1998 Vintage Overview

1998 Vintage Overview

Written: September 2021

1998

Though this is among my least favourite white-wine vintages in my working lifetime, there is a lot to enjoy among the reds – a difficult year, certainly, but with potential to make fine wines if you were careful.

The weather More or less everything which could go wrong did go wrong this year, especially for the white-wine vineyards. The main problems were frost, hail, oïdium, sunburn and rot – all in one growing season.

After a late flurry of snow on Easter Monday, the temperature overnight dropped right down to -8°C, which is enough to do serious harm. The following morning the sun emerged to shine directly onto the damaged shoots, making sure that they did not recover. At this stage the Chardonnay vines were far enough advanced to be seriously damaged but it was thought that the Pinot had escaped since its shoots were more backward. Nonetheless in the event only a small crop set for the red as well. Various hailstorms did further damage to the Mâconnais and the white-wine vineyards of the Côte de Beaune. Chablis, which was congratulating itself on avoiding the frost damage, then got the worst hailstorm of the lot, especially on the grands crus.

Poor weather in June led to an attack of oïdium, which prefers Chardonnay vines to Pinot Noir, so the whites were worse off yet again. Things cheered up a bit after that, but a heatwave set in for much of August, with highs of over 40°C, resulting in some scorching of the grapes. Still, all in all the harvest looked promising – until a cool, rainy spell in early September. Rot set in rapidly but fortunately did not develop too far. Overall, September was cool and rainy, but the harvest was saved by one clement spell from the 16th to the 26th. Picking began around the 15th, though the best option was to wait until Monday 21st by which time the ground and the grapes had fully dried out, and then to pick like maniacs to get everything in before the return of bad weather – correctly forecast for the following weekend.

First impressions Early on, the reds showed excellent depth of colour, plenty of fruit and good natural sugar levels. However, time alone would tell which wines would have the right balance between fruit and tannin. The whites would be more variable, though I tasted some good things in the Mâconnais and Chablis. Many of the wines had attractive bouquets at this early stage but were likely to prove fragile.

On the day after the Hospices de Beaune auction, usually regarded as a pacemaker for prices, the local paper ran the headline: ‘Prices up 12 per cent – but without enthusiasm’. Certainly the senior négociants were talking down prices as much as they could, hoping to see a decrease from the heights of the 1997s and certainly no further rise.

The wines in bottle The red wines are showing more consistently than expected, with fewer disasters but also fewer high spots. The green tannins are still present in many wines, but they have not dried out the fruit prematurely. A selection tasted in Burgundy in June 2018 showed a lot of bottle variation, with a few lovely wines but in most cases the impression that the 1998s should be drunk sooner rather than later. This was and remains an uninspiring vintage for whites: few should be kept further. They were mostly clumsy, heavy animals without the balance for ageing.

 

Tasting Notes

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Click to read tasting notes on wines from 1998

 

Tasting Reports

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Click to view – 1998: Twenty Years On

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