Choosing one release as best out of thousands is, in many ways, an absurd task—one that can be rapidly complicated by the judges’ efforts to showcase their own cleverness or powers of discrimination. We resisted in this undertaking—as best we could—attempts to startle our readers with an esoteric choice defended by arcane distinctions that would prompt them to marvel at our enological prowess. While often difficult to quantify, excellence is in most cases a simple and straightforward quality—one not difficult to recognize. In the case of Joseph Phelps’ 1998 Insignia, many have recognized its merits before us, and we are content to add our voices to theirs.
The perfection of 1997’s Insignia release must have loomed large in the minds of wine maker Craig Williams and his team: Universal praise one year by the redoubtable wine press (or as close to it as mere mortals can hope to attain) might call down that body’s wrath upon one’s head the next should one’s subsequent oeuvre fail to measure up. Nevertheless, this bleak reality, accompanied by difficult weather, did not dishearten the folks at Phelps, who carefully selected the most succulent lots of fruit from harvest, then painstakingly combined and recombined them to arrive at the final blend. Though one-fifth smaller than 1997 production, this release achieves an extraordinary density and richness that will undoubtedly refine with age. Its lush, deep concentration of prune, blackberry, cocoa, wood, and spice riots on the palate, without compromising the integrity of the composition as a whole. Artistic composition, after all, is the very personality of Insignia, and 1998, for all its wild energy, never displays a color or draws a line that tastes out of place.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards, 707.963.2745, www.jpvwines.com