Reflecting its writers' assessment of the 1998 vintage, Wine Spectator has selected only one California wine to grace its Top 10 list of wines released during the past year.
Delia Viader's blend of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from the '98 harvest on Howell Mountain made the number three spot on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list of wines released in 2001.
The nation's best read consumer publication picked Marchese Lodovico Antinori's 1998 cabernet blend from the Italian coastal region of Bolgheri, Ornellaia, as "wine of the year."
According to writer James Suckling, the Ornellaia "is pathbreaking in its origin, contemporary in its winemaking, international in its varietal blend and thoroughly Tuscan in its soul."
Brother and former partner of celebrated Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori, Lodovico Antinori first planted vineyards of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia in 1981. "His dream," writes Suckling, "was to make a wine as outstanding as Sassacaia, the legendary Bolgheri red produced for decades by his cousin, Marchese Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta. Antinori quickly achieved international acclaim; Ornellaia has twice appeared among Wine Spectator's top 10 wines of the year, with the 1990 (No. 8 in 1993) and the 1997 (No. 9 in 2000).
"But Antinori believes that he can make even better wines on his 333 acre estate. Ornellaia comes from about 99 acres of vineyards on the property, planted 60 percent to cabernet sauvignon, 35 percent to merlot and 5 percent to cabernet franc.
"The vineyards are in a hot, dry area of Bolgheri, which has a diverse soil of clay, gravel and loam. Cooling breezes from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea help to mitigate the sometimes stifling summer heat. During the growing season, warm days and cool nights help to maintain the aromas and acidity in the grapes. This is why Ornellaia makes rich, aromatic reds with high alcohol and intense fruit character, yet also a natural vibrancy replicated by few other reds in the world."
The Spectator gave the wine a 96 rating when it was released earlier this year. Retail at the time was $110. The Robert Mondavi winery has an ownership stake in this operation.
The number two wine is the 1998 Chateau Cheval-Blanc from the Bordeaux appellation of St. Emilion. Touted as one of the greatest Cheval-Blancs ever produced, the '98 received a 98 rating and retails for $190.
"In only 10 vintages, Viader has established itself as one of California's top reds," the Spectator says of its number three choice. "Even more remarkable, it achieved a classic rating (95) in the extremely difficult '98 vintage. Tony Soter, who retired from consulting in 1999, worked with winemaker Delia Viader on this blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Viader farms 28 acres of vines on Howell Mountain." Total production was 3,500 cases. When released, the wine retailed for $65 a bottle. And, no, Delia does not have a stash of this vintage for the local set. Sorry.
Other Napa Valley wines making this year's Top 100 were:
No. 17 — 1997 Spring Mountain Napa Valley reserve, 95, $90.
No. 44 — 1999 Beringer Napa Valley private reserve chardonnay, 92, $35.
No. 45 — 1997 St. Supery Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, 91, $22.
No. 67 — 1999 Shafer Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch chardonnay, 92, $37.
No. 71 — 1997 Franciscan Oakville Estate Napa Valley Magnificat, 91, $35.
No. 88 — 1996 Heitz Napa Valley Bella Oaks Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, 92, $50.
No. 96 — 1999 Lewis Sonoma County chardonnay, 92, $37.
Other wines rounding out the Spectator's Top 10 were:
No. 4 — 1997 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate Riserva, 96, $40.
No. 5 — 1998 Chateau Canon-LaGaffelière St. Emilion, 95, $52.
No. 6 — 1998 Antinori Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso, 95, $65.
No. 7 — 1997 Pio Cesare Barolo, 95, $58.
No. 8 — 1999 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, 93, $19.
No. 9 — 1998 Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan, 94, $36.
No. 10 — 1998 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde, 93, $38.
The other awards
Wine Enthusiast magazine has selected Beringer Vineyards as the "winery of the year, America." The magazine says, Beringer, "a pioneer of California wine renaissance maintains it leadership role after 125 years of continuous operation," and is producing some of the most sought-after wines anywhere.
Richard Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands (which now owns Franciscan Estates), has been chosen as Wine Enthusiast's "man of the year."
The magazine says Sands "has turned the company started by his father and grandfather into a $3 billion wine, beer and spirits powerhouse. His non-traditional, price-segmented approach is forcing the competition to re-examine their business models."
"Winemakers of the year" are Renzo Cotarella and Riccardo Cotarella, credited with leading Italy "onto the world stage — Renzo, as winemaker for Antinori, in Tuscany, and Riccardo, both as winery for the family estate, Falesco, in Umbria, and as a consultant for over 50 wineries in Italy and France."
Selected "wine region of the year" was the state of Washington, "for its rise in a mere 20 years to a wine-producing region worthy of the world's respect."