Saturday, December 17, 2016

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet - The 1998 Vintage

Del Dotto Napa Cabernet 1998 BYOB at Angelis Italian Naperville

Winter storm warning with light snow and plunging temperatures didn't deter us from venturing out for Friday night dinner at Angelis Italian, our favorite (Naperville) neighborhood Trattoria. We took BYOB this 1998 Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet.

I have written often in these pages about the '98 vintage of Napa Cabs. It was much maligned by the pundits and was generally regarded as a disappointing vintage. The inferiority of the vintage was exacerbated by the fact it was 'surrounded' by stellar vintages. In fact the run-up to the '98 vintage was a run of four years of highest rated seasons, then '98, then another blockbuster year in '99.  Generally, any vintage of the nineties was a collectable highly rated vintage except '98. So it was that this vintage was the one to avoid, there were many great wines available, and the follow on year added to its demise as a non-collectable, non-respectable wine, a vintage to be avoided.

Here are the vintage reviews from Wine Spectator for the period.

Vintage WS Rating Vintage Review
DrinkTremendous depth, concentration and structure from a cool, moderate year; ageworthy
Past peakCool, damp year with mostly green, herbal wines marked by gritty tannins; few memorable bottles
DrinkHuge crop of ripe, opulent, fleshy, concentrated wines, from near-perfect weather; super in Sonoma, too
DrinkA sleeper, with a remarkable number of compelling wines; warm year with fine concentration and depth
DrinkSurprisingly fine year, with wines marked by great flavors, balance and structure
199497DrinkA showy year all around; ripe, complex and fleshy, with excellent depth

The Cellartracker community average rating for this wine is 86.7 (points), vs 91.8 for the '97, and 92 for the '99. I say, buy it up, drink it up, and enjoy!

So why is one vintage better than another? The 1998 vintage was a difficult year for growers due to the effects of the El Niño weather pattern that brought unusually cool weather and rain, both early in the spring and sporadically later in the season. This resulted in a fruit set that was small and late. The cooler temperatures continued on into the summer, with a few periods of heat where growers were concerned with sunburn. The result was uneven ripeness, irregular-sized berries, and an overall sluggish ripening. While September brought more suitable, drier, warmer weather, the harvest was delayed into late October, with some wineries finishing as late as November.

There was a silver lining in this clouded vintage with many great values emerging. Here is another testament to refute the prevailing views. There were many sleepers of the vintage, and because of their tainted lineage, they were and still are great bargains with high QPR (Quality Price Ratio). I've written often that I think the '98 has consistently been more approachable, and more pleasant drinking than the much heralded, revered '97, and could be obtained, in many cases (no pun intended), for half the price.

Note, this is not applicable across the region, we hold some Napa Cabs that live up to the deplorable reputation of the vintage, and are indeed the cause, not the effect. But, we're consistently rewarded for having gone against the prevailing views and stocking up on '98's that have proven wonderful wines with respectable aging potential, despite the belief they would be early gratification but short-lived.

Del Dotto produced such a wine in their Napa Valley Cabernet. This wine, even eighteen years later is delightful, while the '97 is just now starting to open and reveal its potential. Up until recently, I would have preferred the 98 over the 97. Their aging curves may only now be intersecting, and perhaps crossing.

My on-line wine journal shows nine reviews of this wine dating back to our tasting of it at the winery in 2000. The earliest reviews rated it 92 points, indicating that early gratification, but half of them over the last six years were ranked 90 points. Only now is this wine starting to show its age as I deducted a point from my last four consistent reviews of this wine.

Shown left, we're tasting Del Dotto Napa Cab with David and Yolanda Del Dotto at our favorite dining spot/table, at Tra Vigne, in St Helena, during our 1999 Napa Wine Experience Tour

We hold over a dozen vintages of this wine going back to their inaugural vintage in 1993. We are now starting to appreciate its aging potential as some of the vintages are just emerging to reveal their true potential. I recently wrote the same thing, about such a phenomenon, regarding the great, super premium Dominus, Napa Valley Estate Red Wine, that twenty, even thirty years later, it opens to show its true greatness and potential. While perhaps not Dominus' equal, some of the Del Dotto releases are showing some of the same traits.

Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 

Cellartracker reviewer AlphaWillie wrote of this wine: "This bottle was great and did not have any of the issues that others have reported."

My view: "A sleeper of the vintage, a consistently pleasant, nice drinking wine, belaying and despite its lackluster reviews. Still life left, this was dark garnet colored, medium bodied, still vibrant and lively, nicely balanced, moderately complex black cherry fruits accented by tobacco leaf, leather, tones of tangy spicy oak and modest but pleasant tannins on the finish".

RM 89 points.

My early reviews of this wine attribute to it a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Cab Franc.