By: Ryan Woodhouse
K&L Staff Member
I recently spent several days in Napa Valley at the annual Premiere Napa Valley event. This is an almost gluttonous opportunity to taste the finest wines of the region in a three day marathon of walk-around tastings, winemaker dinners and barrel auctions. After tasting several hundred wines over the course of the weekend, I can honestly say this one was the highlight...and it wasn't even close. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kathleen Heitz (CEO) and Brittany Sherwood (Managing Winemaker) and Mark Neal (Viticulturalist) to taste some library bottles pulled directly from their cellars. This 1998 absolutely stunned me. It is about as perfect of an example of old school, beautifully mature Napa Cab as you could ever hope to find. Sure the blockbuster 1997 vintage got all press as the wines were ripe, rich and approachable in their youth. However here at K&L we love seeking out the very best "off vintage" wines. Many of us have found time and time again that the 1998s (a cool, wet, difficult Napa vintage) actually produced some of the most prolific and age worthy wines of the decade. This wine is the epitome of classic Napa Cabernet. Due to the coolness of the vintage and traditional wine making of Heitz, it does have some elements one could initially mistake for left bank Bordeaux...cedar, damp tobacco, spice box, leather and pencil shavings...but then comes a burst of red loamy earth, dark, lush mid-palate fruit, a whiff of eucalyptus and a ripeness of tannin that speaks of Napa (even in a cool vintage). Thanks to the inherent balance this wine possesses and the immaculate cellaring conditions under which it has been stored for the last two decades it is drinking beautifully. I would think it's approaching the peak drinking window now but probably has another 5+ years ageing potential with ease. This is quite simply an opportunity to drink an absolutely prime bottle of 20 year old Cabernet from one of the country's vinous treasures for an incredibly fair price. Don't miss this...when it's gone it's gone.