It’s far too easy to overlook 1998. No, I’m not referring to B*witched, Lethal Weapon 4 or the Sega Dreamcast. Those three are best left forgotten. I’m talking about claret. With so many other headline-grabbing Bordeaux vintages vying for your attention (and your wallet), 1998 has perhaps not had the credit it deserves, especially if you know where to look.
European Fine Wines specialises in hunting down the best booze for your buck – whether it’s for shrewd investment or drinking right now. Call me short-sighted (especially after several hours of wine tasting), but I’m definitely more interested in the latter.
Which is just as well, as 1998’s crop of first growths have just woken up and are drinking brilliantly right now. Take Château Haut Brion [pictured left]. With 2011 trading at around £316 a bottle en primeur, 1998 seems mighty attractive at £330 a bottle (£3,975 a case from EFW). And it will certainly look more impressive around the dinner table.
So, how come it’s such a relative steal? Well, 1998 was a tale of two summers. In Pomerol, Graves and Saint-Émilion the sun shone and all was well with the world. But in the mighty Médoc, the late-ripening cabernet sauvignon suffered from an autumnal wash out. Along with the left-bank chateaux’s big names come big sway; they have considerable influence over the pricing of a vintage. This means good news for right-bank lovers.
Our favourites were the lush Ch L’Eglise Clinet (£230 a bottle) – even its second growth, La Petite Eglise raised several eyebrows – and the velvet classic Ch Cheval Blanc (£4,200 a case). Representing the Graves’s great and good was the aforementioned Haut Brion. As consistent as any claret (I can’t remember tasting a dud), it didn’t disappoint – its vanilla and sherbert sweetness balanced by just the right amount of acidity.
The tasting was capped off by the ever humbling Ch d’Yquem. Well, that’s not totally true – it was actually finished off with a pint of bitter around the corner. But I’m pretty sure the Yquem will last longer in my memory.
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