Having considered the 1990 vintage, another important year from this decade is 1996. This was a highly acclaimed vintage upon release, and in particular acclaimed as classic on the left bank, as the ripening conditions and harvest favoured Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the dominant grape for appellations such as St Estèphe, Pauillac, Moulis, Listrac, St Julien, Margaux and the rest of the Médoc.
Indeed the weather conditions in 1996 were perfect for the appellations at the northern end of the Médoc. Following a damp and relatively mild winter, a hot and dry June brought about rapid and uniform flowering, with the resultant expectations of a prolific harvest. Alas the rains in early July and late August changed the position. However, regions further south that did not have as much rain had healthier, concentrated grapes on the vines. A dry and windy September helped everybody.
Harvest of the Merlot from the right bank began on September 16th, and lasted as always for several weeks. Later that month it rained and diluted the harvest somewhat. On the left bank however, conditions were more favorable. There was dry and sunny weather throughout the harvest, which ran from late September through to mid-October.
This, combined with the weather patterns throughout the growing season, meant that 1996 was a year for purchasing left bank wines, and in particular those of the northern Médoc.
This is reflected in current prices. 1st growths of the left bank are selling for four times those of the right bank. That said, even right bank wines from the key properties have trebled in price since release.
Last week at a dinner in London, we were offered the 1996 Ch Leoville-Barton from St Julien in the Medoc. It was magnificent, with powerful complex fruit, wonderful balance and a long juicy lingering finish. It had more than justified the 14 years of waiting, and, released as it was at about $15 a bottle in 1998, it was a quite remarkable investment.