The Alsace Vintage Years

Year 1998

A great year for the Sélection de Grains Nobles

The climate

The rainfall from the month of September apparently didn’t play on the moral of Alsace producers who realised they had to stay calm, remain patient and who now discover an excellent vintage year in their wine cellars.

Let’s not forget that this vintage year started out under the best auspices thanks to an initial lead time due to a particularly dry and sunny month of May.

And being in advance was not at all challenged during the vineyard growth cycle. After a fairly variable month of July, the sweltering month of August helped enhance the ripening and even resulted here and there in some bunches getting burned – a most unusual event!

The first ripening checks revealed particularly high sugar contents, having the year 1998 be among the most early harvest years of these last decades.

The harvest

The harvest start dates are perfect witnesses to the above, set on September 15 for AOC Crémant d'Alsace and September 24 for AOC Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru.

The rainfall during the month of September most definitely slowed down the ripening progress and boosted the development here and there of noble rot.

The harvest volume dedicated to Crémant d'Alsace progressed yet again this year, therefore meeting the regular increase in demand and being present for the year 2000. In addition we can notice that the producers used a lot of Riesling in the blending of this appellation to preserve its great acidic balance.

The volumes of Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles, without of course reaching record numbers like the previous year, were at a totally acceptable level. And for the first time, the volumes harvested in Sélections de Grains Nobles (10 929 hl) exceeded those for Vendanges Tardives (10 856 hl), thus showing the intensity of concentration phenomena related to the development of noble rot during late autumn.

In general the 3 protected designation of origin appellations, Alsace, Alsace Grand Cru and Crémant d'Alsace totalled a production of 1,211,000 hl, slightly higher than the previous year.

The wines

Muscat, picked very early, reveals a certain suppleness and wonderful aromatic purity. The composition of Pinot, Sylvaner and Riesling is very similar to that of last year. These wines are straightforward, aromatic and on the whole well balanced with acidity levels proving to be superior to what could have been imagined given the early ripeness of this vintage year.

Tokay Pinot Gris is well concentrated and Gewurztraminer, very homogeneous, has a fantastic aromatic intensity.

CIVA: Interprofessional Committee of Alsace Wines
March 1999

Tasting notes

Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine L’inédit 1998 - Domaine Weinbach:

Produced with the oldest vines of the estate harvested when over-ripe, this wine is rich on the nose with aromas of stone fruits and a smoky hint, finished off with traces of flint. The palate is harmonious, rich and fatty with a tight balance from a remarkable vertical acidity A long finish of citrus fruit peel. Magnificent combination of weight and freshness for a great wine with keeping potential. (Last tasted in March, 2015)

Gewurztraminer Cuvée Anne Sélection de Grains Nobles 1998, Domaines Schlumberger:

Produced with grapes coming from Kessler, this wine has an intense nose with aromas of honey, yellow fruits and plums. The palate is sweet and very full-bodied when it hits the mouth, then rich with aromas of honey and mirabelle jam making it very smooth. A long sweet finish with aromas of peach. A wine which evolves slowly when ageing, promising to have a long keeping potential. (Last tasted in July, 2006)

The fruity 1998 vintage year wine character is often emphasized, regardless the grape variety, and if the presence of noble rot made it age faster than certain cuvées, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris still provide beautiful aromas of stone fruits, peach, apricot and even plum. The cuvées harvested after the rain allowed for great ripeness and the large volume of Sélection de Grains Nobles produced this year is godsend as the wines evolve perfectly well when ageing.

Thierry MEYER
Wine Instructor, Founder of L’Oenothèque Alsace (independent wine resource centre

The Alsace Vintage Years

There are never two harvests which are alike! Each year, the different climatic conditions impose a natural framework which wine-makers learn to manage. The vintage year transmits these variations into the wine quality perception. It furthermore provides indications for how long it should age once bottled.

Review the last 20 vintage years and those which have entered into the legend of great wines: