Bordeaux 1996: Tasting in 2014

There are two good reasons to look back to older vintages, such as 1996 Bordeaux. The first, and this has always been true I think, is to advise on wines as they mature, to see whether preconceptions on when the wines should be drunk – decisions which we might have made from tasting the wine in its infancy, or perhaps even from barrel before it was finished – are indeed correct. In doing so I might offer some advice based on my tasting, whether we should “hold” when wines are still brooding infusions of tannin and colour (hopefully not the case at eighteen years of age), “ready now” when everything seems to have come together, or “drink up” when it looks as though a particular wine is in decline. The object of the game is to avoid reaching the point where the most appropriate advice is “run to the cellar, pull all the bottles, pull all the corks and drink before sundown, this one’s a goner!”

There is now also second reason why returning to a maturing vintage is increasingly worthwhile, and that reflects the current failure of the en primeur system. Buying wines en primeur was once a sure-fire way to get the best price, and once the cases were safely tucked away in the cellar you could relax, and watch the value of the bottles climb, affirmation that you got the best deal. Then, when the time came – perhaps guided by some tasting notes like those below – you could begin to pull the corks. Sadly, en primeur no longer functions in this manner. Today release prices are often higher than mature vintages, and they can tumble after release, even in great vintages such as 2009 and 2010, almost certainly in less desirable years such as 2011, 2012 and definitely 2013. The obvious response, then, is to wait, and buy the wines as they approach maturity. The cost might be higher than the good old days of en primeur, but at least you can be more sure of what you are buying, the wines having been reviewed by critics (myself included) in bottle, maybe multiple times.

Bordeaux 1996

In truth, the wines reported on here are too few in number to act as a specific guide to buying; there are just fourteen wines here, all pulled from my cellar. Last year’s review of Bordeaux 2003 at ten years of age (72 wines reviewed), and my forthcoming report on the 2004 vintage, again at ten years of age (about the same number of wines), is perhaps more useful in that respect. Ten years of age is probably a good time to buy as well, before prices start to climb again (having said that, I have seen quite a few 1996s go for good prices at auction recently). Nevertheless, although the wines here are few in number, they can still guide us as to the overall style and progress of the vintage, provided I am allowed to generalise a little.

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