1998 was an El Nino vintage in California, meaning cooler and wetter than normal. We think it's always sunny and pleasant in my home state, but it's not so. Some years, particularly El Nino years including 1988 and 1983, are particularly challenging to grape growers and winemakers.
Yet 1998 is not a washout vintage. Far from it, even though the weather reports and winemaker nerves at the time suggested things might not turn out well.
In my experience, 1998 is an overlooked vintage in California, broadly speaking. As such, one can find terrifically priced wines from this year at auction. I've enjoyed wines like the '98 Rochioli Zinfandel at bargain prices. So too with the 1998 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain. The year doesn't come with high scores from critics or buzz from bloggers and such. The only praise I've heard is from Graperadio, where the vintage was discussed in an episode with Russell Bevan of Bevan Cellars. Compared to the hyped 1997s, which may not have aged as promised, they say that 1998 is an undiscovered gem. I agree.
This Laurel Glen wine is still dark ruby in color, with a rich plum, ash and pencil shaving aroma, nicely integrated and balanced. The flavors are similarly rich, though nothing like the hyper-ripe cabernet so popular these days. There's ripe but firm tannin here, giving a chewy, mountain cabernet profile I expect from Laurel Glen. The flavors are maturing but still fresh and primary enough to unwind for a few more years. If you like younger, fleshy cabernet, this may not be for you. If you enjoy earthy flavors and chewy texture, you'll love this wine, especially since you can find it pretty cheap. I'm glad to have another bottle and will look out for more.