France, Rhone: 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape – Time to Drink!
August 28, 2015
Continuing with my goal to get as many tasting notes – on mature wines – in front of you as possible, I was able to do a small, yet relatively complete retrospective of the 1998 Chateauneuf du Papes. I tasted the wines (numerous times in many cases) in larger tastings at the syndicates in Chateauneuf du Pape, at domaine visits with producers and included bottles sourced from my cellar.
Now at age 17, all of the 1998 Chateauneuf du Papes are fully mature with the top wines drinking beautifully and showing fabulously sweet fruit, full-bodied texture and a focused, delineated style. It is worth noting that I don’t think there’s a single wine that will markedly improve going forward. However, the top wines will hold nicely for another 5-10 years in most cases. As I think the notes show, some of the lesser wines are starting to fade with the best wines positioned right in the middle to latter half of their drink windows. Most benefit from a short decant (to remove light sediment) and improve over the evening with aeration.
As to the vintage, 1998 was a hot, dry year and produced, big, full-bodied Chateauneuf du Papes that have considerable tannin and structure. Laurent Charvin compared the vintage to a blend of 2010 and 2009, though I think a comparison to a hypothetical mix of 1989 and 1990 is appropriate as well. The wines are more structured and tannic than 2000, yet have more fruit and sweetness than 2005. Even today, there’s ample tannic grip in the wines; however, few are under-fruited and the best have a beautiful core of sweet fruit that keeps you pouring another glass. The 1998 vintage is certainly one of the great vintages of the past 25-30 years. In addition, it is also the greatest vintage drinking at full maturity today. If you have bottles in your cellar, now is a perfect time to break out that corkscrew!