1998 Bordeaux — A Great Year for the Right Bank
In 1998, the Garonne separated the winners from the losers. In somewhat of a sleeper year, the Right Bank appellations fared much better, producing some truly great wines, while those on the Left struggled with both a crop that was slow to mature and a large amount of late season rain that kept grapes from fully ripening. Though there are some good to very good Left Bank wines, they are much more inconsistent overall.
The preceding winter was fairly mild, but spring of 1998 was late and cool. April and May were damp and received below average sunshine, but flowering was nevertheless successful. In June and July, the challenging weather continued, as periods of hot and cold alternated throughout; the ripening cycle was sluggish as a result. By the end of July, there was increasing concern that unless conditions improved, it would be difficult for the grapes to achieve necessary levels of ripeness. August brought a glimmer of hope, as conditions were dry, warm, and sunny — even hot on occasion. Isolated hailstorms hit Pomerol hard and obliged growers to implement some pretty severe green harvesting to get rid of the damaged bunches. This was a factor in the appellation’s excellent performance, as the reduced crop yields set the stage for better ripening and more concentrated grapes.
September brought just enough rain to revive the vines after the dry spell in August, and the Right Bank harvest began under excellent conditions. Early-ripening Merlot did well and came into cellars with excellent maturity. Pomerol is probably the top performer, with Saint Emilion running neck and neck, both producing lovely, concentrated, and balanced wines — the best since 1990. For some Chateaux in Pomerol, 1998 is considered even better than 2000. Overall, it is a year of beautiful and polished Right Bank wines, the best of which are now in their prime.
On the Left Bank, it’s a slightly different story. Unlike Merlot, late-ripening Cabernet was still on the vine when heavy rain arrived at the end of September. Many of the resulting wines show a hard edge to the tannins, a lack of depth and concentration, and a little green character.
Selection was key, and those who best managed the vineyards and cellars have been able to produce some very good wines. There is no doubt, however, that the Right Bank is the winner.