The Pros And Cons Of Vintage Charts
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
Vintage charts are a bit like anger: They are neither good nor bad, they just are, and they are natural.
As most of my friends know, I am not a huge fan of vintage charts, but I also admit they can be helpful to many. It is natural for wine drinkers to want to classify a year’s production in order to know what to buy. But in the process, people miss out on some really terrific wines at especially attractive prices - something people are looking at more these days.
What people should really get out of a vintage chart is the quality of the growing and harvest conditions of any given year. It also can be a good barometer of the age-ability or longevity of wines from a specific producer. Wines from a “great” vintage will certainly age longer than those from a lesser one. What a vintage chart also does is to give people the best chance for their money. (I should remind you that if you are buying great vintage wine now, you also should be able to store it for a considerable amount of time before drinking it, i.e. 2005 Bordeaux and Burgundy.) If someone is willing to pay the money, they can look at a vintage chart and say, “Hey, I’ll take the 1982 Petrus instead of the 1981 because ‘82 was a much better vintage.” And that’s great.
What vintage charts do not tell us is that not everyone makes great wines in a “great” year, and not everyone makes crappy wines in a so-called “crappy” year. This is especially true today, with all the vineyard techniques and technology in the winery; even in so-called bad years, truly great wine producers are able to eke out a delicious bottle of wine from their vineyards. And there certainly have been historically great vintages where some of the great wine names in the world did not produce wines worthy of legend - 1961 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild comes to mind.
I cannot afford to drink the top producers in the great vintages all the time. In my travels, I quite often opt for a great producer in an “off” vintage. A great example is when I was in Burgundy earlier this year having dinner with friends at a Michelin three-star restaurant and was choosing wines from a wine list. It had some terrific wines, but at some really astronomical prices. But we found a Grand Cru Red Burgundy from the Cote de Nuits from one of our favorite and top producers from 1997 vintage. Wine Spectator rates the vintage 83-85 out of 100; Wine Advocate 88-89; and another (unnamed) website rates it a 6 out of 10. The wine was drinking great with beautiful aromas, a delicious palate and soft, round tannins - at its peak. It was even more impressive because it was an “off” vintage and was a great value.
There are countless opportunities for wine drinkers to find something that is drinking great now from a “lesser” vintage instead of buying a wine that is not quite or nowhere near ready because it is from a “great” vintage.
So don’t get angry if you can’t find a wine in a great vintage. Just look for the one that is drinking well right now. Look more closely at the drinking window rather than the vintage rating itself. It can save you some money and also give you an enjoyable surprise.
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