Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

The Magnum Society of Wellington was established 35 years ago.  It is one of the country's more serious wine societies, and runs formal and often blind documented tastings about 10 times a year.  There is a primary focus on the classical wine styles of Europe.  There is some food after tastings,  but it is a secondary consideration.  

On May 27 I was invited to share in a tasting of half a dozen classed Second-Growth Bordeaux from the 1996 vintage.  This is a year usually seen as being in the more classical claret style,  not quite as opulent and full-bodied as the 1995 wines,  a cabernet year more than a merlot one,  so maybe a touch of austerity.  That could make one reflect that increasingly,  the traditional claret style appears out of step with current preferences for round rich accessible wines.  A tasting of carefully-cellared wines such as those documented below can therefore seem welcome relief,  at least for tasters of an older persuasion.  
The wines had been decanted several hours previously,  so I cannot comment on the specific need for breathing.  It is safe to assume that all would benefit from some air.  In general,  the wines had reached an harmonious stage in their evolution,  and are now embarked on their plateau of maturity.   Cepage details below are generalised for the vineyard,  from Robert Parker's standard reference work Bordeaux,  not actual for the vintage.


1996  Ch Cos d'Estournel
1996  Ch Leoville Barton
1996  Ch Leoville Las Cases
  1996  Ch  Montrose
1996  Ch Pichon Baron
1996  Ch Pichon Lalande

1996  Ch Leoville Las Cases   19 +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 65%,  Me 19,  CF 13, PV 3;  up to 20 days cuvaison;  up to 20 months in French oak;  no filtration ]
Ruby and velvet,  marginally the deepest and most youthful of the six.  Bouquet initially is on the burly side,  but with more air opens to reveal a marvellously complete claret,  the cassis of cabernet sauvignon and plum of merlot in good balance,  plus almost a suggestion of blackberry (+ve,  but very ripe).  Bouquet as a whole is moving into the secondary stage of developmental complexity,  with in addition to the fruit notes,  much dark tobacco,  and lovely cedary oak.  The whole bouquet is warm and inviting.  Palate is rich,  ripe yet lovely natural acid,  gentle alcohol,  with a complexity and integration of berry,  tobacco and oak that lingers superbly.  A stylish beautifully balanced claret,  rich for the year.  This was the favourite wine,  for the group.  Parker considers it: the quintessential St Julien … one of the great modern-day wines of Bordeaux.  Cellar another 10 – 20 years.  GK 05/07

1996  Ch Pichon Baron   18 ½ +  ()
Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 60%,  Me 35,  CF 4, PV 1;  up to 17 days cuvaison;  up to 18 months in French oak;  no filtration ]
Ruby and velvet,  markedly older than some.  Bouquet is a bigger and browner affair than the Las Cases,  with obviously rich fruit in which merlot is showing more than cabernet at present,  and all enveloped in noticeable oak which some tasters found to be a bit on the charry / chocolatey side.  Palate is rich and very bottled-plummy,  oak and tobacco notes developing,  almost some suggestions of Pomerol rather than Pauillac,  all lingering delightfully in the mouth.  This seems as rich as the Las Cases,  a big wine for the year,  which will cellar another 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/07

1996  Ch Pichon Lalande   18 ½  ()
Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 45%,  Me 35,  CF 12, PV 8;  up to 24 days cuvaison;  up to 20 months in French oak;  no filtration ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second lightest.  This wine is simply classic west bank claret on bouquet,  very fragrant indeed,  both cassisy cabernet and plummy merlot jostling for prominence,  plus beautifully dark tobacco and cedary oak all building complexity.  Palate is not quite as rich as the top two,  the cabernets increasing in prominence now,  but still all beautifully ripe and balanced.  There is no hint of the leafyness this chateau sometimes displays,  given its higher percentage of petite verdot.  Model classical claret,  to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/07

1996  Ch Cos d'Estournel   18  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 60%,  Me 38,  CF 2;  up to 21 days cuvaison;  up to 18 months in French oak;  no filtration ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second deepest,  one of the younger-looking wines.  Bouquet is a little leaner than the top wines,  as if cabernet sauvignon were dominant,  high cassis,  clear tobacco,  a faint thought of leafyness.  On palate cassis continues,  beautifully cedary oak,  thoughts of Pauillac initially (in the blind tasting).  As the wine rests in mouth,  there is still tannin to lose,  and just a hint more leaf – that is being very critical.  Though good,  it does not have quite the same poise and rich ripeness as the top three.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/07

1996  Ch  Montrose   17 ½ +  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 65%,  Me 25,  CF 8,  PV 2;  up to 25 days cuvaison;  up to 18 months in French oak;  no filtration ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is fractionally less lovely on this wine.  There are still the basic building blocks of cassis,  plum,  tobacco,  and oak,  but there is both a leafy note,  and a little brett complexity.  Palate therefore seems a little shorter,  and total acid fractionally higher than the more highly-rated wines.  Cassis / cabernet is dominant,  but the leafy note grows on palate,  with some stalkyness to the finish.  Yet with food,  tasters later commented that the freshness was excellent,  showing why the relatively light classical Bordeaux style has for so long been regarded as a great food wine.  So it is still delightful claret,  but with some St Estephe austerity showing through.  Cellar to 10 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 05/07

1996  Ch Leoville Barton   17 +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ cork;  CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8;  up to 21 days cuvaison;  up to 20 months in French oak ]
Ruby and velvet,  the lightest,  but not the oldest of the six.  Bouquet on this one is a little more old-fashioned,  with good berry,  much dark tobacco,  a suggestion of leaf,  but all a little more rustic with a light brett component.  In mouth,  the leafyness grows,  the berry showing quite a tannic edge with a stalky note more noticeable than Montrose,  which shortens the flavour.  It thus shares some qualities with the Montrose,  but the Barton is more 'furry' and rustic.  This may be drying in another 10 years, so cellaring 5 – 8 might be wiser.  GK 05/07