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La Mission Haut Brion is situated in Bordeaux' southern suburb, Talence. From 1919 and until 1983, it was Woltner family, who had owned this property. Under Woltner's reign, La Mission Haut Brion experienced one of its greatest period with string of fine vintages and was considered then as fully on the level with First Growths and sometimes even better than these. In 1983, owners of Haut Brion purchased La Mission Haut Brion and today its Jean Philippe Delmas, who's responsible for this property.
La Mission-Haut-Brion's vineyards (Cabernet Sauvignon 48%, Merlot 45%, Cabernet Franc 7%) lie on a large (up to 18 metres deep in places) gravel bank interspersed with clay. The wine is fermented in temperature-controlled, stainless steel vats and then matured in oak barriques (100% new) for 18 months. The wines of La Mission Haut Brion are rich, oaky and powerful and need at least 10 years of bottle ageing before they should be broached.
The climate of 1996 was mostly characterized by its great irregularity. Except for a few days in July, there were no long hot periods. It began to rain rather late in August. The first half of September was temperate but it rained all the time during the second half. Altogether the summer was average with a few nice intervals.
The land that makes up the Château La Mission Haut-Brion estate was donated in 1664 to the congregation of the Lazarites or Prêcheurs de la Mission, established by Saint Vincent de Paul. Appropriated by the government during the Revolution, it was sold in 1792. There were many changes in ownership, until the Woltner family bought the estate in 1919. That family, especially Henri Woltner, built the reputation upon which the wine still stands. The family retained ownership until 1983, when the estate was purchased by its famous neighbour, Château Haut-Brion.
La Mission Haut-Brion had been Haut-Brion’s only serious competitor for the title of the best wine in Graves. Many wine-lovers around the world feared that the characteristic differences between these two neighbouring wines would fade once they were produced by the same winemaker, the brilliant Jean-Bernard Delmas. Luckily they need not have feared, as both wines still number among the best in the world, but are separate and individual.
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%.