Best of the Best 2002: Wine: Best Domestic New Releases

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Primed for PinotAcacia Winery 1998 Beckstoffer-Las Amigas Vineyard Pinot Noir (Napa, Calif.) Only 480 cases of this single-vineyard, Burgundy-style pinot noir were bottled. But what this wonderful vintage lacks in volume, it gains in flavor. Founders Michael Richmond and Larry Brooks have maintained a long tradition of producing vineyard-specific pinots with growers in Napa’s Carneros region. Beckstoffer-Las Amigas vineyard, planted in the 1950s, is the oldest pinot noir vineyard in the area. Acacia’s team has coaxed from the 1998 harvest a magnificently balanced, supple wine with undertones of citrus and herbs and a rich ruby color.

Acacia Winery, 707.226.1685,  

A Big, Bad Chardonnay
Beringer Vineyards 1999 Napa Valley Chardonnay Sbragia Limited Release (St. Helena, Calif.) As wine master Ed Sbragia will remind you, Beringer’s vintages are made in the vineyard, not in the winery. Certainly this is true of the 1999 Sbragia Limited Release chardonnay, which possesses an unusually smoky, fruity complexity—the result of a protracted growing season that enabled the fruit to achieve optimal ripeness. “We let it sit and mature till Mother Nature said, ‘Take it now, or I’ll take it back,’ ” explains Sbragia. “This is our biggest, baddest chardonnay.”

Beringer Vineyards, 707.963.7115,  

Blossom of Carneros
From the heart of the Russian River Valley, Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler have sent forth into the world some of the U.S.’s most superb single-vineyard chardonnays. The 1999 Hudson Vineyard offering originates in a low-yield section planted with old Wente clone chardonnay. Only 283 cases were bottled, yet the resulting wine is large, round, creamy, and redolent of subtle spices. Its complexity blossoms gratifyingly on the tongue.  

Kistler Vineyards, 707.823.5603  

Cool Cab
Robert Mondavi Winery 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve (Oakville, Calif.) At Mondavi, cabernet sauvignon rules. Whether it’s the To-Kalon Estate Reserve or the Stag’s Leap and Oakville vineyards, Mondavi’s cabernets possess a spirit and lift that are subtle and, at their best, profound. Though the 1997 reserve vintages proved classics, 1998’s Kistler Vineyards 1999 Hudson Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay (Sebastopol, Calif.) should not be overlooked and, in fact, are representative of Napa’s best output for that year. The 1998 Napa Valley Reserve is a cool cabernet, embodying the eloquence and style of a blues refrain.  

Robert Mondavi Winery, 888.766.6328,  

A Bold New Zin
Stephan Vineyards 1998 L’Aventure Zinfandel (Paso Robles, Calif.) A friend with a fetish for opulent Bordeaux has often remarked to me (soberly) that he’s not sure wine gets any better than a good “zin.” While this reflection has failed to curb his investment in Bordeaux futures, I understand what he means: Zinfandel is a wine that makes sense. Stephan Vineyard’s 1998 L’Aventure has the dual attraction of coming from California’s most intriguing hotbed of zinfandel production and of being produced by Stephan Asseo, a veteran wine maker from Bordeaux. Dense with the oak spice and chocolate undertones one expects from this brash grape, Asseo’s ’98 zinfandel is a liquid promise of great things to come.  

Stephan Vineyards, 805.227.1588,  

Cabernet Concerto
Leonetti Cellar 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley (Walla Walla, Wash.) Washington’s most celebrated winery, Leonetti Cellar is also its best. Gary Figgins, a former cannery worker, has become something of a cult figure in the wine world, and one taste of his sumptuous cabernet sauvignons reveals why. The 1998 Cabernet has the graceful intensity of a string concerto, with bass chords of plum and blackberry underscoring a lighter, more playful fugue of floral scents.  

Leonetti Cellar, 509.525.1428


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