The vintage has over the years been heavily criticized due to its extreme acidity. It is believed that the wine journalists have hyped the vintage to the skies. You would ask the winemakers instead! Probably one of the greatest vintages of all time. Not since 1928 has such a high acidity been seen in combination with high potential alcohol, which should ensure a really long life. Just like 1990, there are examples of wines that are made from almost overripe grapes with lower acidity. These examples show an open oxidative and rounded profile. Otherwise, most 1996s are real child abductions with a biting acid and monumental inherent strength.
We have to look at the weather in Champagne in 1996 for an explanation for this year’s remarkable results. The year began with a dry, cold winter with temperatures dropping as low as minus 20°C in February. Fortunately, this did not cause much damage to the vines, partly due to a strong north wind that circulated the cold air. In April, temperatures rose and reached as high as 26°C and the budding took place in the middle of the month, then the frost hit in early May and also some large, late storms with minus 5.5°C and also hailstorms. The beginning of June was perfect – warm and sunny – flowering started for the three grapes in mid-June. On June 19, a large drop in temperature occurred which held back the development of the vines and resulted in the bizarre combination of precocious growth along with millerandage (small undeveloped grapes in otherwise well-developed grape clusters), especially for Chardonnay. The rest of the summer alternated between periods of extreme heat and heavy rain, with a particularly cold August with northerly winds blowing all season and drying up the grapes. The first weeks of September were perfect with sunny and blue skies and in addition low night temperatures and drying winds. The cold September nights in the weeks before harvest preserved the famous ’96 acidity. The harvest began as early as September 14 in some areas, and continued until mid-October under sunny skies.