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Château Grand Mayne 1998

This week a look back ten years to 1998, with a tasting of Bordeaux from that vintage, a claretty prelude to a tasting of ten-year-old Bordeaux to be published tomorrow, and a more wide ranging ten-years-on tasting that I have lined up for later in the year. Ask most Bordeaux acolytes the story of 1998, and they will assure you it was a right bank vintage, during which great wines were made in St Emilion and Pomerol and (by inference) from 'lesser' nearby appellations, such as the Côtes de Castillon. The broadest of generalisations can sometimes be useful, and this is perhaps one of those times, but as is so often the case the true story is just a little more complicated. This was a vintage where there was wide variation in the quality of the wines, differing markedly from appellation to appellation, a characteristic which resulted from the erratic weather of 1998. Throughout the vintage the skies over Bordeaux lurched from sunny heatwave to cool torrential downpour and then back again; in short, the conditions were less than ideal anywhere.

As I will discuss in a more extensive review of the vintage published tomorrow, spring in 1998 started out warm, followed by a cooler April and a warmer May, at least by the end of the month. And so the weather see-sawed on, through June, July and August, until September came. Hot and arid weather was threatening the health of the vines so dry was the ground, but with the eventual arrival of gentle showers the white grapes and then the Merlots were picked under excellent conditions, and I believe that this contributes as much to the success of the Merlot-dominated right bank appellations as much as any element of geography or terroir. Other areas or vineyards where Merlot is an extensive part of the blend also had the potential to produce some good wines, and this is particularly true of the vineyards of the Graves region. An excellent and under-rated vintage for the region, some of the wines produced here were of very high quality - La Mission Haut Brion is one recently tasted that immediately springs to mind. And further north, despite the fact that the Cabernets were brought in under much less favourable conditions than the Merlot, there are still some very good wines to be found, with selection being another strong factor in determining eventual quality.

Grand Mayne 1998

My recent 1998 Bordeaux tasting was limited to a small number of wines, just ten in fact. Such tastings can be instructive as well as enjoyable, but they are never sufficient to provide data for judging a vintage or even an appellation. Acknowledging this, rather than focus solely on just one successful region such as St Emilion or Pomerol, I looked at wines from both sides of the Gironde, and included several examples of Sauternes. Perhaps this broad approach contributed to some extent to the outstanding performance from the 1998 vintage of Château Grand Mayne, which was certainly one of the best wines of the tasting.

The wine in question has a beautiful hue, deeply coloured but with a mahogany maturity. After less than an hour in the decanter it is open and ready for business, and it gives a fine aroma of bloody meat, iron, perfumed violets, black olives, dry charcoal and more. It is certainly enticing, and the palate doesn't disappoint, with a medium-bodied and refined entry, plenty of acidic freshness backed up by a core of ripe tannins through the midpalate, rounding very nicely at the finish. The structure, which holds the wine well in the mouth and suggests this will do well in the cellar for some time yet, carries an array of meaty olive flavours. The end is clean and it leads to a slowly fading finish. This is excellent, and has plenty of potential for the future, yet it is still an absolute delight to drink now. 18+/20 (25/8/08)

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