The 1998 Burgundy Vintage – 20 years on…

Update 1.11.2018(31.10.2018)billn

I have been so looking forward to tasting these 1998s.

I cut my teeth of the wines of 1993-1995 and the 1996s were the first en-primeur wines that I bought. I tasted some 1996 and 1997s in Burgundy but only started to regularly taste from cask from the 2000 vintage – so all my experience of the 1998s has been in bottle.

1998 when first released seemed to me, with very modest experience, unusual, in that, largely, the wines were so tannic – they seemed more like young Bordeaux, with an astringent, almost sand-paper aggression to the tannin in quite a lot of cases. Not all were so vicious, and I liked the clarity of fresh fruit, but it was clear that much patience was going to be needed!

Fast-forward quite a number of years – though I have to say that the time seems to have passed very quickly by – and none of the wines will bite you like they did in their youth, though it’s fair to say that many are still on the young side of mature. If you have, like me, squirreled a few away, you are in for some treats!

As a (potentially) interesting sidebar, a couple of years ago I briefly met Pierre-Antoine Rovani – at the time of this 1998 vintage he was the reviewer for the Wine Advocate, following-on from Robert Parker. I don’t remember what prompted it, but PA suddenly began a short monologue on why his Wine Advocate report on the 1998s was absolutely correct and that he only reviewed 20 wines because there were only 20 good wines in the whole vintage (my paraphrasing and poor memory) – I thought WTF, is PA for real? I really had no previous knowledge of his musings. So let’s see!

The nature of the (oxidative) beast is that this report concentrates on reds – just one white was present – but I almost wish that it hadn’t been – you will see. So the vintage description is valid for both colours, but for whites 1998 was never highly regarded – that said, it still hurts when a wine has more in common with Jerez than Puligny-Montrachet!

The vintage…

Over the Easter weekend in 1998 (11-12 April) the weather was cold – it culminated with a hard frost on Easter Monday the 13 April. The effects of the frost were felt, to a greater or lesser extent, up and down the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. For reds, the frost affected the yields to the greatest extent between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, the Côte de Beaune reds were much less affected. For whites it was Puligny and Meursault that were most affected – some areas losing as much as 30% of an average crop.

The timing of the frost was rather early in the growth-cycle of the vines, hence, it was the better exposed sites – the ones with the most precocious growth that were touched to the greater degree, it cannot be compared to the ferocity of the frost of 2016 as mainly those precocious vines in favoured sectors were affected. This is borne out in the annual production number – which are in a different format to today – but at the time revealed a volume roughly equivalent to the previous (1997) vintage, but with modestly less production in the 1er and grand crus.

The early summer was fine and allowed a good first flowering, shortly afterwards deteriorating for the later flowers. This affected the quantity, if not the quality, of the grapes further. For this reason in the Gevrey to Chambolle area there were more ‘no name’ 1er cru bottlings as smaller yielding parcels were blended together. July was not particularly great weather, but August was quite hot – up to 40°C – so hot enough to shrivel the grapes of young vines without the root development to counter the conditions, some better-rooted vines still managed to produce grapes with sun-burned skins.

Young-vines aside, it was shaping up to be an excellent vintage until September brought cold and wet weather again – but there was a respite as the second-half of the month returned to dry, sunny, weather which allowed grapes to ripen more fully. The rain returned again on the 27 September – the best reds were mainly harvested before that date. Given the quantity and the quality of the tannins one must nonetheless remain circumspect about the phenolic ripeness of the vintage. The wines clearly had better (ergo more!) structure than the 1997s, but it was clear that these, often tough and austere, wines were for a more patient clientele than the 1997s.

The whites were relatively rich and had good aromas, but those with good concentration often lacked great balance – and vice-versa. The greatest, and most consistent 1998 whites that I experienced were from the hill of Corton – and surprisingly they were still going strong at 10 years of age.

The wines…

The majority are from my own cellar, though having got wind of my project, Marko de Morey was also very generous with some 1998s from his cellar – which we mainly shared in Beaune – also predominantly purchased by him on release.

The average quality is more than good with certain exceptional wines – when you consider that triage tables were a rarity in 1998 – the result is impressive – particularly impressive for me to see (taste!) has been the taming of the tannins. It is for this exact reason that when observing more tannin when tasting a sample from barrel, whilst obviously noting the fact, this is only a negative for me in respect of early drinking. Essentially the early tannin will be deposited as sediment in your well-stored bottles. Much more important when tasting young wine is the depth and clarity (and sometimes) complexity of both aroma and flavour, plus the vigour and length with which they are delivered!

A fine, very classic vintage with pure fruit complexity that I would describe as classically fresh – chalk and cheese versus vintages like 2015 and 2016, for instance. For the most part starting to drink very well, only a year or two behind the maturity of the 1993s and much more ready than the 1999s that follow.

NB: A short note on corks – 3 corked from 21 wines. It’s pure chance that all the 1er crus were corked, but the relative number is no surprise to me. I see (empirically of-course) the absolute depths of TCA-hell in the 1998-2000 vintages, competition having forced cork producers to up their game in the subsequent vintages. I have a lot of 1999s in the cellar, but I’m budgeting on losing 10% to TCA – in the most recent vintages I experience, perhaps, just under 2%…

1998 JF Mugnier, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Amoureuses
A cork that’s wine-soaked for most of its length – and it slides out rather easily too…
Medium colour. Starting from (fridge) cold: the nose is tight, tiny, but slowly opening at the base – complex and red – then there’s a floral impression, also growing, filling the higher registers. It’s not yet warm but it smells fabulous. Round, fresh, a tiny reminder of the tannin of the vintage – but oh-so tiny. The red berry flavour radiating out in all directions – certainly plenty of acidity but noting that pokes – no spikes. Beautiful, airy, yet always offering more. Great wine!

1998 Leclerc/Chézeaux, Griotte-Chambertin
A beautiful and long(er) cork here – virtually no ingress of wine like in the case of the Mugnier.
A little deeper colour than the Mugnier. The nose has more weight, though significantly less elegance – more a mulled red fruit and no flowers. A little more volume in the mouth and a similar freshness to the acidity, but again much less balance and elegance – the acidity here has a moderately aggressive style. Wide and with a decent length of finish. If I had to guess, I would say that this had been inexpertly acidified, though that would be a surprise for the vintage. Drinkable, and there is a little more balance with aeration, but it’s a long way from special…

1998 Guy Castagnier, Clos de la Roche
A much more attractive, cleaner and younger colour than the Leclerc Griotte. A nose that starts a little musky but quickly opens with a more cushioned and ripe dark cherry note. Sleek, fresh, lots of acidity but growing complexity too, faint licorice and so juicy – like all these, there’s lots of acidity, but like the Mugnier (and unlike the Leclerc) it’s a judiciously juicy and balanced affair – balance that means you can appreciate without food, the Leclerc needs food. There’s more power and intensity here than the Mugnier – what a great ride – even if it lacks the elegance of the Amoureuses. Actually this is still slightly young, but it’s also excellent!

1998 Dominique Laurent, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cazetiers
Hmm – a little corked – the nose showed it, but the palate didn’t – but you can’t have one without the other – a shame…

1998 JF Mugnier, Musigny
Modest colour. A discreet, but fresh nose. A nose that slowly deepens whilst adding fine floral references, but it always seems on something of a modest cruise-control. Hmm, my first thought is narrow but sleek, then the panorama widens in the mid to finish – here it’s tenaciously brilliant. Time and not a little oxygen broadens the nose a little – though not much. The palate does seem to widen and thicken, even suggesting an accent of tannin. Ethereal, airy wine with very fine acidity – beautiful – but for the label we all deserve more. It’s quite a way behind the domaine’s Amoureuses at the moment. For Musigny, it needs to show more…

1998 de Vogüé, Musigny Vieilles Vignes
There’s a little more colour here versus the Mugnier. A fuller nose too with more upfront everything – perhaps not as fine as the last wine but certainly with more impact and overt complexity. Ooh, there’s depth the the flavour here – depth and indeed a weight that’s currently absent in the Mugnier. The finishing structure is a little more overt, and in the context of Musigny I might say rustic – but not in the context of 98% of all wines! The tannin is certainly more overt, even offering a modest grain to the tongue. These two wines are the ethereal versus the material – honestly I’d like to drink them blended – they both have magnificent mid to finishing flavours. This my slight preference for drinking today…

1998 Dominique Laurent, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Clos St.Jacques
Hint of cigarette ash then smoothness and dark fruit. A ripple of tannin, still with a little bitterness and bite, but long and layered finishing. The texture and depth show a richness that’s relatively uncommon for a 1998 – a cool fruit that dances over the palate, very modestly beautiful in the finish, in that respect very Clos St.Jacques. Very engaging and drinkable, despite a little cigarette ash. Yum.

1998 Arlaud, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Aux Combottes
Hmm, a little cork again…

1998 Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Les Pucelles
Hmm – that’s rather deep, and practically orange colour! We had a 1978 Pucelles this week, and honestly this seems older! There’s a modest but clear undertow of oxidised aroma. The mouth has caramel and salty oxidation. It’s barely drinkable, actually it is drinkable, but only if you have nothing else to hand! Not great….

1998 Comtes Lafon, Volnay 1er Santenots du Milieu
Quite a deep colours. The nose starts rather narrow but does go rather deep in a clean style. Fine volume and freshness, fine silky texture too that’s mixed with dark, almost bramble fruit. Delicious wine. Super!

1998 Jean Grivot, Clos de Vougeot
Hmm, now that’s a pretty stinky nose – a little brett here for sure. More overt structure and a depth of tannin, but there’s energy and complexity too. I don’t like the nose, but the action over the palate is super – can it emulate the 1990? Well, another 8-9 years will tell us! Super – just don’t smell it!

1998 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin
Medium, medium-plus colour, not completely bright. Ooh – a super nose – all iron and blood to start before the blooming of many flowers – a sniffer‘s wine! Super width, lithe and energetic over the palate, beautiful acidity and only a suggestion of tannin. Not full power Chambertin, but flighty and delicious – so yum. A glass stayed into the bottle for day 2 – it was not so good – not a particularly robust vintage for this cuvée.

1998 Bouchard Père et Fils, Chambertin
Ooh – now that’s the deepest colour I’ve seen from a 1998 so far. The nose starts a little dense and medicinal too, but slowly unwinds in the glass to offer a silky smooth floral top note over round and highly attractive dark-red fruit – there’s not much secondary development here. Mouth-filling, melting, growing in intensity – ooh – this is very good. This is growing on me all the time and has a super concentration but always delivered with deft texture. A baby and a beautiful one at that.
1998 Fougeray de Beauclair, Bonnes-Mares
This was so aggressive when first tasted a number of years ago, not now! Hmm, this is a beautiful, slowly growing nose, depth of cushioned caramel fruit and slowly growing floral component too – yes! Round, some viscosity, fine depth of flavour and still a little, but no longer aggressive, tannin. This is really hitting the spot!

1998 Clos de Tart
Hmm, the nose starts with a little band-aid – not the best start! The palate is a little freshly rustic starting, but the mid and finishing flavours are both more structured, energetic – and delicious! Time reduces the brett and there’s a slightly more raised aspect of caramelised fruit. Fresh, energetic, still a little tannic and multidimensional.

1998 Louis Jadot, Chambertin Clos de Bèze
I have to directly say that I’m so pleased that this wine is on another level of quality drinking today versus the 1999!
Good, medium, medium-plus colour. A nose that starts compact and faintly spiced before becoming ever-wider. – and with pure young fruit too – dark cherry fruit and a harder cherry stone aspect. Volume, fresh energy, a base of fine-grained tannin. Mouth-watering. Complex and still young flavour – but definitely open for drinking business. Simply excellent and so youthful too.

1998 Clos de Lambrays
Here is a very fine – I’d go as far as to say, beautiful, nose of purity, rose petals and dried fruits. Not the largest volume, but still good, the flavours born on finely balanced acidity that flows over the palate until a little extra peak of floral and herbal complexity on the mid and finishing flavours – almost a little young here. Beautiful wine…

1998 Jean Grivot, Richebourg
This cork is of modest length but seemingly of good quality – no wine seepage or taint – it’s done its job.
The nose is far from powerful or voluminous, but it’s clean and attractive – none of the brett (terroir?) that they seem to have most years in their Clos de Vougeot – still young cherry fruit in the mix. Like the nose, there is no special weight of concentration – except in the mid and finishing flavours – here the wine simply excels and could only come from a great grand cru. There is beautiful balance and still plenty of finishing tannin but without the aggression of youth. Relative to its peers the 1997 of this was disappointing – this 1998 certainly wasn’t – excellent!

1998 Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Grèves
Quite a depth of colour here. The nose has a slightly herbal/herby edge to good fruit – then cork taint…

1998 Maume, Mazis-Chambertin
Ooh – here’s a forward nose, lots of volume, with plenty of herb in a large complexity. Cushioned depth, considerable concentration, still a grain of tannin. Layers, intense, waves of flavour, faintly bitter and saline. Never a sweet wine, never a comforting wine – but frankly who cares, this is really super, indeed invigorating stuff.

1998 Henri Gouges, Nuits St.Georges 1er Les Vaucrains
Plenty of colour. The nose is deep, bloody, accented with aromas of graphite. But as it warms in the glass it begins to fill out the top notes with very attractive floral aromas – this is a beautifully perfumed wine. A wine of width but at the same time sleek, direct lines – almost impossibly fine tannin but still with the power to add a modest astringence and some bitters in the finishing flavours. The fruit flavour has nice energy and a certain purity too, like the nose with a bloody impression in the mid-palate. Not a wine that would underline the scary reputation of the previous generations of Gouges wines – particularly in a tough vintage like 1998 – though still something of a baby. Today I give the nose 10 out of 10, the palate still only 7…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 3 responses to “The 1998 Burgundy Vintage – 20 years on…”

  1. peterbam16th November 2018 at 6:56 pmPermalinkReply

    Hi Bill, Can I ask how you served these wines (this level, this vintage, this age)? Pop and pour; or double-decant just before service; or double-decant a few hours earlier; or…? Many thanks, Peter

    • billn17th November 2018 at 10:42 amPermalinkReply

      Hi Peter
      Just popped and poured. The only preparation was to stand the bottles up for 24 hours before, and put them in the fridge before opening. My cellar after the hot summer was a bit over 18, so too warm for drinking, I prefer my wine to slowly warm in the glass, so virtually all year round they start in the fridge.
      Decanting I only do with young wines to get rid of the CO2 and help them open – oh and when I’ve butchered a cork so need to filter out the cork chunks 🙂

      • peterbam17th November 2018 at 12:25 pmPermalinkReply

        Brill, thank you. I’m in a decades-long process of trying to make sense of how to get ‘air’ right. People often talk about double-decanting as ‘just’ about taking a wine off its sediment, but I’m increasingly thinking/finding that sometimes it can be damaging (depending upon the wine, the vintage, the age, etc). I quite often do anyway; but in general I’m moving closer to the approach you mention. It’s very useful to hear your answer – thanks again.

  2. Dan20th November 2018 at 7:59 pmPermalinkReply

    Hello Bill & Peter, Thought I’d chime in on ‘air’, and getting it right. How one uses oxygen with respect to older wines is a matter of context for me. In a tasting of many bottles I do prefer a ‘pop-and-pour’ at fridge temperature. This allows for a slow aeration and warming; one can tag along as the wine changes in the glass over hours of examination and enjoyment. Yet with my meal I want the wine to be at peak performance with the course at hand. This means a guesstimate must be made as to each wine’s potential. Slow aeration with the cork removed for xx hours; a single decant just before consumption; even opening and double-decanting early in the morning (e.g.,1996 Giacosa Red Label).

    I try to have a few bottles standing up for a minimum of a month. When consuming these, I always decant before moving them to either table or restaurant. When an old wine falls ‘bright’ it is a magnificent sight.

    Madeira drinkers say for each decade of bottle age the wine needs one day open. What a little bit of spirits does to the aging curve!

    I remember a story from when I was starting out on what was to become an obsession with the history of wine. In the 1950s a certain Bordeaux chateau owner’s dining room was partially filled with cases of the domain’s wine. It needed one year at ‘room temperature’ (likely chilly by our standards) before being ready for his table.

    As with most things vinous, there are many right answers.

    • peterbam21st November 2018 at 12:20 pmPermalinkReply

      Hi Dan, Nice observations – good to hear. I completely agree that things must be taken on a wine-by-wine basis, with all the techniques you mention in play, and with the usual goal being optimisation for meal time. Regards, Peter

  3. Dan20th November 2018 at 8:05 pmPermalinkReply

    Forgot to say, I drank a lovely bottle of H. Gouges NSG 1er cru Les Pruliers 1998 a few days ago. The Gouges brothers knocked it our of the park that year. Not as stern as Les Vaucrains, I would be happy drinking this wine every day, forever. Popped and poured in a restaurant (no time to prepare at home), the wine gained weight and length throughout dinner. Echoed Bill’s note with slightly darker notes because of climat.

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