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Claret and Sauternes of the 1998 Vintage

by Tom Cannavan, 06/99

This tasting was organised as part of Vinexpo 1999 in Bordeaux, by the Union des Grands Crus, an association of most of the top Châteaux of Bordeaux. At this stage, the wines have been maturing in barrel for only 8 months or so, and most will have another year in barrel before fining, possible filtering, and bottling. A lot can change in that 12 months, so this tasting is merely a snap-shot of how the wines are structured at this stage. However it is a chance for some sort of assessment, especially at a time when wine merchants are bombarding the wine-buying public with en-primeur offers on this vintage. I was looking for wines that showed a high quality and ripeness of fruit, that showed concentration and structure, and above all, that showed balance between fruit, tannins and acidity. I concentrated on wines from Châteaux I know well, and who usually make sound wines, even in less than stellar vintages, so this sample may give a better overall impression of the vintage than it will eventually merit. Having said that, I was a little disappointed in the St-Juliens and to a lesser extent the Pauillacs, where many wines gave an impression of slightly lean, under-powered fruit. Margaux stood out as the best Médoc appellation, whilst Graves and the Right Bank seem to deserve the praise they have received so far in the press. With so many wines, the notes are necessarily brief.

St-Estèphe

Château Lafon-Rochet, 4th growth
Massive charred-oak nose, plenty of fruit, really gripped by tannins. Length and complexity however. Very promising.

Château Phélan-Ségur, Cru Bourgeois
A more elegant nose, with more up-front fruit and sweet notes. Palate is very tannic again, but real depth and considerable concentration. Very good.

St-Julien

Château Beychevelle, 4th growth
Lovely nose of new oak and creamy blackberries. Seems a little under-powered and maybe a little under-ripe on the palate, but a nice long finish suggests it has potential.

Château Gruaud-Larose, 2nd growth
Complex nose of earth, toast and berries. Again a little lean at this stage, but fine length and good tannins suggest it will be good.

Château Lagrange, 3rd growth
Fine, ripe, sweet-cherry nose. Palate is spicy and oaky, with some chunky black fruit. Solid, if not particularly complex at this stage.

Château Langoa-Barton, 2nd growth
Oak, cream and firm berry fruits on the nose, quite perfumed and elegant. Nice ripe tannins over good fruit. Very nice.

Château Léoville-Barton, 2nd growth
Fine, intense minty fruit on the nose, with already some cedary notes. Very smooth on the palate, decent and sweet fruit, concentrated and complex. Very fine indeed.

Château Léoville-Poyferré, 2nd growth
Some earthy, berry fruit but a little weak. Some interesting vegetal notes developing. Coffee and chocolate on the palate. No great complexity, but better than I first thought.

Château Talbot, 4th growth
Lightly fruity nose. A touch of volatile acidity. Seems rather lightweight on the palate too, though tannins are grippy. Not convincing at this stage.

Pauillac

Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, 5th growth
Big, dark, cherry nose. Quite chewy and plenty of extract, but lacking a little ripeness in the fruit. Rather clunky but may be better in a year?

Château Lynch-Bages, 5th growth
Very deep, chocolaty, ripe fruit. Concentrated and powerful. Richly textured and opulent on the palate with fine balance of fruit, tannins and acidity. Very good.

Château Lynch-Moussas, 5th growth
Quite green. Firm tannins and a shrill acidity make this rather lean on the palate. There is some black fruit, but a disappointment at this stage compared to the excellent '96.

Château Pichon-Longueville (Baron), 2nd growth
Very attractive summer-berry nose. Sweetly perfumed fruit. Bright, solid cherry fruit. Not great length, but good concentration suggests promise.

Château Pontet-Canet, 5th growth
Nicely aromatic nose of pencil-shavings and blackcurrant. Silky fruit on palate, quite toffeeish with excellent concentration. Very classy.

Margaux and Haut-Médoc

Château d'Angludet, Cru Bourgeois
Very nice fruit on the nose, quite earthy. Plenty of tannins, but enough concentrated fruit. An always reliable wine that hasn't failed in this vintage.

Château Brane-Cantenac, 2nd growth
Lovely deep colour. Powerful nose of berry fruit and sweet oak. Palate too is impressive with ripe and refined fruit and good length. Very good.

Château Giscours, 3rd growth
Nicely aromatic with flowery scents over good blackcurrant fruit. Quite a rich mouthfeel with surprisingly ripe and concentrated fruit. Very good.

Château Kirwan, 3rd growth
Deep, full forest-berry fruit on the nose. The palate has chunky, powerful black fruit that is sweet and dusty. Balanced, long and very promising indeed.

Château Malescot-Saint-Exupéry, 3rd growth
Driven by coffee-scented new oak with nuances of red fruit and sweet violet notes. Massive tannins and a good weight of fruit on the palate. Silky and with good length. This too is very good.

Château Marquis-de-Terme, 4th growth
Nice sweet nose of blackcurrant fruit and deeper, caramel notes. Mouthfilling with ripe tannins. Not showing great complexity, but could be delicious.

Château Prieuré-Lichine, 4th growth
Attractive bright fruit on the nose over sweet vanilla. Rich texture, decent fruit. Good.

Château Rausan-Ségla, 2nd growth
Very sweet and arresting nose of ripe berry fruit with composty notes and toasty oak. Very aromatic and fine. Ripe tannins on the palate too. Lovely. Nice bitter-edged fruit, real finesse and length. Extremely good.

Château Siran, Cru Bourgeois
Rounded berry fruit nose with some aromatic complexity. Ripe, intense cherry fruit with an earthy density. This is very attractive.

Château Cantemerle, 5th growth (Macau)
Spice, blackcurrant and pepper on the nose. Lush and deeply hued. As always, an open and attractive wine with concentration and good length. An old favourite of mine, and really very good.

Pessac-Léognan

Château de Fieuzal
Creamy, sweet berry fruit on the nose and palate. Ripe and full, this really is lovely and should be extremely good.

Château Haut-Bailly
Very nice nose on this wine. Earthy, dense aromas. Lots of black fruit and spice. Fruit on the palate too and though tannins are rather fierce, there is fine balance. Excellent.

Château La Louvière
Quite dumb nose. A bit ungiving. Firm tannins and high acidity dominating at this stage. Difficult to assess, but lacks fruit on this showing.

Château Olivier
Light berry fruit on the nose. Rather subdued. Palate has soft, ripe tannins and decent fruit. Simple but quite good.

Château Pape-Clément
Sweet, deep and seriously complex nose with nuances of violets, roses and undergrowth. Quite tough and chewy with searing tannin levels and notable acidity, but the fruit is there. Serious and extracted, outstanding potential.

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte
Very prominent charry oak nose over plummy fruit. Good ripe fruit on the palate too, good length and balance. Very good.

St-Emilion

Château Angélus Premier Grand Cru Classé
Quite closed. Difficult on the nose. The palate is very serious and concentrated, but though submerged by tannins, the quality of the fruit is sweet, chocolaty, creamy and blackcurranty. Very long. Highly promising for the long haul.

Château Balestard-La-Tonnelle, Grand Cru Classé
Rather weedy note on the nose. Fruit too is a little non-descript. Rather disappointing.

Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot, Premier Grand Cru Classé
Deep, meaty aromas. Good thick, chunky fruit. Tannins are fierce, but rounded and backed up with concentrated firm-edged fruit into a good length of finish. Excellent.

Château Canon, Premier Grand Cru Classé
Nose is elegant with fine cherry and blackcurrant fruit with herbal nuances. Palate not quite so convincing, with a slightly hollow mid-palate before rough tannins kick in. Nose is fine, so may well come good.

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, Grand Cru Classé
Sweet, bubble-gummy edge to blackcurrant fruit. Very firm tannic structure. This is quite lean, but there is structure and decent balance. Good.

Château Figeac, Premier Grand Cru Classé
This has an earthy, very attractive nose. Palate is full with supple, ripe tannins and coffee-bean oak over ripe black fruit. Spicy and long in the finish. Very good indeed.

Château Pavie, Premier Grand Cru Classé
Lovely nose, sweet and cedary, very savoury. Palate too is supple and attractive. Quite rich, with solid underpinning tannins and a long, pure finish. Very good again.

Château Troplong-Mondot, Grand Cru Classé
Fine, sweet cassis fruit on the nose, with lots of coffee and plummy nuances. Rich, ripe and concentrated palate with great length. Very good indeed.

Pomerol

Château Gazin
Concentrated ripe cassis aromas. Chocolate and plummy depth. Mouth-coating tannins, very large-scaled but structured. Excellent potential.

Château La Conseillante
Nicely complex nose of cherry and darker plum fruit, oak and earth. Another lush and full-flavoured wine, but with serious tannins and fine balance. Another star.

Château Petit-Village
Fine blackcurrant fruit on the nose, quite spicy too. Palate is lacking a little power, a little harsh with very firm tannins. Difficult to assess.

Sauternes and Barsac

Château Climens
Lovely nose, flowers, peaches and lemon meringue pie. Honeyed and luscious, with lovely acidity and a clean, very long finish. Very good indeed.

Château Rayne-Vigneau
Sweet and peachy nose with moderate botrytis. Nice flowery, lime-fresh fruit on the palate. Balanced. Good length. This is rather reticent, but promising.

Château La Tour Blanche
Lovely light, elegant botrytis nose of honey and orange-blossom. Silky and full of sweet peach fruit, then excellent grapefruit acidity. Long and very good indeed.

Château Suduiraut
Distinctive spiced-oranges and marmalade on the nose with hints of figs and plenty of honeyed notes. Very sweet and silky smooth, this is long and concentrated with fine balance. Outstanding.