Thursday, May 24, 2012

1998 Chateauneuf du Pape: Past the aging curve?

Recently, I was given the opportunity to taste through a number of Chateauneuf du Papes from the revered '98 vintage. It was a tasting that I was eager to attend, since I have limited experience with aged wines from this region. It was funny to see some price tags on these bottles and to realize just how affordable this wine used to be. Prior to the last fifteen years, Chateauneuf du Pape had very little popularity in the United States. However, after heavy praise from The Wine Advocate and newer wines being made in a more internationally-appealing style, Chateauneuf du Pape has certainly become a hot topic with prices to match.

The red grapes permited in Chateauneuf
du Pape include Grenache, Cinsault,
Counoise, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Syrah,
Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse. White grapes
 include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc,
Clairette, Picardan, Roussanne,
and Picpoul.
The big question for me is how can we expect today's wines to age? Chateauneuf du Pape is typically a blend, with the AOC laws permitting 13 different grape varieties, including a number of white grapes. Today, very few producers use the traditional blends and instead rely heavily on Grenache. This, along with heavily-reduced yields, are producing bigger wines with high alcohol and intense concentration. Many of these wines can be enjoyed in their youth, but the sweet spot for me is usually around 5 - 6 years of age, with the majority of opinions saying that the 10 - 12 year mark is usually when the wines achieve their peak maturity.

I'm not sure that '98 proved this aging formula to be true for me. At 10 - 12 years, they should have been at "peak" but still be drinking strong for number of years (at least to 14 years). Granted, 1998 was defined by its hot growing season, which from my experience means wines that mature earlier. I can imagine these wines in their youth (ripe, juicy and sexy), but it's difficult for me to compare them to recent vintages. The tasting showed that the Beaucastel and Pegau were still quite alive and vibrant with a few years of possible development ahead of them. The Paul Autard and Chateau-Fortia were enjoyable but not going anywhere. Lastly, the Les Cailloux and Domaine du Banneret drank okay but were obviously on the decline. In the end, I truly enjoyed the majority of these wines, but this does make me wonder where vintages like 2007 are going. While they sleep in my cellar, maybe it's time to check on them.

On to the notes:

1998 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Réservee – The nose leapt from the glass showing black pepper up front with ripe black fruits and mixed herbs. On the palate, it was expansive and palate-coating with ripe fruits, pepper and structure showing through. The fruit wrapped around the palate and filled the senses. The finish continued to show its structure, yet it couldn’t stop the palate-soaking fruits from marching on. (91 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape – The nose was reticent yet refined with perfectly ripe blackberry, spice, and hints of wood and stems. It opened over time with sweeter fruit and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it was beautifully balanced and smooth yet holding back at first. As it opened in the glass, flavors of finessed black fruits and medicinal herbal tea notes sweetened up the palate. The finish showed long spices and hints of remaining structure. (91 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

1998 Chateau-Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape (Boiseaumarié) – The nose was pretty, showing a mix of ripe berries and bacon notes, along with floral stems with a hint of barnyard and old library book. On the palate, it was at first aggressive, then airy and soft showing focused red fruits and hint of old wood with balanced acidity keeping it juicy and fun. The finish was medium-long and still showed a bit of tannin. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

1998 Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf du Pape – The nose showed black fruits and earth with black pepper, animal musk and hints of graphite. On the palate, it showed vibrant acidity with soft ripe berries, earthy minerals and spices. It’s a joy to drink and ready to go. The finish showed lingering pepper notes that lasted on the senses. (89 points) Find it on: Wine Searcher!

1998 Domaine du Banneret Chateauneuf du Pape – The nose was spicy with taut black fruits, dark earth and herbs. On the palate, it was tight yet pleasant with black fruits that were somehow muted. Lots of black pepper showed on the finish. (87 points)

1998 Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape – The nose showed herbal tea, hints of decay and carmelization. On the palate, it was soft and balanced, showing sweet berries but with an old tea note. The finish was reminiscent of the nose but with a peppery quality. (82 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!


  1. Nice line-up. Shame to see that Banneret wasn't up there. It's a beautifully wild / traditional Chateauneuf.

    Like you say 1998 had a very hot growing season so I'm not surprised that some of the wines were flagging. I can see 2010 being one of the best vintages of all the 'great' recent vintages. Not too hot, not too wet, not to cold... just right. You can taste the brightness in the young wines, with more an emphasis on balance (even finesse in some cases) than the power that characterised 2007 and 1998.

  2. This wine is one of my all time favourites.

  3. Hi, I have a boxed bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Closiers 1998 that I would like to sell, how would I find out its value?

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