BEST WINES $15 AND UNDER
1998 Honig Vineyard & Winery Sauvignon Blanc
1998 Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay
1998 Cline California Syrah
1997 Laurel Glen Quintana Cabernet Sauvignon
1997 Blackstone Merlot
1998 Bridgeview Oregon Blue Moon Pinot Noir
1997 Ravenswood Napa Valley Zinfandel
BEST WINES OVER $15
1998 Selene Hyde Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
1997 Peter Michael Cuvée Indigène Chardonnay
1998 Neyers Hudson Vineyard Syrah
1996 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
1998 Andrew Will Ciel Du Cheval Merlot
1997 Saintsbury Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir
1997 Ridge Geyserville
WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR
Paul Draper, Ridge Vineyards
MOST PROMISING NEW WINERY
BEST NEW WINE SHOP
The Italian Wine Merchant
BEST WINE IMPORTER/DISTRIBUTOR
Michael Skurnik Wines
BEST SAUVIGNON BLANC $15 AND UNDER
1998 HONIG VINEYARD & WINERY ($13)
Although many California Sauvignon Blancs have grown as big, fat and oaky as California Chardonnays, there are some that still follow the crisp, lean Loire Valley model. This Honig wine adheres to this style admirably, offering bright citrus flavors and crisp, mouth-cleansing acidity. The Napa Valley winery clearly deserves its long-held reputation for turning out good-value wines.
BEST SAUVIGNON BLANC OVER $15
1998 SELENE HYDE VINEYARD ($20)
Mia Klein, an enormously talented and exceedingly busy wine consultant (Dalla Valle, Araujo, Viader), makes entirely too little of her own wines under the Selene label--1,000 cases of this Sauvignon and 1,500 cases of two Merlots. The Hyde Vineyard lies in the Carneros region of Napa and tends to produce wines with particularly intense flavors, which Klein keeps at the forefront while working them to a rich but subtle turn on the finish.
BEST CHARDONNAY $15 AND UNDER
1998 CARTLIDGE & BROWNE ($10)
F&W contributing editor Robert M. Parker, Jr., called this Napa Valley wine "the finest domestic-value Chardonnay in the marketplace" in The Wine Advocate. Our judges agreed. Round, supple and lush, the wine was created by Tony Cartlidge and Glenn Browne 20 years ago and had near immediate success. Cartlidge & Browne also owns Ehler's Grove, where it produces equally commendable estate Chardonnays.
BEST CHARDONNAY OVER $15
1997 PETER MICHAEL CUVEE INDIGENE ($85)
Sir Peter's winemaking team turns out six stunning and highly sought-after Chardonnays. The Cuvée Indigène (or "indigenous blend," which refers to the natural yeast used during fermentation) is an extraordinarily rich, concentrated wine with a compelling and intense bouquet of dried fruit, honey and French oak. Barrique-aged and made in minute quantities (474 cases), it reflects this Sonoma winery's emphasis on natural techniques and extremely low yields.
BEST SYRAH $15 AND UNDER
1998 CLINE CALIFORNIA ($10)
This versatile Sonoma winery produces fine Zinfandels as well as Rhône blends and varietals. Although Syrah, a Rhône grape, has become wildly popular only recently, proprietor Fred Cline recognized its potential years ago. The 1998 Syrah, a blend of several different appellations, is immediately accessible, a soft, juicy red with a nose redolent of smoke and spice--a Rhône grape that's grown California ripe.
BEST SYRAH OVER $15
1998 NEYERS HUDSON VINEYARD ($55)
Neyers Vineyard quietly turns out powerhouse Syrahsin California's pastoral Conn Valley, well away from the Napa Valley's well-touristed towns. Owner Bruce Neyers (former winemaker at Phelps and Mayacamas) and winemaker Ehren Jordan (ofTurley Zinfandel fame) produce only 962 cases of this huge, tannic but enormously rich and concentrated wine, which Neyers calls the star of his 1998 vintage.
BEST CABERNET SAUVIGNON $15 AND UNDER
1997 LAUREL GLEN QUINTANA ($15)
California Cabernet specialist Laurel Glen makes what it rather provocatively calls "wines likely to appeal to Europeans"--in other words, wines that owe more to restraint and polish than to straight-ahead fruit. Based in the Sonoma mountains, the winery grows much of its own grapes, mixing them with some purchased fruit in its Quintana Blend. The 1997 vintage is a seriously made wine with a fair amount of structure (read: tannin and acidity) that's nevertheless soft, rich and easy to drink.
BEST CABERNET SAUVIGNON OVER $15
1996 ARAUJO EISELE VINEYARD ($100)
Sometimes cult wines with exalted reputations (and prices) actually merit the praise they receive. Bart and Daphne Araujo bought Eisele from Phelps in 1990, but the winery was producing wines of great depth and complexity back in the 1970s. The Calistoga-based Araujo Estate offers only three Eisele wines (there's also a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah), but the Cabernet is the uncontested standout. The 1996 bottling was made by the gifted Françoise Peschon, and it's an exceptionally polished wine, with subtle tannins and elegant flavors of ripe red-black fruit and spices.
BEST MERLOT $15 AND UNDER
1997 BLACKSTONE ($10)
Derek and Courtney Benham founded their Sonoma winery in 1990, and although a good, inexpensive Merlot is a rarity, theirs is a happy exception: It possesses many of the characteristics that made the grape popular in the first place. In other words, it's a lush, supple wine, well balanced between fruit and tannin, and an immediate pleasure to drink.
BEST MERLOT OVER $15
1998 ANDREW WILL CIEL DU CHEVAL ($35)
Chris Camarda, who operates the Andrew Will winery on a little island just west of Seattle, is one of the best Merlot makers in Washington, a state that produces some of America's greatest examples of the wine. His Ciel du Cheval is one of the winery's several limited-edition single-vineyard Merlots. The 1998 vintage is maximum Merlot--very rich and very concentrated.
BEST PINOT NOIR $15 AND UNDER
1998 BRIDGEVIEW OREGON BLUE MOON ($15)
After a string of bad vintages and thin wines, Oregon winemakers finally had a year that's worth celebrating--1998 looks to many like the best of the decade (though some say that 1999 will be even better). Bridgeview, founded in 1986 by Robert and Lelo Kerivan in Oregon's oddly monikered Illinois Valley, produces a range of fairly priced wines. Its pretty Blue Moon Pinot Noir is characterized by notes of ripe strawberries and cherries and a long, rich finish.
BEST PINOT NOIR OVER $15
1997 SAINTSBURY CARNEROS RESERVE ($42)
Richard Ward and David Graves founded Saintsbury as a Pinot Noir specialist in 1981, when there was little competition. Now, of course, more and more winemakers have set their sights on wresting brilliance from this most fickle of grapes. The 1997 Carneros Reserve is typically polished, with a long finish and beautifully integrated fruit.
BEST ZINFANDEL $15 AND UNDER
1997 RAVENSWOOD NAPA VALLEY ($13)
Joel Peterson, the opinionated and articulate winemaker at Sonoma's Ravenswood winery, has been producing top-rated Zinfandels for nearly three decades--and, as his winery's slogan promises, not one of these Zins is wimpy. Though most of Ravenswood's grapes come from 70- to 100-year-old vineyards that produce rich, highly concentrated (and more expensive) vineyard-designated bottles, even a wine as accessible and affordable as this one possesses intense notes of spice and black pepper, not to mention lots of forward, ripe red-berry fruit.
BEST ZINFANDEL OVER $15
1997 RIDGE GEYSERVILLE ($27)
Few wineries can rival Ridge's record of successes, and few wines are more consistently great than this one. Ridge, whose winemaker is the legendary Paul Draper, has turned out a consistently high-quality, well-structured Zinfandel from the Geyserville vineyard in Sonoma for nearly 35 years, although the 1990 vintage was the last that Ridge labeled Zinfandel; thereafter the name became simply Geyserville. The change reflects Draper's emphasis on vineyard terroir over varietal identification. The grape blend remains largely unchanged.