Now, 1998 was not the best growing year in Napa Valley. Lest we forget, El Nino was in full effect that summer, which produced foggy mornings and lower than usual temperatures. This made it increasingly hard for the grapes to ripen enough for wine making. In fact, some commentaries I read researching this post say that 1998 was "the scariest growing season" they can remember in Napa Valley. But the vintners at Heitz, who have made great wine in Napa Valley since 1961, were clearly up to the challenge. In fact, the area where the grapes for the Bella Oaks cab are grown, the Rutherford Bench, the late summer finally turned hot. This allowed some growers in the valleys of Napa (as opposed to the hills and mountains) to have a long growing season with mature grapes. They took a poor growing season and produced a complex, layered cab with a very reasonable price.
The 1998 Bella Oaks Magnum is well balanced with a 14.2% alcohol content covered by extremely mild and smooth tannins, almost none at all. I don't pretend to be able to pull out all of the notes that the great wine raters and sommeliers can, but this wine is easy in some respects. There are obvious indications of red fruit (cherries and plums) with a little herb flavor and black licorice. A lighter cab than some others, almost reminiscent of a Bordeaux. This wine pairs perfectly with grilled veal or pork. I would hold off on a fatty cut of beef, rib eye for instance, for I believe that the meat would dull the wine even more than it can get. Also, decant this wine for only about a half an hour before consuming; after about two hours out of the bottle, it got a little flat tasting. Not flat as in not carbonated, but flat as in the flavors of the wine, the cherry and plum mentioned above, are taken over by the alcohol in the wine, thus converting your $30 bottle into "Two Buck Chuck." (Don't get me wrong, I have had many great nights drinking low priced wines, but when I spend $30, I want to taste the investment.)
I am not the first food writer to review this wine. Craig LeBan of Philly.com reviewed it in April when the Pennsylvania stores first began to stock it. He, like me, uncorked a bottle and felt it necessary to detail the experience. In fact, I am enjoying a bottle as I write these words. So, go to your local PA state store and pick up a bottle. As you will see, I do not often recommend spending more than $25 on a bottle, but this is nice enough for the extra $5.
A word of caution: I would not let this Cab rest too much longer in the bottle. In my opinion, and take that as you will, this wine is at its drinking peak. Otherwise, it may get a bit flatter in taste, which is never good.