A great vintage and the best for Hunter Valley wines since 1991; yields were low, following drought
Unquestionably a great vintage, the reputation of 1998 seems to be enhanced with the release of each major wine. It’s early days and while standout Australian reds like Grange and Hill of Grace are still some time away from release, there’s every indication that 1998 could well be rated as the best Australian red wine vintage of modern times, possibly even since 1962. It appears to have married the sheer concentration of another top warm-to-hot year in 1990 with the fineness and purity of fruit flavour of 1994. Essentially a vintage that constantly bordered on drought but just managed to receive sufficient rainfall to enable the vines to bring their fruit safely to near-perfect ripening, it was a season which began and finished early and whose wines show great potential for bottle development.
It rarely happens this way but as far as 1998 is concerned, virtually all Australian wine regions had the opportunity to produce their best wine. Particular highlights are Coonawarra reds, especially merlot, while shiraz from the traditional South Australian regions of the Barossa Valley, Clare and McLaren Vale are exceptional. Crammed with typical richness and opulent intensity of fruit, the best manage a restraint and elegance which is totally beguiling. Never have Australian winemakers had a better combination of ripe fruit and tannin to work on. While some rain made life marginally more difficult for younger Margaret River vineyards, even the Hunter Valley had an unusually rain-free vintage that helped fashion some classic wines.
While many of the best 1998 reds are yet to be released, the selection to date has been astonishing. From Coonawarra have come great cabernet-based reds from Petaluma, Parker, Katnook Estate, Majella, some of the best Australian merlots yet seen from Petaluma and Pepper Tree, plus silky-smooth shirazes from Zema Estate, Majella and Bowen Estate. The Barossa and McLaren Vale have turned out dark, savoury shirazes from Grant Burge (a great Meshach) and Coriole (a spectacular Lloyd Reserve), while the Tim Adams Aberfeldy Shiraz takes Clare Valley shiraz to a new level. Brokenwoods Graveyard does something similar for the Hunter. From the cooler south eastern regions have come outstanding pinot noirs from Bass Phillip, Lenswood Vineyards, TarraWarra, Domaine A and Massoni, while some of the best-kept secrets in cooler-climate shiraz are the wines from Dalwhinnie (Pyrenees), Clonakilla (Canberra), Bests (Great Western) and Mount Ida (Heathcote). And perhaps the best of them all? The outrageously elegant and silky Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot from Margaret River.