On the plane ride back home from France, I was reflecting on the extraordinary job Xavier Borie, his brother Bruno, and their father Jean-Eugene, have accomplished in both the 1995 and 1996 vintages. At Haut-Batailley, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, and Ducru-Beaucaillou, they have produced 1996s that are the finest wines since 1982. I had all three wines on three different occasions during my two weeks in Bordeaux, and the resulting tasting notes were identical. At Ducru-Beaucaillou a second wine has now been introduced, and, as Xavier Borie said, a new chef de culture, who was hired in 1993, has done wonders in the vineyard, and proved to be adept at working well with the cellar people. Where do I start describing Ducru-Beaucaillou's 1996? In a year that produced wines with high tannin levels and very ripe Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, Ducru-Beaucaillou's 1996 is undoubtedly a classic. The wine exhibits an opaque, dense, thick-looking purple color, an already complex, huge nose of flowers, minerals, and enormous quantities of black and red fruits. An important indication of the fruit's high quality in 1996 is the fact that this wine reveals no evidence of oak cask aging (it spent 3 months in primarily new oak) because the fruit is so powerful and deep! While Ducru is less massive than its more virile sibling, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, it is a gorgeously rich, layered, multi-dimensional wine that coats the palate with flavor, yet never comes across as heavy or intrusive. The acid, alcohol, and tannin mesh beautifully with the wine's framework. This will prove to be one of the most profound wines ever made at Ducru-Beaucaillou, possibly eclipsing the 1982. The bad news is that this wine will require 8-12 years of cellaring. Anticipated maturity: 2006-2030.
This extraordinary wine may be the greatest Ducru-Beaucaillou I have ever tasted. For now, let's call it the finest wine made at this estate since 1982. Moreover, it is developing in such a manner that it may even eclipse that renowned vintage. The 1996 boasts an opaque black/ruby/purple color, as well as a glorious, complex nose of lead pencil, licorice, weedy cassis, and subtle pain grille notes. Exquisite rich fruit is presented in a medium-bodied, undeniably elegant yet gloriously intense, pure format. The wine, which coats the palate with glycerin and intense fruit, displays a floral quality that suggests both blueberries and blackberries in its flavor profile. There is copious tannin, but it is largely overwhelmed by the wine's glycerin, fruit, and overall presence in the mouth. The 1996 Ducru-Beaucaillou is a surreal beauty that should age effortlessly. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2030. It should be obvious to readers of my preliminary reports on both the 1995 and 1996 vintages that the family of Jean-Eugene Borie produced some of the greatest wines ever made at their respective chateaux - Ducru-Beaucaillou, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, and Haut-Batailley - in both 1995 and 1996. That has been confirmed once again in the bottled 1995s, and in the evolution of the powerhouse 1996s.
I tasted the 1996 Ducru Beaucaillou on four separate occasions from bottle in January. The 1996 is long, with a deep mid-palate. It also reveals tannin in the finish. This wine is remarkable. It is muscular, concentrated, and classic. Bottled in late June, 1998, it exhibits a saturated ruby/purple color, as well as a knock-out nose of minerals, licorice, cassis, and an unmistakable lead pencil smell that I often associate with top vintages of Lafite-Rothschild. It is sweet and full-bodied, yet unbelievably rich with no sense of heaviness or flabbiness. The wine possesses high tannin, but it is extremely ripe, and the sweetness of the black currant, spice-tinged Cabernet Sauvignon fruit is pronounced. This profound, backward Ducru-Beaucaillou is a must purchase. It will be fascinating for readers who own the 1996 to follow the evolution of this exceptional vintage. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2035.
The 1996 Ducru Beaucaillou was picked from 23 September until 8 October, a blend of 25% Merlot and 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has evolved a very pure bouquet, almost Burgundy-like, with macerated red cherries and red plum, tobacco, leather and bay leaf. This 1996 seems a little more forward than others, perhaps more 1995 in style, but it is bestowed one of the most seductive and sensual aromatics of the vintage. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin, crisp acidity, moving firmly into secondary stage with hints of leather, game and allspice. This is a Ducru Beaucaillou that has resolved to give pleasure at 20 years and not sooner. Hints of Hoisin develop on the finish with Chinese Five-Spice and leave you wanting more. Enjoy this now and over the next 15-20 years. (Incidentally, Bruno Borie poured another bottle that had been decanted and it was astonishingly different. The decanted version, perhaps against expectation, seemed firmer, sharper and more masculine, more "1996" if you like, perhaps revealing the true Ducru Beaucaillou.) Drink: 2016 - 2040
Non-decanted sample: Very dark crimson with age on the rim. Very mature, warm tar sort of nose. Fully evolved, quite bloody raw meat-like nose. Furry tannins on the finish. Decanted example is rounder though still with the slightly burnt note. Serviceable but lacks a bit of freshness. Strong mineral element with some richness. Quite tight at the moment, but lighter than the 1995. Drinking dates 2010-2020
Full colour. Quite closed on the nose. Very very concentrated and profound. On the palate marvellously ripe, concentrated, rich,classy fruit. Excellent grip. Very sophisticated tannins. Full body. Complex and intense. Very, very well balanced. Very lovely.Drink 2008-2040
Instantly recognisable by its sunny Mediterranean-hued label,Ducru Beaucaillou is always a favourite amongst wine aficionados. Owned by the Borie family over the last 60 years, it has been run by Bruno, the eldest son of the late Jean-Eugène, since 2003. This change in leadership seems to have had a positive effect in all vintages since. Like certain other châteaux in Bordeaux, Ducru carries out cold macerations during their vinification process, a technique in which grapes are steeped in their own juice at low temperatures to gently extract vibrant colour and fleshy fruit.
St Julien is like the middle child of the Médoc - not as assertive as Pauillac or as coquettish as Margaux. It lies firmly between the two more outspoken communes and as a result produces a blend of them both. St Julien's wines have often been sought out by aficionados for their balance and consistency, particularly in the UK. Yet due to its middle child nature, it can occasionally be overlooked globally and as a result underrated by those markets outside the UK. Despite the fact that it has no first growths, it has several second growths including Léoville Las Cases, Léoville Barton, Léoville Poyferré and Ducru Beaucaillou as well as the celebrated châteaux such as Talbot and Beychevelle.