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“The elegant, moderately weighted 1996 Cheval Blanc reveals a deep garnet/plum, evolved color. Quintessentially elegant, with a complex nose of black fruits, coconut, smoke, and pain grille, this medium-bodied wine exhibits sweet fruit on the attack, substantial complexity, and a lush, velvety-textured finish. It is very soft and evolved for a 1996.” -Robert Parker, Wine Advocate (90 Points)
Whether by design or by pure chance, there are in the world exceptional places. Cheval Blanc is one of these. Combining a unique soil with a symbiotic mix of grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Cheval Blanc produces a wine, which has the rare quality of being good at any age. It is without doubt one of the most consistent wines in the world. Cheval Blanc's unique identity is due to its varied soils, early-ripening microclimate, the percentage of Cabernet Franc in the vineyard, and the close proximity of the finest wines of Pomerol.
Château Cheval Blanc has the rare ability to be good at whatever age. It is enjoyable young or as much as a century old in certain vintages. However, a great wine only reveals its full potential and all its subtle nuances after several years in bottle. It takes time to show its true colours and before reaching its peak. Every vintage of Cheval Blanc is made according to the traditional philosophy that great wine needs to age.
It should nevertheless be said that wines with ageing potential go through several periods, and that each one has its own type of attractiveness. This is all part of Château Cheval Blanc's fascinating complexity. Three different bottles of Cheval Blanc from the same vintage drunk at five, twenty, and forty years of age will each show a different facet of the same wine, variations on the same lovely theme. A bottle of fine wine meant to age is like a library of flavours that develop throughout its existence.
Wine is a "cultural" beverage that is very much alive and develops countless nuances over time. That is why this long waiting period needs to be respected. It is crucial to the wine's evolution, so that it can deliver its very best.
1996 vintage. Moderately mild, wet conditions marked the months of April and May. While June started in clement conditions, the weather cooled down in the middle of the month, although without rain. The first ten days of July were cool and rainy,giving way to very hot, dry conditions from the 11th onwards. August was irregular for rainfall, but still good on the whole, with cool, dry weather settling in at the end of the month and until 25th September. Then came some lovely sunny days with cool northerly and easterly winds driving away the clouds and bringing with them some chilly nights. Showers and variable weather dominated from 25th September to 5th October. With a change in weather conditions announced, harvesting started on 23rd September and finished on 4th October. Quality of the Merlots was uneven, although some very good batches were picked on the 23rd and 24th. The Cabernet Franc were harvested from 28th September to 4th October and were excellent. They dominate in the blend of the 1996 vintage, with 56% balanced out by 44% of Merlot
The 1996s stand as a “classic” Bordeaux year, although – as Jancis Robinson MW has written – not in the “skinny” sense; although Farr Vintners’ director, Tom Hudson, told the drinks business that it was perhaps a “very good” rather than a “truly great” year as it wasn’t uniformly excellent across the region.
By way of a recap, 1996 was a particularly sterling vintage for Médoc wines. The Berry Bros & Rudd website extolls: “This is one of the great post-war vintages for Médoc Cabernet-based wines. They are rich, complex and beautifully balanced wines, packed with ripe, pure fruit and have the structure that will allow the top wines to age well into the next decade and beyond.”
The Right Bank by contrast are described as “distinguished” but “overshadowed” by the ‘95s – which was an especially good vintage for Saint Emilion and Pomerol.
It was also an excellent vintage for white Bordeaux.
Robert Parker’s scores tend to favour the Left Bank, though a few of the very best wines of the Right Bank received very respectable reviews as well.
Only two wines received 100-points: Lafite and Latour, Margaux was rated 99, Léoville Las Cases 98, Ducru Beaucaillou 96 and Pichon-Comtesse 96.
La Mondotte was the highest rated Right Bank wine on 97-points, Ausone was the next best rated on 93 as was L’Eglise Clinet, while Gomerie, Petrus and Le Pin settled for 92 and Cheval Blanc for 90.
With the passage of nearly 20 years, the wines have naturally appreciated and now that they are well into their drinking window demand will almost certainly begin to push prices up even further for the most in-demand among them.
The figures are often impressive, to date Lafite has seen a rise of 657.9% since its release, its second wine Carruades is up 592%, Latour has risen 437%, Petrus 400% and Pichon Baron 240%.