It’s a classic bait and switch – the restaurant wine list says 2010 Bordeaux but the waiter brings 2011. “Is this what I ordered ?” is followed by the waiter’s sheepish reply “sorry, but we’re out of the 2010″…
Does vintage matter? Not always, but in this case 2010 Bordeaux is a “vintage of the century” and I would not accept a substitute without serious consideration and compensation (2010 Bordeaux more $$$ than 2011).
Vintage is the calendar year when grapes are harvested (picked). The Northern Hemisphere (North America & Europe) harvest season is August to October; the Southern Hemisphere harvest is February to April.
If the wine-maker and vineyard are constant, what makes a wine better or worse in a particular vintage is the wildcard called “weather”. Bud-break in April starts the growing season and frost can damage young buds. Summer has the possibility of hailstorms as well as excessive heat, and the autumn harvest can be rainy or cold. Global warming has created violent weather events but warmer climates in New World countries (California, Argentina, Australia) are more consistent than Old World regions (France, Italy, Spain). When in doubt, ask Mr. Google for vintage charts -> //www.winespectator.com/vintagecharts/
Can wine-making compensate for inferior vintages? Yes, to some extent but wine-makers will say “you don’t make great wine without great grapes”. When in doubt, select PRODUCER OVER VINTAGE. Reputable wine-makers will consistently produce quality wine (but probably not great wine) in sub-par vintages by being more selective of the grapes.
Does vintage matter when to drink wine? Yes, but it varies by wine type. For example, Rosès should be drank in current or previous year vintage – NEVER buy Rosè older than 2 years! Most white wines are best consumed within 3 years. Many red wines are best 3 to 5 years old though better reds are properly aged at 8-10 years old. I manage my wine cellar by drinking most red wines at 10 years (with some exceptions). Cellartracker.com (free access) is an excellent resource to view the drinking window and tasting notes for a specific wine/vintage.
How to buy wine for aging? Not everyone has the time or interest to collect wines but good wines will improve with time. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to buy expensive wines to build a collection. But if you are storing wines for over 12 months, it is critical to have proper storage. This can be a wine refrigerator or a cool place in your house but most important is maintaining a narrow temperature range (i.e. 58-68 degrees) and avoiding wide temperature fluctuation.
Identify your favorite wines whether it be California Cabs, Oregon Pinots, Super Tuscans or Bordeaux, and determine the best vintages using Vintage Charts link above. For example, my cellar has many Italian and Californian wines so my wish list currently is:
- Piedmont 2013 (Nebbiolo, Barolo, Barbaresco)
- Tuscany 2016/2015 (Super Tuscans, Brunello, Chianti)
- Bordeaux 2016/2015 (red)
- California 2016/2015 (Cabs)