Monday, 18 July 2016

Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay. A mini vertical, 2010-2013...

Not long ago I did a tasting at 67 Pall Mall of Eleven 2013 Chardonnays from around the globe and the standard, as the blog suggests, was very high.

When the chance came round about 2 weeks later to do a Skype Chardonnay Master Class tasting with Stephane Vivier, winemaker, of Hyde de Villaine, I was very keen. Hyde de Villaine owes its name to the coming together of two great names in the wine world: Larry Hyde, celebrated Californian viticulturist and Aubert de Villaine, best known as co-gérant of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Aubert’s wife Pamela is Larry Hyde’s cousin. The estate as a whole, across it's five wines, only makes 4000 cases.

This specific tasting covered the 2010-2013 vintages. The wines are made in a lovely blend of styles between the Californian and Burgundian. This is not to say they aim to make Burgundy in California but they interpret things that way. For those who fear big and oaky Chardonnay there is no need to worry - this only sees one year in barrel, of which only 20% is new (the rest is mix of 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill), before 3 months in stainless steel prior to bottling. The Chardonnay comes from 10 different parcels which are in turn from 5 distinct blocks. The vast majority was planted in 1979. The site is 35-40 miles from the bay and typically sees fog in the mornings. There is a small amount, only 5%, of a "second" Chardonnay released as "De La Guerra Chardonnay". So, to the wines:

Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2010 - The second and third weeks in September saw quite a heat spike in what had already been a warm vintage. The wine exhibits an oily richness, some brioche, full, quite rounded and opulent, perfect now but no mad rush. 17+

Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2011 - No heat spike here, the latest picked of all the Chardonnays they have made, October the 4th. Cool, lovely minerality, citrus, some saline too, white fruits and a splendid long finish. 18

Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2012 - A really "easy" vintage, consistent conditions. This makes me think of a combination of 2010 and 2011. Floral but with more richness. 17.5+

Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay 2013 - The 2013 vintage is, climatically, the very best since 1974 with richness from a good amount of drought, just the right amount of stress you see, cool ripeness and great acidity. This has an easy citrus backbone, expressive yet streamlined at the same time. Difficult not to drink it now but will repay patience very well. Very impressive. 18-18.5(+)

On this last point Stephane remarked how the wines age superbly, clearly he is biased, but a recent tasting at the estate went back to the early 2000s and all the wines were in great shape.

The estate's own website is a good one especially the interactive map.

I have always loved showing this Chardonnay and the same estate's Merlot/Cab blend ("Belle Cousine") blind and will continue to do so. Superb wines at prices that compete with anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Conterno...tasting and dinner

With Roberto Conterno coming to London next week and the new releases about to be offered I felt I must get this blog posted. The visit took place back in mid May.

There is no estate that I visit to taste more often than Cantina Giacomo Conterno in Monforte d'Alba. It is a place I get very excited about every single time. The wines are wonderful and I always learn a lot. I am biased of course but I think it is the same for almost anyone who visits, My trips there from the following years are documented here 201120122013 and 2015). If you search "Conterno" on here you get rather a lot of results!

The tasting was, as is usual, of the wines about to hit the market:

Barbera Francia 2014 - Full crimson colour to the edge, deep at the core. Rich and full dark cherry nose with stones, minerality and a saline edge that is not quite as marked as usual for Francia, very good nose, all round balance. The tannins are delicious and moreish this is a brooding wine but not a heavy one, the fruit lifts on the finish to an almost cranberry freshness. I wonder how Roberto does this every year. 17.5+

Barbera Cerretta 2014 - Half a shade lighter in colour than the Francia but essentially very similar. The nose if more lifted, more obviously fruity, more opulent may be. The fruit character is redder, strawberry and raspberry but actually deeper than either of those fruits suggest. The palate has a tang to it, moreish tannins. This, as usual, has more approachability and lift than the more serious Francia. 17.5

Before moving on to the 2012 Barolos, Roberto thought it would be useful to taste the Barolo Francia 2009 as he sees similarities with the 2012's.

Barolo Francia 2009 - Colour is lightening more than evolving, a lovely hue. There is a touch of red strawberry fruit then more floral notes before a little iodine and some good, ripe grip. Drinking well but obviously no rush at all.

Barolo Francia 2012 - There will be no Monfortino from the 2012 vintage (as was the case in 2007, 2009 & 2011) so the botti that would have been Monfortino (there is a section about Monfortino at the very bottom of this post) has been blended into the Francia (this happened back in January). Lovely bright and complex colour. Ever so slightly muted just now but a lovely red fruited sweetness comes through behind, very fine. Tobacco leaf and tea then appear, a little leather also. The palate is then more fruited again but with good, proper tannins, mellow but persistent. The overriding impression is of a wine in balance with gentle fruit and a lovely complexity of silky tannins. 18-18.5+

Barolo Cerretta 2012 - Paler in colour but only just, more obviously fruited and lifted, strawberry leaf. This is a wine more easily understood by the uninitiated Neb-head (as us Nebbiolo fiends are sometimes know). The texture is deeper the fruit is more pronounced and therefore the tannins less obvious. There is a real freshness and a certain rich elegance. It's quite a wine, a perfect foil to the classicism of the Francia. 18+

We then moved on two taste two more wines.

Monfortino Barolo Riserva 2010 - this is a possibly the most eagerly awaited Italian wine release of all time. I have now tasted it three or four times with equally profound results. There is impeccable balance incredible poise and an almost effortless weight to the wine...Very exciting and now in bottle.

Barolo from Cascina Francia vineyard 2013 - With the final decision on this wine not yet made it was great to taste the 2013 Francia or to give it it's correct name, Nebbiolo di Barolo Francia. It was a vibrant and expansive nose, rich, opulent and bold. There is iron and a grainy saline elegance to the texture...quite something.

It is always a special cellar in which to taste...

Each year in the evening before or after tasting we have a dinner with Roberto and his assistant Stephanie. We usually go to one of the lovely local restaurants - which were the inspiration for most of the meals we had during this epic trip - "Foxes behind ears". This year though was different as we ate a wonderful meal at the Cantina with Roberto, family and friends. A real honour.
Standing in the kitchen while Meyumi prepared the dinner and gave us amazing pizza and cured meats we started with Gaston Chicquet 2007. Not a wine I know but the Italians love Champagne. This was bright, clean and nicely focused, a dash of yeastiness, worth seeking out. Then a wine I know rather well - Salon 1995 - this is really in the zone now from bottle, toasty, refined with lemon shortbread and mellow fruits, just lovely. For white we went to a bottle we had sent ahead - Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Folatieres 2009, Domaine Leflaive - a little reduction but essentially a generously fruited Puligny which is true to the vintage without being too much.

Now time for the reds, all of which Roberto decanted delicately just before serving. First up - Barbera d'Alba 2001 - I have tasted this before but never drunk it. Barbera at this age is interesting. A tiny bit of iron and iodine, stones, savoury blacker fruit and richness but not heaviness. Now a wine I have been lucky enough to have had a few times - Barolo Cascina Francia 1990 - soy, ginger, bacon fat and a little creosote, delicious. Sweet decay with some good volatile life. There is a sense of teriyaki flavours and a little Bual Madeira. Decadent and lovely. It sounds silly to say that this has a real "1990" feel but it does, so many 1990s are generous and decadent, this is just that.

Monfortino Barolo Riserva 1985 - a wine I think I have only had once and then from magnum at this tasting - Monfortino magnum Monday 1970-2006Tiny bit of orange to the rim here, this is a mature wine but has a lovely sweet decay about it, a wine with tea character and super poise.

It had been quite a night. Having had a massive meal of wonderful dishes and so much great conversation we headed back to our lodgings, the unique Le Case della Saracca - if you find yourself in Monforte you must stop by, great rooms and a terrific bar where we had one last drink Barolo Chinato, Dr Giulio Perin (who owns the Saracca) made with Nebbiolo from Conterno Fantino. I am a big fan of Chinato!!
At the bottom of this post I have put three exerts from a recent offer I wrote, they might be of interest.
A word on corks
Monfortino – What is it? What is next?
The previous releases - When, how and what to drink now?
On getting back to London the following evening I then had a dinner at Kitchen W8 with a customer and friend. Kitchen W8 I think is as good a place to go as anywhere to enjoy food and wine, they have a great attitude to corkage as well as a good list. They will easily tweak things for you, we had three bottles and wanted two starters and two mains, they adjusted portions a bit (not too much thank fully) and it was a very enjoyable evening.
Salon 1983 - This is fully mature and deliciousness, a little orange rind and zestiness with a hint of mellow ginger too.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkap 2003 - I love this wine and would never have it as a 2003 served blind. There is warm vintage richness but nothing that doesn't suggest it is refined and will age very well.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 2005, Rousseau - I am very lucky in so much as I get a fair bit of exposure to the wines of Rousseau but Clos de la Roche I know less well. This is quite brooding but not a waste to have this early, quite rich it got better and better with air. The fruit is a little darker than the CSJ would be.

A cracking evening!
EXERTS form a , soon to be released, Conterno offer as mentioned above.
A word on corks:
The words “perfectionist“ and “fanatical” are amongst the most overused in the wine world but both apply here to an extraordinary degree. You could, literally, eat your dinner of the floor of this winery. In fact I would if only Roberto would allow it! When the topic of corks arise with Roberto there is always something new to discuss. He just does not accept that corks should be less than perfect. In fact one of his favourite phrases is “with my wines you are not opening a bottle of Barbera or Barolo or Monfortino you are opening a bottle of “CONTERNO””. It is a point made with no wink or half smile, it is heartfelt. The corks are of the same standard in all the wines.  More and more the great producers say “you don’t ever negotiate prices with cork suppliers, you get what you pay for”. All these corks are inspected by an optical sorter with the view to answering two questions; 1) is the cork good enough? If yes, then on to question 2, if not the bin. Question 2) which is the better end? The vintage is then laser etched on the “lesser” end so the perfect end faces the wine with no etching having been added. I have video evidence should you require it.

Monfortino – What is it? What is next?
I am often asked how Roberto decides whether there will be a Monfortino in a given year and where the wine comes from. Monfortino is a selection from the Cascina Francia vineyard based on the absolute quality of the fruit. It is not a specific site though there is of course significant crossover from one Monfortino to another in terms of the area used. There is always an initial intention to make a Monfortino. The large barrels (botti as they are called) that are selected to be “Monfortino”, and it may be one (usually), two, or more that are then tasted as time passes and if they are significantly high in quality and, importantly, significantly different in character from the Barolo Francia then a Riserva Monfortino will be bottled. The ageing for Monfortino is 5-7 years, in other words 1-3 years longer than for Barolo Francia. If the Monfortino is not to be made separately then it is blended in with the Barolo 6 months to a year before that is bottled. Recent vintages where Monfortino was not made – 2012, 2011, 2009, 2007 and 2003. The only time, to date, when there has been a Monfortino and no Barolo Francia was the 2002 vintage, a very small vintage but one where, against the odds, the quality was superb. The next Monfortino to be released will be the 2010, this time next year. Arguably the most eagerly awaited release ever from the region, it is a wine I have tasted several times from botti and which lives up to all the hype that surrounds it.

The previous releases - When, how and what to drink now?
Barberas – I feel that in most vintages the Barbera wines show best in the 4-8 years window. They become more savoury over time and continue to age (a recent 2001 with Roberto was superb) but as you would expect have a less defined character. The 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages are very good now. As these are unfiltered and Barbera is a thicker skinned grape variety I would recommend decanting 15-30 minutes before serving.

Barolos – The warmer years drink very well when younger and served a shade cooler (14-15 degrees). The vintages I would put in this bracket are 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2011. These will all improve but are ready to drink. I recommend continuing to cellar the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 vintages. Those wines from 2001 and before are ready to drink though 2001 and 1999 are still youthful and evolving gracefully. Sediment is less of an issue than with Barbera so I would either allow the wine to breathe standing up with half a glass removed (and drunk!) or decant gently before serving. I far prefer the wine to evolve in the glass so, personally, do not advocate extended decanting though some people do.

Barolo Riserva Monfortino – Monfortino is a wine with a vast drinking window, one of the most long-lived of all wines. The youngest vintages that I feel are drinking well now are 1997 and 1998. I would never put someone off drinking a younger vintage as the enjoyment of watching a wine develop, bottle by bottle from youth to full maturity is one of the real joys of wine. Younger vintages will require more time in decanter, I recommend 1-2 hours. I would decant mature vintages but as with the Barolos above not for extended time so the wine can evolve in glass.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Boats, bottles, tides and pirates...

So, first things first, this was a master class in belligerent organisation. Getting this motley, yet ever so lovely, crew together is never easy. Peat did a great job. The plan, which largely came to fruition, was meet in Henley at the Riverside then lunch at The White Oak at Cookham before a trip up the river then supper and home or bed! In some ways a little like the Rousseau at Riverside post from last year.

The cast:
Irish Peat - the host, organiser and all round good egg.
Halifax - excitable northerner with great cellar, even if he didn't know the vintage of the wine he produced.
Ronaldinho - another northerner, epic cellar, usually found telling inappropriate jokes or smoking cigars. 
Chewy - wine merchant, top chap, not wearing the bow ties of old but still laughing very loudly.
Woo - wine merchant, mellowing yet opinionated chap, love him.
 - Tides - (the newest nickname) - young father, lacking sleep passionate anecdote teller and very good at telling taxi drivers to "put their foot down" whilst snoring at the same time.
- Myself (Young Will) - scribe, drinker and slightly (unless you ask my wife) OCD travel coordinator.

So with a quick half of beer negotiated it was time to get cracking, first up was Gosset Celebris 1990 from magnum which had been released for the millennium rather than being the 2000 vintage which it's kind provider thought it was. This was lemon like with a biscuity side but nicely mellow, just perfect now to my taste. A good bit of saline zip. It drank well as an aperitif and when we returned to it later. Latterly a bit of apricot and more roundness came out…a splendid start.
A lone white was poured next. Most of the wines at lunch were blind for a bit while we had a chat about them. This turned out to be Livermore Valley Chardonnay 1995 from Kalin Cellars. Just released and just shipped, very much a new producer to me. It was smashing, ginger and richness on the nose with a mellow palate, some good oxidation and botrytis. This all sounds a bit much but it wasn't at all heavy, generously open and bang on right now.
The next wines were a pair - Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champgains 1990  and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes 1990 both from Domaine M.Niellon but only the second one was served blind. Amazingly these were the first bottles from a case of each. The Champgains was initially quite reduced and very "rural" but with air it became brilliantly focussed and pure showing nothing like 26 years of age. Saline and slate-like, to me this could have been Grand Cru Chablis. Then to the Chenevottes which was blind, Tides got his nickname here as he compared the wine with being at different stages of the tide…(yes I know!!)…The Chenevottes was more mature, bready and a little more toasty, waxy even. The palate more generous but not as fresh, responses were mixed, I liked it. Always fascinating to see two wines separated only by site.
Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2007, Domaine F.Raveneau was the bottle "Tides" now presented as he tried to regain any glimmer of respectability. In fairness this is some wine. I love Raveneau and have drunk my share BUT this is the first Grand Cru I have had. Halifax described it as "hermetically sealed". It did demand time as it was coiled tight. As the wine lost its chill over the next hour it revealed startling poise and drive, verve, electricity. Very fine. If you're lucky enough to own it just leave it for another 4+ years.
So to red wine! Served blind side by side we had: Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2007 from Chateau Rayas (twice) and Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru 2006 from Domaine de Romanee Conti. As if the line up of producers was not incredible enough already. We actually had two bottles of the Rayas. Bottle one, which just got my vote (if that were necessary) had a beautiful lavender and fennel unctuously superb decadent nature, raspberry and sweetness, ripeness too. An intense and delicious wine, young yes but infanticide? No. The second bottle, most of the gangs minor preference, was more powerful, more succulent and a little more classically Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Either way both were stunning. The Grands Echezeaux offered what Chewy termed "florality". Soft and supple while obviously young this had a lovely warm vintage breadth with floral elements and spice. A long life ahead, as with the Rayas but no crime to drink it now and my notes say the last large mouthful was "delicious"…as lovely as it was generous of our host...
As a certain sense of "this is fun but let's not overdo it" or "marathon not a sprint" sentiment crept in we had on more bottle. Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Maltroie 2012 from Domaine B.Moreau et Fils was a delight, young but very much balanced (not all 2012's are in my view) and showing a sort of 2010 like purity, very balanced and very nice, good gentle use of oak.

The team at The White Oak had done a really good job - recommended!

Cabs were ordered and "Tides" started to wonder how he was going to leave before dinner as he had planned…back at the riverside we grabbed some reds and my blind fizz and got in amongst the regatta, almost literally.
The blind sparkler of which I write is Wiston Blanc de Blancs 2010 a wine I really like, their Rose is spectacular too and I don't really "do" Rose (wine for the indecisive you see). This is mellow with apple fruits, a little toast and nicely refined.
The other "on-board quaffer" was a couple of bottles of Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffonts by Domaine H.Lignier. This is quite high octane, good saturated darker fruit and a savoury side, drinking now but made to last as well I feel, a touch of Iodine, there is a little structure that still needs to resolve but ultimately very good. It brought on a fit of piracy as we were beckoned to the shore by a group having a bit of fun in a marquee on the riverside.
Once we had made it ashore we were treated to a glass of Sparkling Saumur (no photo- apologies), although Chewy and Tides found some beer (possibly a wise move). As the party  looked in a minor state of implosion we got back on board the boat and headed for base camp.
Pre-dinner was, of course, Salon 2004. This is opening up more and more over the short time it has seen since release. There is a marked salty-ness to this vintage, Salon never lacks for precision but this was a superb glass (and Zalto universal works very well for this). It'll be fascinating to see how it ages alongside the 1999 and 2002.
I am not sure I have had many 1979 whites, if any. Meursault-Chevalieres 1979 from Domaine Rene Monnier was a wonderful mature bottle, my little note book simply says "under-ripe toffee apples and apricot, just instantly delicious, opulent, late picked? Crisp on the palate, not OTT, lovely, zip is there". This was the first of Woo's two whites, what followed is Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Caillerets 1986, Domaine Bachelet-Ramonet. This was not as opulent or overt but more restrained, more classical. Superb balance, fully mature but not even a shade over mature, the reduction left as the wine saw air, just lovely.
What had turned into something of a Chardonnay Master class saw no signed of abating as we now had Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 1988 from Domaine Ramonet. This was Ronaldinho's bottle to complement the pair of Niellon's earlier. My notes get less readable from here, this had the signature stem ginger that Ramonet so often does, this same group actually had this wine a year or so ago at the Double Birthday Bonanza. It's a joy of quality with the near perfect balance between the maturity and richness and the savoury freshness. 
Richebourg Grand Cru 1999 from Domaine A.Gros and the only Bordeaux of the day - Chateau Latour 1970were next as we devoured a terrific Pie having put the fish broth to bed!
Proper supper!
The richness of the Richebourg was the perfect foil to the iron like classicism of the Latour. The fruit profile on the Gros wines always seems that bit darker and richer, wines that age on their savoury edge. The Latour was just so Pauillac with richness but no sense of showiness. It was a very good phase for Latour from what I have had. Just a lovely pairing.
Now it is a rarity if Mr Rousseau doesn't get a good airing with this host and we were in for a treat next with two bottles of Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 1993. As a vintage it is a joy to drink now, a little like the 1991's and the sort of vintage that 2001 has a good chance of becoming, the profile is so fresh and just so "Pinot". This Beze managed to be both fresh and red fruited but serious at the same time, a wine with a real lift and profoundly enjoyable even with so much wine in our bellies!

And that, as they say, was that, the northern contingent hit the sack and the Londoners jumped in a cab…these gatherings are what it is all about, great fun, great friends, great wines…memories…onwards...Booked that yacht yet Nobby?

Some of the Lunch dishes
Barley Risotto - delicious
What a load of old "Pollocks"

Saturday, 9 July 2016

The only people anywhere....

Yesterday's lunch at 67 Pall Mall had been in the diary for a little while and was always intended as a day ending luncheon. Mr Magnum, RMW and myself each produced a couple of bottles. Blind to a varied degree.

We started with Taittinger 1992 "Art Series" a wine I have heard of once but never experienced. A little more information can be found here - Taittinger Collection. The series was conceived in the late 1970s by Claude Taittinger. A long time lover of the arts. In 1983, Champagne Taittinger introduced the first rendition, a special bottle with a laser-sealed sheath that visually expresses the artist’s concept of the magic of Champagne. The artist in 1992 is Matta. The Taittinger Collection wines are released only in great vintages, from a selection of the year's finest cuvées. The wines are made from Chardonnay mainly from the Grands Crus of the Côte des Blancs, and Pinot Noir from Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne. So it does not clash with the
 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs from the very same house. This was rich and incredibly vinous, a good, mellow but persistent mouse there was a toastiness as well as a savoury yeasty element with green apple acidity to stop it being too weighty. RMW set the tone with the phrase "if gold had a flavour then this is it"! What a unique start…

Time now for some white wine having ordered our food. Once we new what this was - Meursault Santenots 1er Cru 2000 from d'Angerville we reckoned that we were probably the only people anywhere having this combination of wines this year and we were only two bottles in…Served blind (although embarrassingly we had been told a few days earlier what it was but had lost the ability to recall it). There was a good stink of reduction at the start that made me think of serious Burgundy then as this passed and a richness of fruit came through I was was in the Rhone with rich aromatics. It then changed again and became far more mineral and stoney, like very good Chablis, clearly little or no new oak at all, delicious. The only other time I have had this as a mature wine was the 1990 during this dinner - Clos des Ducs 1920-2002. A real treat. 
Next - Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Cuvee Duvault-Blochet 1999 from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti - served blind and it was a star from the moment it hit the glass and continued over 2 hours or more to excite and amaze. It is so glorious when a bottle sings it's very best tune - this was just in the moment. The DRC 1999's (and I am hideously biased) are supreme. This was so poised and fine but at the same time decadent with layer upon layer of fruit and delicate persistence revealing itself. A marvel and a very generous one. It is always special to have  bottle of this wine and this was the first "modern" vintage of it.
Now time for my pair - Barolo 2005, Bartolo Mascarello and Barolo Cascina Francia 2005, Giacomo Conterno - I have had these together a few times. I love how they both outperform the slightly tricky vintage and show two different sides of the traditional School. Conterno is about "single site" and Bartolo about blending sites. Neither is right or wrong. Again I have bias. The Bartolo is a rich more velvet textured and darkly fruited example, the Cascina a shade more driven and focussed, more savoury, less extrovert with that telltale salinity to the fore…they were fascinating to follow.
Then for what was supposed to be our last bottle, Poggio di Sotto Il Decennale 2001, essentially this is a Brunello Riserva that could not be name as such as it, in theory, did not have enough colour back at release time to be deemed a Riserva…what a load of nonsense. This must have gained colour, as if that was ever a good justification. A lovely, still rich but ready, wine with poise and a delicate bruised dark fruit aroma…lovely. Having had the Brunello normale in St.Emilion as well this is such an estate to watch (not that this is news).

It was Friday and not even 4pm yet so Mr Magnum decided, as he does, that another bottle was crucial. Not just any other bottle either, served nice and cool and growing in stature and depth the Musigny Vielles Vignes 2001 from de Vogue was quite something. The old adage of "the iron fist in a velvet glove" is a good one with this vintage now. There is a core of rich almost ferrous fruit and depth but with enough flesh to make this obviously a very fine bottle now. Delicious.

The UK may not be quite were we want it at the moment but with a lunch like this the world seems a better place…bravo chaps and thank you!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A "1996" dinner…two decades on

A note came round, a couple of months back, about the idea of a dinner to drink some 1996's. The logic (as if one is needed) being that for the majority of those who might come along would have started in the wine trade around the time that the 1996's, in most regions, were released. We ended up as eight people which is probably a good number for sharing a bottle. I did a brief sum and recon we had about 150 years of wine trade experience amongst the group. For another version of events have a look at this blog from a regular vinous sparring partner of mine, the often contrary Mr Fowler - Vinolent.
The venue was the, always good, Medlar Restaurant which does good wine service and is open to these sorts of evenings in the spacious room upstairs. Several of this group had been involved in the below dinners and tastings before.

So 1996: I was half way through a Sport Studies degree and already with Mrs H, it was a good year from memory. Winewise it is one of those vintages that seemed to be good everywhere. The point of difference from other "all rounder" vintages like 2001 and 2010 is that in 1996 the Champagne was top notch which certainly can't be said of 2001 or 2010.

The Menu, well what I chose, is below:

Crab Raviolo with Samphire, Brown Shrimps, Fondue of Leeks and Bisque sauce

Rump of Lamb with Gnocchi, Pied Bleu, Wild Garlic and roasted Baby Gem

Cheese - comte

Chocolate Pave with milk ice cream, peanut brittle and salted caramel

The format: Wines were served blind, mostly in pairs chosen by the sommelier. The fact that we knew the vintage highlighted to me that when I taste blind I try to assess age first, of course rather pointless in this scenario but almost unavoidable.
Having just mentioned Champagne that was were we started with two superb and wonderfully contrasting wines. Bollinger Vieilles Vigne Francaise Blanc de Noirs 1996 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1996 were both exactly as you might hope from a Blanc de Noirs and a Blanc de Blancs. The Bollinger, I'd never had VVF before and may never have it again, was the drier and more intense of the pair, nutty with a saline and sherried character, it reminds we of top notch white Rioja in the fruit character but then has a classy texture and gorgeous mousse, this is a serious wine. The seriounesss of the Bolly is contrasted by the openness and easy enjoyment of the Comtes. This is less dry, more floral and a little more citrus, delicious. The Bollinger continued to evolve in glass and to me is a food wine. The Comtes slid down a treat. It was a fabulous pair to kick off with.
Only one white Burgundy showed itself which I guess is understandable. The one we had was Meursault Tessons 1996 from Pierre Morey, the bottle was in good shape. A lovely nose of reduction with a little ripe citrus in the background gave way to a more unctuous and slightly less refined palate but still a good one. This was in great shape for what it is, technically at least, a village wine albeit that Tesson is a pretty top end Lieu dit.
The second white we had was a unique bottling - Pinot Gris Hommage a Georgette Trimbach 1996 from Trimbach - which I have not managed to find out a lot about but can only imagine was a one-off tribute to the named. This was good, certainly not bone dry. The fruit character was apples, pears and a little apricot to start that then as air got in there there was a definite lychee character. This was delicious with that typical Alsace Pinot Gros character of weighty spice. A flexible wine to serve at almost any stage.  
We then had the first of several full on pairs of blind reds. First we were in Burgundy via a conversation where we tried to convince ourselves we might be in the northern rhone.
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras 1996 from Ghislaine Barthod was a little stalky with a note of cheesecloth maturity. This is a quite stern wine, not offering flirty Chambolle fruit, more like Gevrey in character. It was good but possibly a shade lean. The other wine was Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1996 from Grivot, this was richly pungent and much more dense, a good example of Clos Vougeot character. A shade reduced but in a good proper way. A nice pair without either suggesting, as seems to be the case, that there is a lot of sweet fruit about 1996 red burgundies.
Bordeaux was always going to figure strongly in this tasting. The next pair turned out to be Ducru Beaucaillou 1996 and Leoville Barton 1996. Sadly the Barton was the only bottle on the evening that was not quite right. It was not corked but was very muted and a little metallic, a shame as it's a good wine when bang on form. The Ducru was very good, rich, full, quite lush and juicy, a little volatile (no bad thing in my book) and with a good bit of Iron to it. It tasted how I imagine the Ducru's made today will taste which is good. I was a big fan.
Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 went up against the Flor de Pingus 1996 that I took. This was an interesting pairing the Dalla Valle was/is not an estate I know at all. The wine was bold, quite glycerol without being over the top, an edge of tarry savoury character. The Flor was a better balanced  wine (the general view, not just my bias) with a little more poise, nobody got it as Spanish. I have had it a few times before and since and it's a lovely wine.
And so to our last pairing. I think consensus had it that Pichon Lalande 1996 was the wine of the night. So classically left bank in nature, gunpowder, dark fruits, some saline and lovely deep but balanced texture. The wine it was "up against" was the Dunn Vineyards Howell Moutain Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 which had a deep power about it some of the tar of the Dalla Valle as well as licorice and a slightly syrupy feel. It was good and would have been all the more lovely if not up against the powerful grace of the Lalande.
Whilst we had a nice squabble over the wines we drank a bottle of Latour a Pomerol 2009 which slightly suffered by comparison with more mature wines but is good from the previous tastings I have had if not quite at the level of the 2010. In fact 2009/2010 became one of the main discussion points. All in all, and from this small sample, 1996 remains a good all round vintage for the serious wine lover.

I just want to thank everyone for their generous bottles and Mike for organising the evening so well. What next?
A "must have" - the Crab Raviolo with Samphire, Brown Shrimps, Fondue of Leeks and Bisque sauce