Close Menu

Fine wine in focus: 1996 Bordeaux

Almost 20 years old now the 1996s have climbed solidly in price but some have gone further on weaker laurels than those whose promise was noted at an early age.

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%.

Of 100 wines whose stats Liv-ex supplied to the drinks business, 74 have seen price increase of triple digits. It should be noted too that most of the 1996s were not overly affected by the collapse of the market in 2011.

Lafite alone has suffered a rollercoaster of a secondary market ride. Released at £950 a case it continued to build up steam until it peaked – along with the wider fine wine and Asian bull markets – at nearly £15,000 p/cs in early 2011, a full 1,457% above its release price and since then has declined to £7,300 p/cs even if that is an appreciation of over 600%.

Highs and lows

Big percentages evidently draw the eye but there are some which are not quite as big as perhaps they might be and some which are, or at least appear to be, bigger than they should be.

Particular standouts are Pavie, Margaux, Léoville Las Cases and Eglise Clinet.

Pavie stands out because, by most reasoned accounts, it shouldn’t have done that well especially having only been given 84-86 points by Parker – hardly a sparkling score.

The fact it has appreciated of late is almost exclusively down to the wider success of Pavie on the secondary market in recent years – particularly post its elevation to “A” status in 2012.

As Martin Buchanan, head of private clients at Armit, told db it’s a case of a wine “being traded on current not original reputation”.

In total it is up 444% since release, coming out at £235 p/cs (back in heady 1997) and now available for £1,280. However, looking at Liv-ex one can see that it is only in the last five years that the ’96 Pavie has really taken-off, rising 63% and is outperforming the other three listed wines in terms of performance although it has declined 3% in the last 12 months.

More confusing is that three wines with much better scores haven’t gone as far as they might have.

Let’s examine Margaux first of all, a 99-pointer, that has gone up 168% in price from £1,200 to £4,300. Not a particularly poor record but a little low when compared against its 2000 vintage, which, by virtue of getting 100-points, is already £2,000 a case more expensive.

Then onto Léoville Las Cases, one of the vintage’s top-scorers with 98 points, which has managed a 100% increase from £900 to £1,808 p/cs. Again, not abysmal but how does a top second wine nearly 20 years old with 98 points still remain so….affordable? Its 2000 vintage also has 98-points and is £2,050 p/cs.

Then again, LLC tends to be “one of those” Bordeaux estates that no matter how highly rated it is never seems to grip buyers to such an extent that its prices become headlines.

Léoville Barton is another case in point from this vintage. Rated 92 by Parker – as good as Le Pin or Petrus – it has only gone up 89% from £395 to £750 p/cs.

Buchanan suggests there’s less of a “vogue” for Médoc properties beyond the first growths, while Hudson adds that LLC was meant to be the “wine of the vintage” and has suffered for not getting the 100-points so many thought it would.

Finally Eglise Clinet, one of the better Right Bank wines of the year and rated 93 by Parker it has only gone up 22% from £900 to £1,100 p/cs.

It is down 27% over the last five years and is being outperformed by the lowly Pavie. Admittedly, it and Margaux are doing better over the last six months.


Leaving aside the notion of “what it all means” (nothing probably) it is interesting to recall that the 1996s were, arguably, the 2010s of their day.

To begin with the 1996s were extremely expensive for the time. £950 for a case of Lafite appears almost laughably cheap now but the 1995 came out around £200 cheaper and the 1990 came out at £400 a case.

The three under-performing wines in question were among the most expensive releases of the 96s. Eglise Clinet was £900 a case on release, LLC £900 (50% more than Haut-Brion released at £600) and Margaux was the most expensive first growth that year at £1,200 a case – only Petrus and Le Pin were more expensive overall.

Although in the long run this hasn’t detrimentally hampered their appreciation, wines that start out expensive can take some time to build up a head of steam and even then might not go anywhere even with a good rating – châteaux and investors take note.

This is probably were Margaux hamstrung itself, with 100-point Lafite (£950) and Latour (£1,050) both coming out cheaper and creating a “no-brainer” situation for buyers and indeed investors for, lest we forget, it was in fact with the 1995s and 1996s when the investment game began to take off.

Secondly, the 1996s were released onto a wine market about to collapse – and was probably the straw that broke that particular camel’s back.

Just like the 2010s, the 1996s were an attempt to capitalise on a surging Asian market though in their case it was Japan not China and just as they came out the market crumbled – though the lull wasn’t as lengthy as the four years the fine wine market appears to be emerging from now.


As usual, however, one of the greatest underperforming wines from 1996? A Sauternes, Yquem in this case.

Given 95-points by Parker it released at £1,325 a case and has appreciated just 2.3% since then to £1,355 – although it has also declined 17% from its peak in the last five years.

Nonetheless, the 2000 vintage with just 90-points still costs £2,100 a case and that’s after declining 6.7% from a release price of £2,250.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No