A classic vintage that originally favoured the right bank. In 1998 Mother Nature showed more generosity towards Saint-Émilion and Pomerol appellations, offering very ripe Merlot grapes, the chief varietal of the right bank. From the outset the left bank (Médoc & Graves) reds showed more firmness and structure, while those from the right bank offered riper fruit and richness. Results: medium to full bodied classic Bordeaux reds with fresh acidity and good aging potential. Having reached the 20 years plateau, these elite reds should be at their best. Twenty years later, we decided @ Les Conseillers du Vin to re-evaluate this classic Bordeaux vintage.
As usual a group of 16 experienced tasters reviewed 7 Bordeaux Crus Classés plus a mystery wine in the usual blind tasting format. Is it time to open all our 1998 Bordeaux or should we leave some for future drinking? One thing is for sure: the top wines should continue to evolve favourably another 5 to 10 years!
To establish the order of preference of the tasting panel, 3 points were awarded for a first place vote, 2 pts for a 2nd place vote and 1pt for a 3rd place vote.
Surprisingly the mystery wine, the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Laurel Glen, dominated the tasting. Seven (7) participants chose it as their favourite wine of the tasting. It also received 2 second and third place votes for a total score of 27 points, nine (9) more than the second place wine Ch. Gruaud Larose (18pts). Finishing in 3rd place was the always very elegant Ch. Sociando Mallet with 13 points. When it comes to evolution/maturity, most of the wines seem to be holding up quite well. Surprisingly the St-Émilion wines did not fare well and showed more evolution/decline. But it was the Ch. Lascombes from Margaux that came in last with only 2 points. I thought it was still a very enjoyable wine that just flew under the radar. The St-Émilion Ch. Ferrand Lartigues was an obvious disappointment: 12 participants voted it as such (only 3 points). Many would say that it was expected that a riper California Cab would dominate in a tasting of Bordeaux wines from a cool vintage. But, in fact, the playing field was quite even, since 1998 was an unusually cold vintage for Northern California.
We can conclude that the best 1998 Bordeaux Crus Classés will continue to evolve favourably offering classic Bordeaux elegance. But be aware that we are dealing here with a rather cool vintage that displays obvious acidity and slightly firm tannins.
My top three wines were: 1-Sociando-Mallet, 2-Gruaud Larose 3-Cabernet Sauvignon Laurel Glen. See my tasting notes below.
The wines : Order of blind tasting:
1-Château Beauséjour Bécot, St-Émilion (Group score: 11 pts)
Still good colour. Well evolved typical nose displaying some truffle and a hint of vegetal. Medium to full bodied with fairly high acidity and some firm tannins. Still some potential, but already enjoyable. My rating: 89/100
2-Château Ducru Beaucaillou, St-Julien (Group score: 8 pts)
A classic mineral, graphite, terroir nose. Good extract and structure. A bit firm but remains balanced. In its usual elegant style with some remaining aging potential. Fresh acidity and good length. My rating: 92/100
3-Château Gruaud Larose, St-Julien (Group Score: 18 pts)
My second favourite wine of the tasting. Very deep colour. Lovely classic claret nose displaying hints of graphite, with vegetal and floral scents. Full bodied, good extract (riper fruit), and great balance. Very good length with some remaining aging potential (4 to 6 years). My rating: 93/100
4-Château Lascombes, Margaux (Group score: 2 pts)
Medium colour. Graphite, earthy, with hints of coffee and caramel. Medium body and extract with firm tannins. A slight bitter/austere finish, but remains elegant. Average length. My rating: 90/100
5-Château Quinault l’Enclos, St-Émilion (Group score: 8 pts)
Having tasted this wine many times before, this bottle showed surprising evolution. Usually fuller, this medium bodied St-Émilion seems to have lost a fair amount of its ripe fruit. Still quite quaffable, a bit austere on the finish, should be re-tasted. My rating: 88/100
6-Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Laurel Glen, Sonoma Mountain (Group score : 27 pts)
The mystery wine and by far favourite of the group! From a cooler California vintage, five tasters identified it as the odd man out. Deeply coloured with lots of ripe fruit (field berries), forest floor and mineral scents. Quite full, but remains elegant. Good extract and structure for more aging (3 to 5 years). My rating: 92/100
7-Château Ferrand Lartigues, St-Émilion (Group score: 3 pts)
Lighter colour with orange rim. Quite evolved and on the decline. Oxidised and medicinal nose. Drink up (quickly)! My rating: 85/100
8- Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc (Group score: 13 pts)
My favourite wine of the tasting. Classic Médoc nose diplaying graphite, bell peppers with a hint of moka coffee. Perfectly balanced, medium bodied and quite elegant. The mouthfeel reveals still some extract. Should continue to age well for 3 to 5 years. My rating: 93+/100