The 1996 La Mission Haut-Brion is an improvement on the previous vintage, though it remains a couple of steps behind the high point of the decade, which came two years later. This is quintessential 1996 Pessac, featuring scents of warm gravel and scorched earth on a nose that might be classic to some, but a bit dour to others with a penchant for more hedonistic wines. It’s a structured 1996, drier and more austere than the 1998, but there is good grip and delineation, if maybe just a little leafiness toward the finish. Over the years I have found a bit of bottle variation, and this example falls between the best and worst. Overall, I expected more given the vintage. Give this a couple of hours’ decanting. Tasted at the Vinous 1996 horizontal at Berry Brothers & Rudd.
Anticipated maturity: 2021-2040
Robert Parker 88
Tasted at the château, the 1996 La Mission Haut Brion does not quite deliver the sense of “confidence” on the nose exuded by the likes of say, Château Margaux or Château Lafite-Rothschild. There is quite a marked Asian influence here and at 20 years old there is that conspicuous soy-like accent that permeates the red and black fruit — red plums and a touch of orange blossom. There is something sedate about the aromatics, perhaps reclining too much in its comfy armchair. The palate is slightly better than the aromatics with fine tannin, though there is still some hardness here, a little static. This is a resolutely foursquare and conservative La Mission Haut-Brion that certainly lacks the depth and density of the best 1986s, partly because there is more Merlot in the blend (61% with 39% Cabernet Sauvignon). There is something … anachronistic about this La Mission, a vintage I feel that is surpassed by many others conjured by either Jean-Bernard or Jean-Philippe Delmas. File alongside the 1996 Cheval Blanc as “could have done better.” Tasted July 2016.
Anticipated maturity: 2016-2030
50% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon. Looks more evolved than the Bahans. Wonderfully round and developed and subtle. More subtle than La Mission with a drier finish. Chewy end still there – and in with a fight. This does not seem to have fully unfurled yet and should make a great wine eventually. Putty and minerals. Still quite tight!
Anticipated maturity: 2012-2030