We'd like to share this interesting article entitled "Do Vintages Matter?" by Karen MacNeil in the SOMM Journal. Here in the store, we get a lot of questions and talk quite a bit about vintages everyday. How important are they really? I think Karen's opinions offer some good insight. What do you think?
For years I had one crumpled up in my wallet. The trusty vintage chart. I don't think I ever used it, but it made me feel better having it. A sign that I was a serious wine person.
Then one day (about 20 years ago), I found myself talking to the wine importer Kermit Lynch about a Burgundy he had brought in. "Was this a good vintage?" I asked, holding up the bottle from one of the stacks in his Berkely store.
"Good for what?" he asked back. "Good for oysters? Good for cheese? Good for a dinner party? Good for sex?"
I smiled and sometime thereafter threw out the crumbled vintage chart forever. In the years since, I've watched many restaurant situations where the waiter comes back to the table explaining that the restaurant is out of the 2009 Wine XYZ, but has the 2010. Every now and then, someone whips out a phone and promptly does a Google search. But mostly people say, "Okay, let's give it a try." I'd say our relationship to vintages is maturing. And I, for one, am glad.
Consider the reason behind giving wines vintage dates to begin with. Originally, vintages were given in order to give the buyer a date to count from. Knowing the vintage, told you how old the wine was, and that was valuable information at a time when storage conditions were iffy. A vintage date also let the drinker connect back in time. Want to re-live a bit of 2000? Here, have a glass of this. Historically, vintages had to be accepted for what they were. Some were okay, some were quite good, most were somewhere in between. People drank all of them.
In the last thirty plus years, however, the picture has changed. Both wine-making technology and viticultural science have advanced to such a degree that talented winemakers can sometimes turn out delicious wines even when nature is working against them. This is not to say that wines taste the same every year; they clearly do not. But given the knowledge, skill, and access to technology winemakers now have, vintage differences are often differences of character. In a hot year, many wines will be packed with bigger fruit flavors. In a cool year, they will be more austere, and perhaps more refined. Are any of these qualities terrible?
There is another issue: Vintages are generally categorized by the media once - when the new wine is tasted in the spring following the harvest. Wine, however, changes over time. There are countless examples of vintages deemed magnificent at first, only to be later declared not as good as originally thought, and vice versa. Why memorize a static assessment when the wine itself changes?
In the end, I think of vintage as a mood of a wine. If I like a wine, I like it when it is extroverted and rich, as well as when it is introverted and perhaps more elegant. And that is why I like vintages - not because they tell me good from bad, but because, in invoking mood, they evoke our emotional response.