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Château Talbot 1996

Château Talbot 1996

For perhaps obvious reasons I have been bringing a few wines from the 1996 vintage up from the cellar this year, both from the Loire, and from Bordeaux (and one or two other regions, as it happens). A few weeks ago it was the 1996 Château d’Angludet, which might be a ‘lowly’ cru bourgeois estate but this is never a wine to overlook when there is a sniff of success in the Margaux appellation, and a few weeks before that the rather less generous 1996 Château Simard. I still have a few bottles of the former hiding in a corner of the cellar; I think this wine will advance into a respectable maturity, so I am pretty pleased with that. I don’t have any more of the latter though, but it was rather tired, so I have no plans to shed any tears.

After these entry-level wines perhaps it is time to step it up a gear. Enter Château Talbot, an estate ranked as a fifth growth. Everybody knows the story behind the origins of this château, said to be named for John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. The tale is widely accepted, even though there appears to be no direct evidence that he ever owned this property, or indeed owned any vines in Bordeaux at all. A notorious figure in the region, Talbot was sent by King Henry VI to sort out the rebellious French, who had clearly had enough of English rule in Aquitaine.

Château Talbot 1996

At Castillon the aged yet honourable warrior went into battle unarmed, having sworn never to bear arms against the French after they had released him from a previous period of captivity. Knowing this, we have to ask exactly what Henry VI had been smoking when he chose Talbot to lead his troops into battle against the French? The somewhat unsurprising result was that Talbot was defeated, and in fact he met his end at the battle (in the end he probably wished he had brought his sword).

Today, mention of Château Talbot is more likely to provoke thoughts of the wine’s famed “goût de terroir”, as I heard it described early on in my wine education, rather than this octogenarian soldier. This particularly goût was probably Brettanomyces, something I only realised years later. Thankfully (in my opinion), this problem has been less frequently encountered in more recent vintages from this estate. Looking back through my notes, the last time I made note of any obvious Brettanomyces was the 2006. Perhaps we should be looking at the more modern Talbot with fresh eyes?

The 1996 Château Talbot comes from an era when the estate definitely had issues with Brettanomyces, and indeed I have found very strong indications of contamination in other bottles of the 1996, which I think were purchased at the same time as this one. It is a problem that does vary from bottle to bottle though, and I am glad to report I found none of the telltale horse sweat, barnyard and farmyard aromas here. In the glass the wine has a mature and elegant hue and aromatically it is no less refined. Indeed it is very impressive, presenting a classic, thoroughbred style, with scents suggestive of a mineral ferrite ore, along with streaks of juniper berry and sun-dried blackcurrant skins, all quite pure and unsullied. It is beautifully textured on entry, rather vinous, with lightly creamed fruit, a fine and fresh acidity and a backbone of ripe and sinewy tannins which give the palate a very fine structure. It is filled with energy and vivacity though to the finish, where it shows a quite brilliant, fresh, pure, mineral, lightly perfumed and textural confidence, supported by the ripe but grippy tannins. Overall, this is a hugely impressive wine, a classically poised, pure and imposing example, one which will continue to do well for many years. I suspect it is a wine John Talbot, if indeed he ever had anything to do with this estate, would have been proud of. 17.5/20 (12/9/16)

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