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Château du Tertre 1996

Château du Tertre 1996

At occasional intervals this year I have been pulling various bottles of 1996 Bordeaux from my cellar for drinking. This is easier said than done, as gaining access to my cellar currently requires taking a running jump and launching myself head-first over the many boxes piled almost roof-high just behind the door. Each box-leaping Fosbury Flops is a high-risk activity, but these are risks I am prepared to take. You see, I am nothing if not dedicated to the quality of my drinking.

My Bordeaux drinking tends to focus on ‘real’ Bordeaux that must at one point in its life have seemed affordable, which means that super-expensive first growths are largely banished, and super-seconds are increasingly rare. Happily with a variety of wines from the 1996 vintage in the cellar this isn’t a major drawback. This is a wonderful vintage for left-bank Bordeaux, one which at harvest time had the technical directors and their teams, from the northerly reaches of St Estèphe and the Médoc all the way down to Margaux and the various Haut-Médoc communes that skirt the northern suburbs of the city, twitching with excited anticipation. Those who can remember the harvest do so fondly, recalling clean and vibrant flavours within the fruit and the deliciously ripe tannins.

Château du Tertre 1996

There is plenty of bias in Bordeaux (as if you didn’t know). Only a few weeks ago, at the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting of the 2014 vintage, Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier and current president told the attendees (I am paraphrasing – I am sorry I didn’t note down his exact words), “2014 was a great vintage, 2015 is another great vintage, 2016 is a great vintage in the making”. It’s what the gathered proprietors want to hear of course, an example of confirmation bias, but on the side of consumers and critics nobody buys into such early and sweeping predictions. Nevertheless, looking back to 1996, this is one vintage where the early confidence in the vintage has been borne out with time. And this has long been my favourite vintage for current drinking, bearing in mind that most of the decent vintages after 2000 are still too young for my palate (although 2001 is looking good, and I need to check out 2000 again soon), and my favourite vintages from the 1980s don’t feature that strongly in my cellar any more. The crazy thing is, some 1996 prices (including that of Château du Tertre) compare favourably to some younger vintages such as 2009 and 2010.

And so to the 1996 from Château du Tertre. I first encountered this at a 1996 blind tasting when it was still very young (and I was a little younger too!), and I liked it enough to buy a few bottles. In truth I liked all the wines, but found many of those I liked beyond my meagre means at the time, and so I found myself buying those I felt I could afford, i.e. those which meant I didn’t have to default on the mortgage payments on the house I had just bought, and which left me with enough sous to clothe and feed my children. I know, I know, I just didn’t have my priorities right in those days. Never mind. At twenty years of age, this wine now has a confident appearance, with a dark core, and only a thin oxblood rim. It has a gorgeously evolved nose, rather further on than the appearance in the glass would suggest, complex and convincing. There are scents of cooked blackcurrant, admittedly with a calcareous oyster-shell freshness which I tend to find in wines older than this, and tinges of smoky black pepper, rosemary and green olive. On the palate I sense the coolness and freshness of slate, with cherry stone and blackcurrant, pebbles and pepper, charged from beneath with lots of fresh, acid-driven tension. It is long, precise, impressive, energetic and yet it feels largely resolved. Despite the fact the tannins have faded, the palate remains firm, bright and well formed, a feature I admire very much and which seems to go with the vintage. Ultimately, this is a joy to drink, and yet there is – if you have any tucked away – seemingly no rush here. 17/20 (7/11/16)

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