A largely unexciting vintage
1988 was the great vintage that might have been, as most regions almost experienced ideal seasons, but not quite. Firstly it was wind and hail that adversely affected Margaret Rivers reds, then after a mild start to the summer, February turned into a heatwave. The Great Southerns season was mild, if dry and almost too cool. October hail in 1997 reduced yields in Clare and the Barossa Valley, while the Eden Valley was hit by spring frosts. Other than that, South Australias season was long, warm and dry, without becoming excessively hot except in McLaren Vale, and some good to very good reds were made from an early vintage. Coonawarra benefited from its cooler climate even if its fruit came in early, while the McLaren Vales season was good but not great the heat a shade or two higher than desirable. The Hunters half-expected seasonal deluge in February killed off its red hopes for another year, while much of southern and central Victoria experienced ideal red wine conditions.
Some very strong patterns have emerged in identifying the best combinations of Australian regions and varieties from 1998. From South Australia came some excellent Barossa shiraz and Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon, while the Eden Valley produced outstanding reds from reduced crops. It was a top year for Yarra Valley cabernet blends and for central Victorian shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, especially from Heathcote, the Pyrenees and Bendigo. For those interested in richer, more rustic and traditional Australian red, 1988 was also an outstanding year for reds from Victorias north-easterly vineyards around Rutherglen and Glenrowan.
Led by first-class cabernet blends from Mount Mary and Yeringberg in the Yarra Valley, Victoria also excelled with other marvellous cabernet-based wines from Balgownie (Bendigo), Dalwhinnie, Taltarni and Blue Pyrenees Estate, each from the Pyrenees region. Excellent Victorian shirazes were made by Jasper Hill (Heathcote), Craiglee (Sunbury) and Taltarni. Each of Henschkes key reds (Eden Valley) had excellent seasons, while the flagship shirazes of Peter Lehmann, St Hallett and Grant Burge (each Barossa) were typically rich and generous. The first vintage of Parkers Terra Rossa First Growth was one of a number of fine Coonawarra reds which included Katnook Estates Merlot, Petalumas Coonawarra blend and Wynns Black Label. And, astonishingly against the odds, Brokenwood produced a great Graveyard (shiraz) from the Lower Hunter Valley.