This 1998 wine was produced five years before Clos Saint Jean hired a wine-making consultant and started drawing rave reviews from Robert Parker. Yet there were many Rhone wine lovers in Michigan and elsewhere who were already enjoying immensely the old style Chateauneufs of Clos Saint Jean. I vividly remember the 1989, 1990 and 1995--flamboyant and exciting wines. Then the 1998 arrived, and it was clearly the best of the lot--better even than 1989. Even though the previous vintages had not shown great longevity, my early tasting told me 1998 was a vintage not to approach too soon...and this tasting confirmed that I was right.
The 1998 Clos Saint Jean is moderately deep and dark for a Grenache-based wine--considerably deeper than the 1989 Chante Perdrix beside it. The bouquet is forming nicely--Grenache red berry but mostly darker fruits, a bit of black licorice and some leather and animal tones. Slightly roasted like the crust on a well cooked leg of lamb. Very deep and promising. On the palate, there is substantial body and power for a Grenache-based wine. And more fruit-driven complexity--dark plums, black currants and just a hint of garrigue. The finish is very ripe and long.
The vines at Clos Saint Jean are very old and some of the best in the appellation. An acquaintance who visited Chateauneuf du Pape about this time was referred to Clos Saint Jean by Laurence Feraud of Domaine Pegau and was blown away by the quality he found there. The owners are not very commercial, Laurence reportedly told him, but they produce some of the best wine of the appellation. In 2003 the big change at Clos Saint Jean came. The estate now produces several prestige cuvees from the oldest and best vines, selling for $60 to $80 a bottle and busting Robert Parker's 95-point barrier. Even the low priced stripped down regular Chateauneuf is beyond my budget. The wines are less rustic now, I am told. I was quite happy with the rusticity myself and will cling happily to my remaining bottles of the 1998. It is a very fine wine.