1998 Vintage Ratings:
Red wine vintage rating: 89
1998 Top Three Napa Valley Wines Today:
Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Signature
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
1998, one of the first recognized El Niño years in viticulture circles, was potentially a catastrophe for Napa Valley, but the autumn came good, and today, there are a few pleasant surprises to be found.
Believed to have been occurring for thousands of years, the El Niño effect on Pacific Northwest wine regions was largely overlooked until this vintage. El Niño and La Niña have the strongest influence on winter's U.S. seasonal climate. El Niño is the warm phase of this recurring climate pattern affecting the Pacific Ocean. The pattern shifts back and forth with La Niña, the cold phase, every few years, bringing predictable extremes in ocean surface temperature and disrupting the wind and rainfall patterns across the tropics.
The abnormally wet conditions in the early half of 1998 led to poor flowering and fruit set for Napa Valley, ultimately resulting in some uneven ripening. The growing season, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically cool. It was a very late harvest—lasting in some cases into November—and required a lot of vigilance. Berries were tiny and concentrated while yields were reduced, which probably accounts for why several of the top wines have stood the test of time admirably.
The 1998 vintage was largely slated upon release. The wines are lighter, more delicately styled, and livelier than the lauded vintages that preceded, for sure, but a few have held up remarkably well and are downright delicious.