An enforced moratorium on opening bottles (long-term head-cold plus recent antibiotics) gives me the chance to dust off various things I’d been working on over the last weeks, things that had just been lying around, half forgotten. Part 1:
DRINKING OR TASTING(?)
Whilst there is a place for both, clearly wine is for drinking – whatever the vogue for hoarding of ‘trophy Wines’. Tasting infers the appraisal of a wine or wines, either alone or with its peers. Tasting is important as a discipline and the more you do it the easier it is – particularly if you’ve a good memory for time, place, aroma and taste – e.g. like remembering next time not to have that sandwich with mustard just before the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti tasting will always be a plus! Talking of tasting and the implicit ‘ranking’ that this brings, now might be a good point to discuss the relevance of vintage charts.
VINTAGES & VINTAGE CHARTS
Frankly I’m not a fan, not for burgundy anyway. Burgundy defies black or white vintage generalisations; 2004 versus 2005 is only a question of which shade of grey.
People still place too much emphasis on these vintage generalisations. Versus 20 years ago the ‘usefulness’ of vintage charts is on a lower order because the average quality has increased, aided by vintage conditions, the average standard of viticulture and the winemaker’s skill. Twenty years ago there were perhaps only 20 domaines that, year-in, year-out, could be relied on to produce something good; that number would now be over 100 and many people feel comfortable enough to follow the old tradition of placing a fixed order with their favourite producer(s).
Today, there are very few vintages that we should always run from – perhaps none in the last 20 years, though already hinted at, its been something of a ‘golden age’. Great wines have been produced in most vintages, it is only when you compare the relative number of such wines in each vintage that you can say one year was, on average, better than another or more successful in once place versus another.
Don’t for a second let me paint an overly rosy picture, there is still a lot of sub-good wine to be found – particularly when it comes to names on labels that you’ve never previously encountered – but a vintage chart will not protect you from a bad producer even in the greatest vintages. Some vintage charts will cover both the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits, but none will tell you whether a producer excelled or disappointed versus the average. This average (whatever it is) seems important to some people, but without a link to the producer you are interested in – it is flawed. Also note that someone else’s vintage interpretation maybe at odds with yours; perhaps they hate 2003 and you love it! That’s an easy thing to spot, but what about their ‘take’ on 2001 versus 2002?
Lastly, some people say that vintage charts are useful for choosing in restaurants, but as noted above the vintage chart will not help you with the specific producer on the winelist.
Another subject later…