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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Mini 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tasting

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 2, 2007 2:50pm ET

Over the weekend, I kept pulling bottles from the same area in my cellar. Before too long, a theme had arisen. The theme just happened to be '98 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The ’98 vintage was warm, and the wines were ripe and powerful when they were released. The vintage is not unlike '03, though it is less extreme in style. The '98s also shut down fairly quickly, as CdP typically does, and they've been rather reticent until the last year or so. Many of the regular cuvées are starting to reemerge, while the older vine and other special cuvées still need some time. (Note: I did not review the '98 CdPs for Wine Spectator, as that was before I started covering the region).

Here are my unofficial notes and scores (since they were not tasted blind):

1998 Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape
This was deliciously ripe, with lots of currant, black cherry, pepper and mineral. Long, sanguine finish. Drink now through 2012. 91 points.

1998 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape
This has the domaine's telltale profile—lots of raspberry ganache. Very silky texture, with notes of truffle and cocoa starting to fan out on the finish. Really opens up nicely with air. Drink now through 2012. 92 points.

1998 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape
This is the most seriously structured and backward of the three, with iron, game and herb notes followed by red currant and fig flavors. Brawny and muscular still, this opened slowly and steadily in the glass. Best from 2008 through 2015. 94 points.

Based on tasting these three wines, the vintage is humming along nicely, and there's no rush to drink them either. Another two to three years and the bulk of the top wines will likely be hitting their peak.

After reporting on a retrospective of the ’95 CdP vintage at the end of 2005, the ‘98s are next in line for a more comprehensive look back ('96 and '97 are weaker years for CdP). Hopefully on my next trip to the region, I can get it organized. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Mark Wilkins
January 2, 2007 5:02pm ET
I have two bottles of '98 Chateau La Nerthe Cuvee des Cadettes and was planning to open them this weekend to go with a Lamb roast while celebrating my sister's birthday. But your article now has me wondering if I should sit on them a couple more years and open something else instead. I have several bottles of '98 La Nerthe (not Cuvee des Cadettes), plus various other non-old-vine Chateauneufs from 2000 and later, but none are as promising as the two mentioned above. What would YOU do?Thanks for any advice.
David A Zajac
January 3, 2007 8:52am ET
I would open them about an hour in advance, decant if possible. I have been pulling corks on my 1998's and agree another year or two is ideal, but they are drinking wonderfully now, so what if they might be just a smidgen better in a year or two...enjoy them, just decant for a short while.
James Molesworth
January 3, 2007 9:14am ET
Mark: The La Nerthe wines tend to evolve a little faster than other CdPs, in my experience. I'd drink the regular cuv¿now, which is likely at peak, and wait another year or two before opening the Cadettes...
Carlos Omana
Caracas, Venezuela —  January 3, 2007 1:38pm ET
It seems that I should forget about CdP 2001's and 2003's for the next decade.would drinking Rayas 2001, 2003; Domaine de Pegau 2003 and Beaucastel 2003 now be tantamount to infantizide?
James Molesworth
January 3, 2007 1:54pm ET
Carlos: I find the '03s to really be shutting down. All the fruit is now being over taken by serious, gripping tannins. Best to forget the '03 CdPs for a while.

Many '01s remain open and approachable however - the vintage has never really shut down across the board. Rayas is one that is drinkable now, but there's no rush on it, by any stretch.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference though - how young, or old, do you like your wines?
Jim Mason
St. John's —  January 5, 2007 2:10pm ET
I have some Chapoutier C du P 2003. If the wine is shutting down now roughly how long before I should be drinking these? Say five years?
James Molesworth
January 5, 2007 2:26pm ET
Jim: History says most of the top CdPs shut down for 3-5 years before reemerging, if not a little longer. However, '03 was such an extreme vintage due to the heat, it may evolve a little differently. We'll have to wait and see.
Travis G Snyder
Salt Lake City —  January 9, 2007 12:08am ET
After reading this Blog I was tempted to try one of my 1998 Southern Rhones. I vied for a Domaine de Font-Sane Gigondas. Not a CdP, but I thought I'd start small. Now that I have finished, I can say that I'm glad I tried it, and I'm glad I waited before opening the bottle. CdP's little brother faired well with a little age. It shows some maturity, but it's not over the hill. At first, it smelled of rose petals, then rock and spice (cinnamon sticks and nutmeg), and finally, graphite and a little red-black fruit. After it had been open awhile, it showed licorice, and then tobacco. I enjoyed it, a lot.
Scott Cheney
Michigan —  January 9, 2007 10:49pm ET
I just opened a bottle of '03 Pegau Cuvee Reservee. It was tremendous! Not shut down at all. Youthful, yes, but thoroughly enjoyable. On my report, a friend opened one of his Pegaus--and thanked me profusely for convincing him to try a wine that he otherwise would not have opened for years. The Vieux Telegraphe I tried this past summer, however should probably be forgotten for years. Yet I would not consider it "shut down" so much as it was just a big disheveled monster, which should come together very nicely with time. It may have shut down in the past 6 months, however. James, do I dare touch my '99 Beaucastel yet?
James Molesworth
January 10, 2007 9:07am ET
Scott: '99s are drinking nicely, a vintage that has been fairly open and fresh all along. But no rush on Beaucastel - if you like 'em older, it can go another 10+ years easy, assuming proper storage of course...
Rocky Menge
January 10, 2007 10:40am ET
James, I appreciated your comments regarding the '98 CdP shutting down. I've found the same thing can/does happen with Gigondas. I bought the Domaine de Cabasse 1998 shortly after it was released and it was outstanding. I bought two more cases and let them sit. I opened a bottle two years ago and it had completely shut down. I opened a bottle last night and it is STILL "dumb". In your opinion is this possible? I have a hard time believing a whole case is bad. I would appreciate your thoughts.
James Molesworth
January 10, 2007 10:45am ET
Rocky: A 'dumb stage' doesn't mean the wine is bad. Instead, a 'dumb stage' is when a wine is closed, backward, tight - not showing it's fruit and minerality as it sorts itself out. Some dumb stages can be brief, others can last a few years - Chave's white Hermitage for example, or Beaucastel's Roussanne VV can be dumb for up to a decade.

I haven¿t had the Cabasse '98 recently though, so I couldn't comment directly. Best thing to do is keep trying it every few months, and give it plenty of air by decanting it when you do drink it. Watching how a wine evolves over time is part of the fun.
Rob Scuka
January 10, 2007 10:07pm ET
James,I am new to collecting wines, especially CdP, and love reading your columns about Rhone wines, which are my favorites. Your comments about a wine shutting down are also my first awareness of this phenomenon. So my quetsion is, if the choice were between a 2003 or 2004 Clos du Papes CDP, both of which received classic scores (97 and 96 respectively), which would you recommend to purchase to try now? Has the 2003 reached its 'shut down' phase? Thanks
Rob Scuka
January 10, 2007 10:45pm ET
Another question, James. I have 4 bottles of 2003 Domaine Grand Veneur CdP (1 full and 3 half) in my cellar. I loved it when I first drank it a year ago at Christmas. I opened a half bottle this past Christmas, and it was not as great an experience this time around. It seems, given your comments, that this could be due to its shutting down. Do you think that is the case, and if so how many years do you think this Domaine's CdP should sit at this point? Thanks.
James Molesworth
January 11, 2007 9:13am ET
Rob: To try now, I would recommend the '04 Clos des Papes. It is very young, but not shut down. The '03 is closing up.

Ditto on the Grand Veneur - I'd give it 2-4 years to come back around, though in half bottles it will mature faster.
Carrie Stanfill
February 18, 2007 3:18pm ET
I am new to this "dumb stage" in reference to wines. Although it does make sense, in retrospect. I believe I have experienced this with the '99 Banfi Brunello, the '01 La Nerthe CDP, and the '00 La Gardine CDP over the past couple of years. I have the '99, '00, and '01 Guigal CDP that I was hoping to drink together as a vertical. Is your recommendation to hold on for awhile? I like young and old CDPs. I just don't want to drink them if you think they are still "shut down".
Rocky Menge
February 18, 2007 10:56pm ET
Last time I drank the '00 it was shutting down. And that was a year ago.I will tell you that Guigal wines age well and should be held a while. Especially the '99 and '00. (I think the '00 is better then the '99 the Spectator wine of the year. They age beautifully. BTW....if you can find the Guigal '03 St Joseph Lit Dit buy it. It is a stunning Syrah.
James Molesworth
February 20, 2007 9:57am ET
Carrie: Personally I don't think the Guigal CdPs age as well as the top wines from the appellation - they're very good in their first 10 years of life, but aren't the 15-20+ year wines that Beaucastel, Janasse, Pegau, etc are...

As for the vertical - you could hold on to them for another 2-3 years before opening. But as always, it's a matter of personal preference as to how old you like your wines.

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