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A Tricky Year for Pinot Noir

Despite difficulties, California avoided disaster with the 1998s

James Laube
Posted: September 20, 2000


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A Tricky Year for Pinot Noir

Despite difficulties, California avoided disaster with the 1998s

By James Laube


Robert Mondavi peered over the glasses of the dozen or so samples of 1998 Pinot Noir. Judging from his blank expression, the 87-year-old chairman of the winery that bears his name wasn't terribly impressed. Then the famous Napa Valley vintner came upon a glass that piqued his interest, which led to a smile followed by a query. "What wine is this?" he asked his winemaker, Genevieve Janssens, who was seated at the table. It turned out to be a new -- and Mondavi's first -- single-vineyard Pinot Noir from the winery's Huichica (pronounced hoo-CHEE-ka) Hills Vineyard in Carneros, the region just south of Napa Valley noted for its high-quality Pinot Noir.

We had each independently come to the same conclusion: The '98 Huichica Hills Pinot (89 points, $50, 300 cases), with its fragrant black cherry and spice aromatics and rich, supple texture, was the best wine on a table of merely good wines. The tasting with Mondavi mirrored my findings as a whole for the 1998 Pinot Noir vintage in California: After reviewing more than 130 1998s, I found only a few exceptional wines.

So far, only two Pinot Noirs from 1998, W.H. Smith Sonoma Coast Hellenthal Vineyard (91, $48, 488 cases) and newcomer Adrian Fog Anderson Valley Floodgate Vineyard (90, $45, 180 cases), have earned outstanding scores. Another dozen -- including Mondavi's Huichica Hills -- scored 88 or 89 points and are very attractive wines that should drink well over the next year or two. (See the top-scoring chart below.) One winery, Acacia, in Carneros, accomplished a remarkable feat. This winery produced a whopping 34,000 cases of a delightfully fruity and complex wine that scored 88 points and sells for $25.

Winemakers termed 1998 a difficult yet gratifying harvest that came perilously close to disaster, and many were pleased with the good quality wines that they made. A cool, wet start to the growing season contributed to a late harvest in which many winemakers had no choice but to wait and hope the grapes ripened. "Despite the capricious weather, I believe that we reacted well to the difficulties presented by the vintage," said Mike Sullivan, winemaker for Hartford Court in Russian River.


For the complete article, please see the Sept. 15, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 106.


JAMES LAUBE'S TOP-SCORING CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR
Wine  Year  Score Price
W.H. SMITH WINES Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Hellenthal Vineyard 1998 91 $48
ADRIAN FOG Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Floodgate Vineyard 1998 90 $45
MARTINELLI Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Martinelli Vineyard Reserve 1998 89 $45
ROBERT MONDAVI Pinot Noir Carneros 1998 89 $35
ROBERT MONDAVI Pinot Noir Carneros Hulchica Hills Vineyard 1998 89 $50
WILLIAM SELYEM Pinot Noir Central Coast 1998 89 $23
ROCHIOLI Pinot Noir Russian River Valley West Block 1997 93 $60
WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Rochioli Vineyard 1997 93 $125
WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Riverblock Vineyard 1997 93 $55
DEHLINGER Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Reserve 1997 92 $45
ROCHIOLI Pinot Noir Russian River Valley East Block 1997 92 $65
TESTAROSSA Pinot Noir Santa Lucia highlands Sleepy Hollow Vineyard 1997 92 $32
WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Vineyard 1997 92 $45
WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Coastlands Vineyard 1997 92 $55
AU BON CLIMAT Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley Talley Vineyard 1997 91 $50
DEHLINGER Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 1997 91 $35
MARCASSIN Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Marcassin Vineyard 1996 96 $75
ETUDE Pinot Noir Carneros Heirloom 1996 92 $80
CALERA Pinot Noir Mount Harlan Mills Vineyard 1996 90 $55

JAMES LAUBE'S SMART BUYS IN CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR
Wine  Year  Score Price
ACACIA Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 1998 88 $25
STEELE Pinot Noir Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyard 1997 88 $25
ALEXANDER VALLEY VINEYARDS Pinot Noir Alexander Valley Wetzel Family Estate 1998 87 $18
EDNA VALLEY Pinot Noir Edna Valley Paragon 1998 87 $19
EDNA VALLEY Pinot Noir Central Coast Paragon 1997 87 $19
ESTANCIA Pinot Noir Monterey Reserve 1997 87 $22
KENWOOD Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Jack London Vineyard 1998 87 $20

JAMES LAUBE'S BEST VALUES IN CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR
Wine  Year  Score Price
NAVARRO Pinot Noir Mendocino 1997 86 $13
ECHELON Pinot Noir Central Coast 1998 85 $15
ROBERT MONDAVI Pinot Noir Central Coast Coastal 1998 85 $15
BOUCHAINE Pinot Noir California B 1997 84 $12
FETZER Pinot Noir California Barrel Select 1998 84 $15
FOUNTAIN GROVE Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 1997 84 $9
PEPPERWOOD GROVE Pinot Noir California 1997 84 $7
SONOMA CREEK Pinot Noir Sonoma County 1998 84 $15


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