1996 White Burgundy Revisited

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Last week, Johnny and I were invited to a 1996 white Burgundy tasting hosted by Graham Nutter, the owner of Château St. Jacques d’Albas in the Minervois, who is a huge Burgundy collector. When first released, the 1996 vintage was highly appreciated. It offered excellent acidity (20% higher than 1995) and fruit focus which was qualified by Wine Spectator as “excellent” and displayed “clean, clear, pure and vibrant fruit”. Besides these balanced characters, it also was prolific producing good quantities. What makes 1996 more controversial is that this was the first vintage where drinkers began noticing premature oxidation in the wines throughout the various communes and from various producers. The jury is still out on the reason why. Most likely it is a combination of reasons but lower free sulphur levels seem to be a major culprit. As a result, both Johnny and I were keen to see how some 1996s had develloped.

As to be expected, it was a mixed bag. Some wines were still impressively young displaying very few aged characteristics while others were very disappointing, deep in colour and nutty on the nose.

Here are the wines we tasted with brief notes showing their development.

Chablis, Les Clos Grand Cru, Louis Michel – Though not oxidised, it still displayed some aged characteristics and disappointed those tasters who knew the Domaine. Its palate offered cut straw, almond and a slightly cloying candied quality. It lacked the depth of the Dauvissat but still offered very good, crisp acidity.12/20

Chablis, La Forest 1er Cru, Dauvissat – A very good wine that was still wonderfully youthful. Quintessentially Chablis, it was full of lemon sorbet, minerals and (slightly less traditional) toasted brioche. Its acidity was almost searing but its concentrated flesh balanced it out beautifully. One of the best wines at the tasting. 17.5/20

Nuits St Georges, 1er Cru, Arlot – One of the rare Côte de Nuits whites, this wine surprised many tasters. We’ve carried multiple vintages of this from Arlot over the years and this 1996 showed particularly well. It was the favorite wine of the evening for some of us. Still quite youthful, it offered ripe pear and toasted spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. Wonderfully vibrant acidity cut through all the flesh. Very appealing. 18/20

Meursault, D Lafon – This wine displayed some oxidation on the nose with some less appealing aromas of orange and strawberry jelly. On the palate, it was notably concentrated yet the slight oxidation resurfaced making it fairly unappealing and cloying in the end. It was a shame really as the potential was still there. 14.5/20 (flawed, but moderately worthy score due to intensity)

Meursault, Coche-Dury – Very tight and youthful on the nose with notes of toasted popcorn (high quality oak) and pretty floral/mineral notes. Poised and pretty, it did not have the same high acidity as the Lafon but had a wonderful delicateness and elegance with more refinement and absolutely no oxidation. Notably pure. 18.5+/20

Meursault, Génévrières 1er Cru, Latour-Giraud – Tight and smoky with slight notes of sous bois and mushroom. It was broad and meaty on the palate, typical of Meursault. It was still moderately youthful, but lacked the focus and intensity of others and finished moderately short in comparison. 17.5-/20

Chassagne Montrachet, Les Chaumes 1er Cru, Verget – Unusual nose of dying flowers, butterscotch, lees and pear drops. On the palate, it showed more oxidation yet with a bit of flesh was still trying to hang on to its youth. 12/20 (flawed)

Chassagne Montrachet, Boudriotte 1er Cru, Ramonet – This wine was the most unusual of the tasting which displayed pronounced medicinal like characters similar to Deep Heat (!). It was even more flawed than the Verget. Again, a disappointing display which suggested better quality in better times due to its excellent concentration. 11/20 (flawed)

Puligny Montrachet, Clavoillon 1er Cru, Dom Leflaive – A really enjoyable wine with youthful candied fruit flavours that were further enhanced by leesy, toasty notes. On the palate, it was more attractive with a wonderfully rich core that further displayed ripe pear and piercing acidity. Very intense with a long finish. 18.5/20

Puligny Montrachet, Perrières 1er Cru, Carillon – This had been poorly stored which was a shame as the wine showed no signs of pre-mature oxidation but was slightly unclean with slight notes of mushroom and earth (dodgy cork). Despite it being somewhat dirty, it still had good concentration and lots of freshness. 14.5/20 (flawed)

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Bruno Clair – The finale wine came as a disappointment. Bruno Clair’s 96 was clinging to its non-oxidative past and despite some more oxidative aromas did display glimpses of youth. On the palate, it was mouthfilling and crisp, but nonetheless disappointing with its aged characters and shortish finish. 14/20

For those of you who are seeking additional information on this subject, I came across an interesting site which might be useful – http://oxidised-burgs.wikispaces.com/.