I don't know if this happens to you sometimes but once in a while, I am just craving for a good bottle of Bordeaux, a steak on the rare side, and extra-crisp French fries. So I pay a visit to the older Bordeaux section of the cellar and check what I have. Last time, not looking for a blockbuster wine but just the right bottle for the occasion, I found a 1998 Château Cantemerle that seemed ready to drink.
Château Cantemerle is a classified fifth growth that has a long history in the Haut-Médoc. In the Middle Ages, the original Château was part of a defensive line on the the left side bank of the river Gironde. The oldest masnuscripts referring to the Lords of Cantemerle date from the twelfth century and the first traces of viticulture were found in 1354.
Today, the estate has 90 hectares of vines in the Haut-Médoc appellation, growing on silica and gravel soils. The grape varieties cultivated are 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. The vines average 30 years of age. The wine is aged 12 months in French oak (50% new) then 4 months in vats after blending.
1998 was a great year for the Merlot-dominated wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol whereas the Médoc wines were initially underrated. That year, spring was cold and wet in Bordeaux, followed by some good weather in May and June. July and August were exceptionally hot and dry and many of the vines suffer from heat stress. In September, most of the Merlot grapes were harvested in fine condition but heavy rains towards the end of September affected the quality of the Cabernets. At Cantemerle, the 1998 vintage was made from 48 % Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. 30% of the harvest, including all Cabernet Franc, were put aside for the second wine.
Now I have to tell you that this 1998 Cantemerle was amazingly good, showing a deep garnet color and a fragrant nose of cassis and licorice. But the best part was the mouthfeel on the palate: velvety, voluptuous, perfectly balanced, leaving a long, earthy aftertaste.
The other surprise is when I checked the price I paid for the wine: $19.95 in 1999, which seems unbelievably low today. As a point of comparison, the 2005 can be found at $40 and the 2007 (on futures) is at $29. I am glad I still have 4 bottles left of this delicious wine.
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