Napa's Lost Vintages - 1998, 2000, 2003

I have seen a few comments recently about the 1998 vitnage, and a statement that it should have been declassified. I have had a few 1998s over the past year and a half that were not bad, but certainly not equal to other vintages. The same can easily be said for the 2000 cabs that I have had this year, including an Insignia that was showing very well, but simply couldn’t touch 2001, 2002, 2007, etc. The 2003 vintage is probably Napa’s most controversial, with Laube from WS proclaiming it the worst of the decade (if not quarter century), while Parker raved about the vintage as more similar to 2002 than to 1998.

Now, most of the 1998s, 2000s, and many 2003s are selling for massive discounts. The Insignia I had a few weeks ago was around $75 or so. It showed well and probably earned its 93 point score.

So, if you were buying these wines for immediate consumption, which vintage would you pursue, and why? And if you believe one of these vintages is far and away worse than the others, why?

Thank you. This is a legitimate request for opinions and information, not a “stir the pot” post.

I’d love to see some traffic on this one, too. Being a napa native, my daughters’ birth years were 2000 and 2003 so I picked up some Mayacamas cabs from those years thinking they’d be the Napa wines most likely to make the long haul. Are they worth holding to 2021 and 2024, respectively, or will I likely be really disappointed? Or should I serve them at high school graduation instead! [cheers.gif]

I’m not a Cali Cab aficionado and can’t really answer your question but wanted to throw in a little perspective on the 1998s. I enjoyed the 1998 Sequoia Grove C.S. (some years ago and not sure how it has held up lately) and spoke to a winemaker about it. The winemaker said that vineyards on one side of Route 29 or the Napa Valley had much more rain that the other side and so the whole vintage got slammed when there were some good and restrained wines produced.

Karl Lawrence did quite well in all three years, especially 2003.

Can’t say the same for 2000 but certain wineries did a really good job with 2003. I thought the Mondavi Reserve was particularly tasty

Had a couple of really good 2000s, led by Dalla Valle Cab. Way better than I remember it years ago and ready to drink now.

This is a very timely post, as I was considering posting the same.
What are the characteristics of these three vintages that make them less desirable, particularly for cabs?

Does this come down to an evolution issue, with some of the 2000s rounding into shape? Or, is this a true quality issue, and “really good” will never be “mind-bending?” I feel like 1996 was passed over for 1997, but has evolved as well or better than 1997 (with exceptions) into great wines. I believe many 2000s are evolving into nice wines, but I am not convinced they will ever reach the peaks of 2001, 2002, 1996, 1994, etc.

I want to know the same thing Steven. I don’t have all that much experience with any of these vintages

I would be all over the 2003s and avoid 2000 and 1998 like a plague. But that’s just me. We have had some pretty great 2003s lately and a dinner of all 2003 Napas blew away a similar (not wines) dinner of 2007s just a few weeks earlier. True true.

El Nino, El Nino, too much heat, respectively.

I quit paying attention after the '94/5 vintages when my interest shifted dramatically to Burgs. Have recently re-gained interest in classically styled cabs from '70s-early '90s and have seen great prices for the three vintages you posted, particularly '98. Am hoping to get some insight into whether the relative shortcomings of any of those vintages might still be worth pursuing for my Burg-loving, old-school cab, AFWE palate.


For me 98 was the weakest of those three in Napa but then I’ve had less of those than the others and also it followed 1994,5,6,7 so at the time those came out, I wasn’t all that impressed and kind of wrote it off. Of those, in retrospect 1994 may be the best but on release, at the time, the 1997s may have been the most impressive, or let’s say that they certainly were to me. I just remember thinking “damn”! But as I’ve been drinking those wines now, I’m not sure they’ve held up as well as some of the other three, particularly 1996, which was the leanest at the time, at least to me, but which has blossomed really nicely. So after the big, ripe, lush 1997s, I had little interest in the 1998s and perhaps that happened to other people too.

But I’ve had some pretty good 2000s and even more good 2003s. In fact, I don’t think 2003 was really all that bad. A lot of people slam it and slammed it early on, but as I remember, it was wet initially and fairly cool after that, but it was not super wet and rainy during late summer or harvest. In fact, I think they had a normal harvest. So maybe it wasn’t as big and ripe out of the chute as those mid-1990s or as 2001 or 2002, but I don’t think it’s as “weak” as some would suggest. And I also think that by analogy, as 1998 was overshadowed by the 1994-1997s, so it was overshadowed by the 2001,2001, and 2004s. Once again, it was less plush and exciting, but in the long run, may be a good bet.

FWIW - I don’t have a gripe with Laube or anything, but I’m not sure 1999 was as great as Laube seems to think.

Also, I think it might matter which grapes you’re talking about. I’m only talking about Cab-based wines. Some grapes can get a late start and they’ll be OK, whereas others may have a more difficult time. I have zero clue about Chardonnay, PN, SB, etc. But actually, now that I think about it, I’d be interested in seeing how Chardonnays from the 2003 vintage in Napa are faring.

So, '98 and 2000 cabs are generally leaner, less plush than the surrounding vintages?

Harlan made a terrific 98. They did a very strict selection which undoubtedly worked for them.The 98 Dalla Valle was also quite nice. As usual, the key is to be careful in wholesale dismissal of weaker vintages as there are gems to be found if you look.

Joel, looking like that could be costly. Almost not worth the knee-deep mire in mediocrity*.

*unless someone else was flipping the bill.


Yes, and greener. In some cases, that green-ness has morphed into a nice cassis flavor. But not always. I prefer how 00s turned out over 98s.

Thanks Roy.

Any thoughts on how the Montelena Estate, Mondavi Reserve, Mayacamas, Togni, Dunn Howell Mt, Ridge Monte Bello and Dominus from these three vintages are doing now?

Ah, what the hell. Here is my personal vintage chart…

2001…96…96…DRINK/HOLD (best vintage since 91)
2007…96…91…HOLD (going through phase)

These are two of the most palatable for me, along with 2006, at least in the last few years or so.

Roy, I am not sure I agree that 2002 has fallen off that much, but do agree that 2004 is not as strong a vintage as it was made out to be. I have tasted through a ton of 2007s, like Dominus, Continuum, Insignia, Foley Claret, Robert Craig (spring, howell, mt. veeder), Plumpjack, BV GDLT, Katheryn Hall, Round Pond, Ghost Block, about 5 Nickel & Nickels, Altamura, Revana, etc. etc.

I think 2007 will end up being a stunning vintage, but with some variations in ageability. Some of those wines are amazingly structured with stunning fruit (Insignia, Dominus, Continuum, Katheryn Hall) and are clearly cellar worthy with the stuffing to evolve for decades. I think some are monster fruit bombs (Revana, Altamura), and some show an intriguing mix of those two characteristics that make Napa wines so compelling (BV GDLT, Plumpjack). I do agree that without question, the 2007s are a HOLD right now.

I digress from my topic though…very interesting post. Thanks for sharing Roy.