The 1990s was not an especially exciting decade on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. After 1990, which was exceptional everywhere, 1996 was a late picked success for Cabernets in the Médoc but was merely good on the Right Bank.
But the Right Bank (and Graves) got their own back in 1998 with what I recall Château Pétrus’ Jean-Claude Berrouet describing as “the best Merlot I can remember” (and his first vintage happened to have been 1964 – perhaps the previous best Merlot year). A few days later the Médoc's Cabernets were hit by incessant harvest period rain.
So, the decade of the ‘90s is book-ended by two universal stars – 1990, and 2000 – and it is generally those vintages that we remember most. It’s easy – it was all good, and for the most part still is. But it's those two localized stars – northern Médoc in 1996, and the Right Bank (and Graves) in 1998 that I prefer.
The 1998 Right Banks had fallen into the shadow of that ‘universal’ 2000 for another reason – the style of the vintage. The summer of 1998 was cool (July) and then hot (August), but was also very dry, ripening and concentrating the small berries while also shutting off vegetative growth. Low yields (30-35hl/ha typically), a fine September, and a low solids/juice ratio from small-sized, thick-skinned berries meant deep-coloured, ripe wines of high intensity and tannin. In comparison the 2000 vintage was far more accessible, fragrant and malleable. For the decade that followed, as we began to broach these bottles in tastings and dinners, the 2000 vintage offered more immediate pleasure – but I was still struck by the formidable depth of those 1998s…
As Robert Parker wrote 15 years ago: When all the dust settles 20 years after the vintage, the Right Bank and Graves wines of 1998 will certainly compete with the greatest wines of these areas of the last 30 years.
That time has come, and it feels to me in some more recent tastings that the tables are turning, and that we are beginning to see just how great 1998 can be. I’m very much looking forward to this, as it's probably ten years since I’ve seen so many top tier ‘98s side by side. What will we discover as we enjoy 14 of the best?
(Of course we couldn’t resist the temptation to slip in a rare Mosel Eiswein at the end from Joh. Jos. Prüm!)
So please join us for this superlative 1998 Right Bank retrospective. It’s a small-scale dinner, so please be quick to secure your seats.
WINES TO BE SERVED:
1998 Château Angélus (WA 98)
1998 Château Certan de May
1998 Château Clinet
1998 Château L'Eglise Clinet
1998 Château Lafleur
1998 Château Trotanoy (WA 99)
1998 Château Pavie (WA 97)
1998 Vieux Château Certan
1998 Château Ausone
1998 Le Pin
1998 Château Cheval Blanc (WA 100)
1998 Château L'Evangile
1998 Château La Fleur Pétrus
1998 Pétrus (WA 98)
1998 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Eiswein