to this wine after sampling the other wines we had in the tasting, but faded away in the background when not compared to other wines. All in all this was an enjoyable and harmonious +20 yo St. Émilion that is still going quite strong, but since it’s possible the wine was ever so slightly corked, I’d rather leave the wine unrated for now. The cost of the bottle was 90€.

  • 1998 Château Latour à Pomerol - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Pomerol (27.3.2021)
    Mainly Merlot with a little bit of Cabernet Franc in the blend. 3,000 cases made.

Dark, moderately translucent black cherry color with subtly developed, figgy overtones and a pale raspberry-red rim. Fragrant and quite attractive nose with somewhat dark-toned aromas of crème de cassis and ripe dark plums, some juicy cherry tones, a little bit of cedar oak and sweet, toasty oak spice, light blueberry tones, a hint of graphite and a vague touch of creamy diacetyl. The wine feels very ripe, juicy and quite intense on the palate with a full body and rich flavors of ripe blackcurrants and red plums, brambly black raspberry, some peppery notes of oak spice, a little bit of blood and meaty umami, light cigar tones, a herbaceous hint of paprika powder and a bittersweet touch of dark chocolate. The overall feel is very suave and silky, the structure relying mostly on the rather high acidity, whereas the round and supple tannin contribute mainly to the firm texture, not to the structure. The finish is ripe, juicy and very gently grippy with long flavors of ripe blackcurrants and sweet red plums, some raspberry marmalade, light ferrous notes of blood, a little bit of cedar and peppery oak spice, a hint of truffle and a touch of licorice root.

A very suave, harmonious and silky - almost glossy - Pomerol. Very rich and seductive, up to the point it almost comes across as a crowdpleaser. Due to its silky texture and round, supple structure, the wine seems much better to be enjoyed on its own rather than as a food wine. A classic, fine-tuned and pleasant effort from a great Right-Bank vintage, but perhaps a bit too rich, soft and polished for my taste - I prefer my Bordeaux wines less sweet and more structured. A fine wine for sure - there’s really nothing to criticize here. A solid choice if one wants a rich, supple and very nuanced Pomerol to be enjoyed on its own. Feels a bit pricey for the quality at 95€, though. (90 pts.)

  • 1996 Château Pontet-Canet - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (27.3.2021)
    Typically the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (2/3) and Merlot (1/3) with a little bit of Cabernet Franc in the mix. 13% alcohol.

Deep, luminous and almost fully opaque blackish-red color with a hint of bright ruby towards the rim. Classic, savory and very slightly herbaceous nose with aromas of fresh blackcurrants, some herbaceous notes of paprika powder and chipotle, light woody notes of pencil shavings, a little bit of developed meat stew character, a hint of toasted oak spice and a touch of sous-bois. Really a textbook aged Pauillac nose - although the aged qualities are surprisingly scarce, given the age of the wine! The wine feels ripe, full-bodied and silky yet not particularly soft or mellow on the palate with intense and subtly sweet-toned flavors of ripe blackcurrant and juicy dark plums, some herbaceous notes of chipotle and leafy greenness, light toasty oak tones, a little bit of ferrous blood, a hint of pouch tobacco and a touch of meat stew. The overall feel is enjoyably firm and structured with the rather high acidity and still pleasantly firm and gritty tannins. The finish is long, juicy and quite grippy with intense flavors of cassis and ripe red plums, some tobacco tones, a little bit of crunchy redcurrant, light notes of chipotle, a developed hint of meat stew and a touch of savory oak spice.

An excellent, harmonious and delicious Left-Bank Bordeaux that feels remarkably youthful - even almost backward - for its age. From the savory meat stew tones you can taste that this isn’t a youngster anymore, but the wine feels much younger than its almost 25-yo age would suggest, so I can imagine this wine will continue steadily upwards on its trajectory. If one wants a firm, complex and structured Bordeaux at its early maturity, this is a solid contender, but I can imagine this will be even better with more age. An outstanding combination of intensity and richness without any sense of being over-the-top in any way. Delightful stuff; not affordable at 90€, but I’d say it manages to deliver for the price. (94 pts.)

  • 1996 Château Sociando-Mallet - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc (27.3.2021)
    A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (53%), Merlot (42%) and Cabernet Franc + Petit Verdot (5%), harvested between September 23 and October 8. Aged for 12 months 100% in new oak barriques, then blended together and aged for another six months in tanks. 12,5% alcohol.

Dark, subtly developed and very slightly translucent black cherry color with a hint of evolved rusty hue. Despite the 100% new oak, the nose seems remarkably classic, complex and seductive with subtly evolved aromas of fresh dark plums and blackberries, some slightly tarry notes of toasted oak, a little bit of smoky chipotle character, light leafy tones of herbaceous Cab Franc character, a hint of pipe tobacco and a touch of savory wood spice. The wine feels dense, sinewy and even somewhat chewy on the palate with a moderately full body and quite ripe and rather intense flavors of ripe blackcurrants and juicy black cherries, some sweet pipe tobacco, light savory wood tones, a little bit of dried basil, a leafy hint of herbaceous Cab Franc character and a sweet, developed touch of wizened dark berries. The texture feels quite smooth and velvety at first, but gains firmness as the moderately resolved tannins slowly pile up on the gums. Ultimately the wine feels rather structured, due to its high acidity and quite ample tannins that pile up on the gums. The finish is long, rich and savory with moderately grippy tannins and complex, dry flavors of wizened blackcurrants, meaty umami, some tobacco notes, light toasty notes of tar and smoky chipotle, a little bit of leafy autumnal character and a sweet hint of cooked bell pepper.

Drinking this along with 1996 Pontet-Canet; although Pontet-Canet feels somewhat richer and more complex in comparison, while Sociando-Mallet feels somewhat more mature and ever-so-slightly more straightforward in style, I must admit I enjoy this drier, more savory and slightly more herbaceous character more. It is also remarkable how well the wine carries its oak - even though it supposedly sees only new oak, the overall style is wonderfully classic and the woodier tones remain wonderfully in the background. Although this wine might not be as long-lived as Pontet-Canet, I feel the wine is nevertheless remarkably youthful - almost backward - for its age, promising volumes on its aging potential. This is still miles away from its apogee. A wonderful, harmonious and hands-down delicious Left-Bank Bordeaux. Excellent value at 50€. (93 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

1 Like

An interesting tasting, and given the wines, not totally surprised by the result. Both left bankers hit above weight; but I would have said the same about Clos Fourtet, which has a fine reputation but strays to the modern.

I would love to see a similar tasting with Figeac and Pavie (yes Pavie pre Rolland) versus Ducru and Pichon Lalande, all of whom made great wines in their respective years.

Agreed on all points. And damn I love that 96 Sociando. I had that 96 Ducru a few months ago with MarcF and it blew me away. It actually was the superstar of the show in a range of great wines including 86 Latour and 70 Magdelaine. Yes, still a baby, give it 4-5 more years.

Very nice notes, and I’ve had all those in the last few years (except for the LaP, which was further back) but personally preferred the right banks. If those are release prices those seem high, but I guess the Nordic regions are punitive tax wise for alcohol. For my tastes Clos Fourtet during this era was not yet a modern/international wine.

Sadly, these were all estates I bought on release, but due to prevailing prices, only S-M stays on my (occasional) buy list. Still nice to look at your notes, and reminisce!

At least what I could taste from this bottle, Clos Fourtet didn’t seem like a modern / international Bdx at all. However, hard to say anything conclusive as it didn’t feel like a sound bottle.

The prices weren’t release prices. The bottles had been bought in the past few years, so representative of their current prices.