1996 Napoléon Champagne Œnothèque
Score: 93+/100 points
Champagne Napoléon has been making sparkling wine since 1825, from “the best chardonnays from La Côte des blancs and pinots noirs from la Montagne de Reims”, both of course being the best two sub-areas of the Champagne region, France.
The Napoléon Champagne trademark was registered in 1907.
Only the best years are selected for making Napoléon’s vintage Champagnes. An only the best vintages are kept for ageing for decades in the house’s cellar forming the “Œnothèque”, the Maison’s private reserve in other words.
Here is how Johan Jarry, Cellar Master at Napoléon Champagne describes what is the concept behind and the wines coming out of the Œnothèque:
“Oenotheque is both the heart and the mind of the House.
Heart, because it represents the passion of our leaders for each vintage. Mind, because each cuvée has been precisely elaborated to transmit Napoléon style. It was consistent with that principle that I wanted to give access to some bottles from our Oenotheque Napoléon. Having the possibility to discover the expression of these amazing wines, with the surprising maturity between freshness and evolution showed by the impact of time.
The development of tertiary aromas, the last steps of the yeast autolysis and the controlled oxydation are some elements giving a specific evolution to the Champagne.”
Learn and read more on champagne-napoleon.fr
About Vintage 1996 in Champagne
To understand what the vintage 1996 was like, here are the harvest book notes about it, written by Mrs. Prieur, owners of the house:
“In autumn 1996, the harvest reunited everything to give a future great harvest supplying a future great vintage. The weather was favourable during the grape harvest. The sugar-rich grapes and high acidity of the musts allowed a balance worthy of the best vintages. It is the security of future excellent Vintages which will cross the millennium.
Vintage 1996 has been sold for the first time in 2007, during our Centennial celebrations. Lieutenant Colonel Thierry Delavaux welcomed us in the Republican Guard for the occasion.”
1996 Napoléon Champagne Overall Review Notes & tasting Impressions
This 20+ year-old Champagne, aged at the house’s cellar on its lees for over two decades, features an intense shiny golden color filled with delicate amber hues. Just from looking at it, you know you are not with your everyday Champagne here, but with a wine of History.
The nose captures your attention straight away, boasting captivating notes of beeswax, honey, pine resin warmed up in the sun, as well as enchanting floral notes of lily and elderflower.
It’s both intense and subtle to smell at, at the same time in some surprising fashion.
Intense nutmeg-like spices, white pepper and walnut dominate the aromatic profile, while an ocean of elegant fruity notes make the sniffing experience fascinating to the careful taster: blond raisin, dried mango and pineapple, touches of lifted passion fruit, apricot and much more.
You just want to take a sip and discover more of what this rare Napoleon Champagne has to hide… or reveal!
The palate is bone-dry with a sharp but precise acidity, zingy minerality coming through. Clearly, we are here with a dominance of fine Chardonnay on great terroir (the Cotes des Blancs in fact, the best chalky terroir for Chardonnays in Champagne). Clearly also the house has made a point not to force on the dosage, keeping added sugars to a minimum and let the wine speak for itself. Good move!
The crystalline acidity that drives the tasting all along the experience, from start to finish, is indeed well rounded up by a delicately oily texture, just enough for a fresh and vibrant yet pleasant balance.
As the Champagne warms up on your palate, it exalts an explosion of floral notes, on the dried flower side, like the most delicate potpourri you’ve ever smelt, or like a delicate fragrance, including the subtle musky feel to the background.
The sultanas and fresh apricot though, together with an outstanding sense that you can still taste the grapes themselves after 20+ years of ageing, make for a rare impression: that you are tasting a fresh and vibrant wine still, yet one that’s acquired the depth of its age, many layers and interesting facets.
A wine you could spend many minutes, hours perhaps if you had enough of the wine, to analyze the many sides of, to discuss with fellow connoisseurs, and more importantly, enjoy…
The freshness, acidity and vibrancy that is unique to Champagne, augmented by fruity, tropical and sunny expression of an elegant fruitiness, deepened with spices, waxy honey and subtle nutty characters from the decades of ageing.
Somewhat, 1996 Napoléon Champagne Œnothèque stands somewhere between a Chablis, a Puligny, a Sauternes, a Jurancon and Grand Cru Riesling, all packed up in a single wine! Augmented of course with the zinginess and the bubbles we love in Champagne.
In the end… simply, a fascinating and long-lasting impression it is tasting such a Napoléon Oenothèque Champagne….