The ability of Champagne to age effortlessly is a subject of unending fascination. Expert Michael Edwards recently attended a tasting organised by BI Wines in Hatton Garden, where he was able to get to grips with some 1996 Champagne. Luckily, there were also some 2006s on hand for comparison. So has time been kind to the 1996s, now 20 years old? And how do the relatively youthful 2006s compare? Read all 21 reviews below...
10 years apart: 1996 Champagne & 2006 Champagne
This proved to be a fascinating occasion to taste some of the most prestigious vintage Champagnes in the world and see how they are developing. The two vintages in question proved different in important respects.
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2006 – Seesaw weather
2006 was a year of mixed but lucky seesaw weather changes. A rainy, rather sunless late spring was not a good start, but at least there was no frost. The sun eventually put his hat on for a fine flowering (15th – 18th June). A sunny, hot July triggered some serious hail storms; vineyards untouched by the hail benefited from the heat, sowing the seed of fine ripeness to come. The growers though, started to worry that they could be facing another torrid vintage like 2003. Yet as is so often the case, August was cool with important rainfall.
Early September saw the return of fine weather that accelerated sugar levels and the harvest was sunny and warm. Overall 2006 is a charmer of a vintage, quite open, with fine ripe Pinot Noir leading the charge. It also has a freshness and elegance missing in a lot of 2005s. Total acidity is a bit low, and the best wines benefit from perhaps higher proportions of Chardonnay and the use of some non malolactic fermentations to preserve crispness, verve and tension.
1996 – Topsy turvy summer
The 1996 vintage is in many ways a striking contrast – a troubled flowering, then a topsy turvy summer of veering rain and heat. September saw further serious rain from the 12th – 20th, followed by sunny days, a dry north wind and cool nights. It’s said with hindsight that a lot of producers picked a week too early.
Initially, 1996 was hailed as one of the greatest vintages of the 20th century, on a par with 1928. But that judgement is being modified by the best Champenois themselves. There are, to be fair, some truly great 1996s of assertive driving character. However there are others, in a general overview of the vintage, where the bouquet is ageing rapidly while the palate is still fiercely acidic and likely to become loose and ragged, as they age further.
Like the straight vintage Henriot (always among the best, and best value, '96s) the prestige Enchanteleurs is very much in
Lovely, latently generous yet fresh Cristal...
Restrained lemon gold colour and a lovely helix of tiny bubbles. Fresh citrus and red stone fruit scents.
Classic aged Dom Ruinart nose - toasty, not yeasty, in the house's reductive style.
This is a handsome yellow-gold colour with hints of bronze. Still fresh and vigorous yet with a ripe acidity.
Beguiling complex colour of twinkling green/gold lights. Inimitably Krug, masterly blending.
The colour at 20 years is reassuring in magnum, a slow unhurried green-gold evolution with no dark spots...
Vivid rosé with salmon hue. A soaring whiff of mature but subtle Pinot Noir; fraises de bois and mulberry.
This perfect south-facing vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Ay is a fine ambassador for 2006...
Generous fruit from the weathered chalk site is enhanced by a bright acidity, triggering mineral complexities.
One of the better '96s, still with everything holding together despite a challenging vintage...
Still pale yellow with shimmers of green. The aromas are tight, green apple ceding to lemon and grapefruit...
Stylish glittering pale gold with tiny flowing bubbles. Chardonnay scents lead into citrus fruits with floral lilac and snow drop
This single-vineyard, pure Pinot Noir is made in a very adult subtle style...
Summery scents of hawthorn, lilac and spiced lemon. A violet tinged mouthfeel with flavours of pear, mirabelle and a touch
Marked gold-bronze hue; surmature fruit aromas, soused cherry, peach confit.