On Wednesday, January 25, 2006, I held what proved to be the first of many annual white burgundy vintage tasting checks at Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles. The vintage for the initial tasting was 1996. We tasted a total of 28 grand crus and premier crus. Quoting from my original notes posted on the Mark Squires Bulletin Board:

This idea was sparked during 2005 as a result of the multiple reports about premature oxidation of white burgundies, particularly those from the 1996 vintage. As promised to many of the people who posted on the lengthy thread initiated by Pierre Rovani on this subject (see http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=162), we decided to comprehensively taste the top wines from each appellation (except Montrachet) from the 1996 vintage in a "working session" tasting in an attempt to get a sense of how widespread the premature oxidation problem is, which wines should be avoided, and how good the vintage really is or isn't.

Thirteen tasters attended, including Jeff Balash, Joel Deutsch, Wesley Jennison, Robert Thornton, Michael Zadikian, Ron Movich and Don Cornwell. Our guests for this evening were: Mike Berry, Greg Koslosky, Steve Matthesen, David Schachter, Christopher Sliney and Paul Wasserman.

The wines were divided into flights based on their appellations. Except for the two initial Chassagnes, the wines were served blind. The participants knew the wines to be included in each flight, but I was the only one who who had a list with the order of serving (which even I couldn't remember without looking at my list.) The order of the wines was disclosed upon the completion of each flight.

Twenty of the twentyeight wines came from my cellar. All but three bottles that evening had been purchased on release and were well cellared in professional storage. The three bottles purchased for the tasting came from sources that we trusted to have well cellared the wines.

We deliberately chose most of the top-rated wines from various appellations (except that I made a calculated choice not to include Montrachets since we have tasted several before and I reported on them previously.) We made no effort to avoid controversial wines. Rather, I deliberately made sure we included most of the wines which have had multiple reports of oxidation in the past just to see for ourselves (e.g. Ramonet Batard, Bienvenues Batard, and Chassagne Ruchottes, Roulot Meursault Perrieres, Sauzet Batard, etc.)

As you'll see below, yes, there were a number of oxidized wines (5 of the 28 by our consensus, or 18%). This percentage is fully consistent with my own experience in the last 18 months with this vintage and the percentage is far, far less than I have heard many people claim (who probably haven't really tasted the wines). However, there were some surprises. Some wines that have been reported elsewhere frequently to be oxidized were wonderful on this night and a couple of wines that I have never seen oxidation reports on before turned out to be oxidized.

As for the overall quality of the vintage, I would have to say that I was extremely impressed with how good the sound wines in this group were. In my view, it is exactly as Allen Meadows said a few years ago, when the issue of premature oxidation first arose, that 1996 had the best overall quality for white wines in the last quarter century. (And yes, it is certainly a shame that one out of five bottles from this group demonstrated premature oxidation to some extent.)

At the end of the evening, I asked each of the attendees to write down their top five wines of the evening and to list their favorite premier cru. Although not all of our tasters gave me their written lists, I have tabulated the votes received and have listed the votes each wine received as well the group's overall top 10 wines of the evening from this voting process.

The food at Campanile was extraordinarily good. After a slip for a few months in 2004 while the restaurant was working through chef succession issues, things seem back on track again and this is once again one of LA's top food destinations.

Arrival Wines-Chassagne Montrachets:

96 Niellon Chassagne Montrachet. Vergers
Light green-gold color; some tropical fruit and honeysuckle aromas; lemon-lime fruit, on the lighter scale, but very minerally; good acid structure; the finish is modest at this point, but this wine clearly needs at least another 2+ years. [N.B. this was the second to last vintage for Niellon's very old vines in Vergers. After the 1997 vintage the vines were pulled out and the vineyard replanted. This has always been Niellon's top premier cru.] (No votes) 92+

96 Ramonet Chassagned Montrachet Ruchottes
Deep gold color; the aromas are peppermint and a lightly toasty, partly oxidized component; this wine is clearly partly oxidized and is far more evolved in the color department and on the palate than it was on the aromas; the flavors come across as very disjointed due to the oxidation. This isn’t much fun to drink, but it is tolerable. (No votes) 83-partially oxidized

Flight One-Puligny Montrachets (all wines hereafter served blind):
Seared Sea Scallop-lentils, chanterelles and aioli

96 Carillon Puligny Montrachet Perrieres
Light green-yellow color; the aromas are skunky, musty and also have some fairly strong SO2. The aromas got a little better with air, the SO2 blew off, the skunkiness mostly disappeared, but the mustiness didn’t go away. We had some question of whether this was reduction aromas rather than corked, but by consensus, this wine was corked. (No votes) DQ-corked

96 Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Pucelles
Light yellow color; some light SO2 and relatively faint citrus aromas; light but very elegant lemon crème flavors with lots of minerality and a definite lattice work structure to that minerality; very long, fruity and minerally finish; extraordinary quality for a premier cru. (Group 7th place: 1/0/1/1/1) 94

96 Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Combettes
Light gold color; some white flowers aromas but marred by a toasty quality which is clearly oxidative in character; bright acidity, very lemony flavors and some minerality, but this is a bit sharp and disjointed on the palate—another victim of premature oxidation.. (No votes) 86-partally oxidized

96 Matrot Puligny Montrachet Combettes
Medium gold color (slightly more advanced than expected); lime and white flowers aromas; bright lemon and minerals flavors but also some distinctly toasty, partly oxidative elements; we all agreed that this wine is partly oxidized and is maturing very quickly. (No votes) 88-partially oxidized

96 Carillon Puligny Montrachet Referts
Medium gold color (a bit more advanced than expected); aromas of honeysuckle and a rich melon like character; bright, lemon-lime flavors with great concentration for a 1er and loads of minerality; very long minerally finish. Based on the balance, this should have a good future, but the color is a minor concern that would make me want to closely monitor its further development. (0/0/1/0/0) 92-Advanced

96 Montille Puligny Montrachet Caillerets
Medium gold color (maybe one shade darker than the preceding two wines); some honeysuckle and pear aromas; bright, lemon and pear flavors, more richness and concentration and seemingly a bit more depth than the prior wines in this flight; relatively mature wine; what really stands out is its minerality—grabs your attention; rich pear finish with decent acidity. Ready to drink now and with the moderately developed color, I wouldn’t forget this in my cellar. (0/0/0/1/0) 91-Advanced

Flight Two-Meursaults: (while the prior flight had a number of disappointments this flight made everybody cheer the vintage):
Butter Poached Losbster-fresh pappardelle and black truffle

96 Lafon Meursault Charmes
Very light yellow color; this wine really smells like limestone and citrus; awesome, bright, citrussy and minerally wine with very distinct minerally structure; very long, mineral and citrus finish. Paul Wasserman insisted more than once that this had to be Meursault Perrieres (and had I been tasting blind I would certainly have agreed.) This is very similar to the last bottle I opened a few months ago—one of the best vintages of Lafon Charmes I’ve ever had. (Group 8th place: 1/0/0/2/1) 94+

96 Coche-Dury Meursault Rougeots
Very light gold color; light lemon-lime aromas with some hazelnut character; another wine with really awesome minerality and very good structure; it gives an impression of great precision on the palate; has good acid structure, but everything is in exquisite balance; very long finish for such a bright wine. Another wine that Paul W identified as a Meursault Perrieres. Michael Zadikian correctly pointed out that this wine is not a premier cru (it was a bonus wine from my cellar), though it certainly performs as well as the best of them, and Coche-Dury's plot within Rougeots is particularly well situated. (Group 4th place: 1/1/1/1/1) 94+

96 Pierre Morey Meursault Perrieres
(Paul W noted that there was some slight seepage on this bottle, but the wine had a very good fill level. Probably an overfill situation. From Robert Thornton's cellar-imported by Premier Cru.) Light gold color with some greenish edges; lemon-lime and white flowers aromas; very bright, high acid wine which is loaded with minerals and some lemon-lime fruit; everything seems more or less in balance, however this wine comes across as very young, almost backward; this should have a great future. Needs several more years. (No votes) 92+

96 Matrot Meursault Perrieres
As great as the wines of this flight were, this left the rest eating its dust; brilliant light yellow color; very minerally, limestone and citrus aromas; very bright, light but incredibly powerful minerally flavors which blossom out just a little to some nice lemon-lime fruit on the back half of the mid-palate; despite its power, this is also supremely elegant. In this vintage, this could easily be mistaken for Chevalier—truly awesome 1er. (Group 6th place: 0/1/1/2/1) 95+

96 Roulot Meursault Perrieres
(Paul W says this bottle also had some evidence of seepage under the capsule—from my cellar-purchased from Haskell’s in Minn. about 8 months after release). Light, very bright yellow color; white flowers, fresh lime and minerals on the aromas; very good acidity—many years to go here; another wine of hugely concentrated minerality with some underlying fresh lime flavors; the lime continues in the finish with yet more minerality. (No hint of oxidation here in any respect—somewhat to my surprise given the prior reviews) (Group 9th place: 0/0/1/1/0) 93

Flight Three-Bienvenues and Batard Montrachet:
Seared Kanpachi-fresh uni and kefir lime

96 Ramonet Bienvenues Batard Montrachet
Light, bright yellow color with some greenish tinges; peppermint and honeysuckle aromas; very bright, lemon-lime flavors with some light earth and minerals; extremely elegant, sophisticated and layered mid-palate; awesome wine. (A very pleasant surprise since there are many reports of oxidized bottles of this wine.) (Group 5th place: 0/2/1/1/0) 95+

96 Lefaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet
Very light yellow color; quite forward honeysuckle and pear aromas; very bright, minerally flavors; quite elegant and a distinctly lacy lattice-like structure to the minerality on this wine, but it also has less mid-palate fruit and less richness than the Ramonet. (0/0/0/0/2) 93

96 Ramonet Batard Montrachet
Full blown mature gold color reminiscent of a 15-20 year old white burg; honeysuckle and honeyed pears aromas; slightly sweet, overripe pears and slightly honeyed tones; clearly oxidized but not yet undrinkable; also has high acidity; very disjointed with the high acidity and advanced fruit flavors. (No votes) 83-partially oxidized

96 Sauzet Batard Montrachet
Light gold color; forward, ripe pear and minerals aromas; pear flavors and very elegant minerality yet good richness; lots of minerality on the finish. An awesome wine. No hint of oxidation on this wine, yet it is more ready to drink than the other grand crus. (No votes) 95

96 Jouard Batard Montrachet
Very deep golden brown color; oxidized sherry-like aromas; fino sherry flavors—clearly gone and undrinkable. (No votes) DQ-oxidized

96 Niellon Batard Montrachet
Light yellow gold color; forward, slightly botrytised pear aromas and a little degree of toast; bright pear and minerals flavors; the acidity here is pretty high and this comes across as very slightly disjointed on the mid-palate. The finish is lightly fruity, but pretty tart. (Given the prior very laudatory reviews, this wine had a somewhat disappointing showing. On the one hand the very firm, slightly backward structure suggests further improvement is possible. On the other hand, I worried a bit about the very light toasty character in the aromas. Difficult to assess this, but as it has had some great reviews and I already own it, I will err on the conservative side and retaste it in a few months.) (Group 10th place: 1/0/0/0/0) 91?-Advanced

Flight Four—Corton Charlemagnes
Braised Pork Belly-apple salad, grilled bacon lardoons, marcona almonds and blue d’auvergne

96 Jadot Corton Charlemagne
Light gold color; musty, corked aromas. (Strangely, one person in our group voted this wine third.) (0/0/1/0/0) DQ-Corked

96 Delarche Corton Charlemagne
Medium gold color; rich, pear pastry aromas; bright, very minerally, citrussy Corton flavors with lots of swell in the mid-palate and a nice finish. This wine is very enjoyable now, but will probably hold well due to the bright acidity. (N.B. Like the 1995 Delarche, this wine was stellar) (0/0/0/0/2) 94

96 Faiveley Corton Charlemagne
Light yellow color; very forward, slightly candied pear aromas and a little beeswax; rich,pear and tropical fruit on the palate, a little nutty also; quite fat, rich and minerally with good acid balance; a bit unusual, but very pleasing. (0/1/0/0/0) 93

96 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne
Because I was taking very detailed notes, I got to this wine a half hour plus after everyone else did, and by then it had really opened up; it had the most amazingly perfumed nose of the night by far—white flowers, a hint of pear and peach, and some mineral aromas—positively ethereal and amazing – later a tiny amount in the glass came across absolutely huge and practically exploded out of the glass (N.B.Writing at that point in somewhat of a stream of concsciousness vein, I actually wrote down “holy shit this is awesome” in my original notes); rich, almost fat, elegant pear and tropical fruit flavors with an extremely long , fruity but minerally finish. The best white burgundy I’ve ever had. (Group 1st place: 5/1/1/0/0) 98

96 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne
Very light yellow color; pear and lemon oil aromas with some minerality; very minerally, light but highly structured flavors; this has a good degree of elegance and subtlety; very long finish-comes across almost fat and full of minerals. Enjoyable now and will hold for years. (0/1/0/0/0) 92

96 Latour Corton Charlemagne
Light yellow color; pear and minerals aromas, but on the lighter side; bright, light, and elegant earthy-minerally flavors with a hint of lemon crème; long minerally finish. Seems to have some upside potential. (0/0/1/0/1) 93+

Flight Five—Chevalier Montrachet:

Sauteed Wild Salmon-roasted shallots and brown butter

96 Georges Deleger Chevalier Montrachet
Light yellow gold color; light citrus and minerals aromas; very bright, sweet green apple flavors with brilliant yet ripe acidity; obvious power and concentration and a huge spiney structure to this wine; very long, long minerally finish. Lots of upside for this wine. (Group 2d place tie: 2/1/1/0/2) 95+

96 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Demoisselles
While the bottle last July was positively forward with incredible aromas seemingly bursting from the glass, this wine was quite backward by comparison—color falling between light and medium yellow gold; spicy, white flowers and citrus aromas; concentrated, but tight pear and fresh lime fruit. This came across years younger than the bottle last July. Big upside here. (0/0/0/1/0) 94+

96 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet
I didn’t get to this wine until nearly 11 p.m. after most of the others had left. Light yellow color; forward, pear and minerals aromas with another hard to identify but quite pleasant fruit ester; extremely elegant, bosc pear and very minerally flavors; there is acid here, but everything seems quite well integrated and almost seamless; very long, subtle, citrus-infused minerally finish that was incredibly long-it went on for well over a minute. Wow. (Group 2d place tie: 0/3/2/0/1) 97

Cheese Course

Postscript stats and comments:

Favorite 1ers of the night: (1) Matrot MP (4 votes); (2) Leflaive Pucelles (3 votes)

Corked= 2/28 (7%)
Oxidized=5/28 (18%)
Advanced=3/28 (11%)
Total advanced plus oxidized=8/28 (29%)
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Don Cornwell