vintage charts – why?


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:

wine 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.

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…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 3 responses to “vintage charts – why?”

  1. Eric LECOURS6th January 2008 at 9:54 pmPermalinkReply

    Bill, I have to disagree a bit here. Vintages should be assessed. Short of tasting through hundreds of wines, the average consumer will benefit from getting a generalized comparison of vintage to vintage. Burgundy is in fact one of the areas where one finds some of the most variation from vintage to vintage, much more so than in California, for example. I would be very careful buying any 2004 right now. There are being talked up because the 2005s are gone. I recently visited a reputable grower who told me his 2004 Mazi was tasting better now than his 2005, that it was more open, ready, you know. I was fortunate to taste it and the 2005 which was no longer available. The 2004 was green like a lot of 2004s. The 2005…amazing. The price between the two…not so different.

    In my opinion, knowing your vintages is critical in buying Burgundy, especially for the average collector. If you have the luxury to taste ahead of time, you are in an elite group and they may not matter.

  2. bill nanson7th January 2008 at 4:26 pmPermalinkReply

    I understand your point Eric and thanks for taking the time to write it. I had never thought of myself as part of some elite group – but in terms of ‘access’ versus the majority of buyers I must concede on that point.

    The crux for me though is; let’s assume you know your vintages (or carry the chart in your wallet) and we simply agree that your palate is in line with whatever marking scheme has been used – itself a minefield – now, what chance is there that the marking scheme accurately reflects the particular village you’ve chosen and will also accurately be reflected in the producer (whose name you don’t recognise) of that bottle? I would be surprised if you would have as much as a 2 from 3 success rate, and below 2 from 3 and you may as well toss a coin.

    One exception (as indicated by you) would be ‘great’ vintages: Some people are very snooty about 1990, but you can be consistently surprised buying those wines from a list and they offer quite a consistent experience, but which others to add? You quote 2005 – and it is a great vintage – but many wines are already becoming tight. So how to approach 1992-2004?….

    Out of interest, did you taste the 2004 with the ‘reputable grower’ and if so, what were his comments(?) I ask because the best way is to ask someone who ‘should’ know…

    Cheers, Bill

  3. Eric LECOURS9th January 2008 at 10:52 pmPermalinkReply

    I was with the grower. Like many, he wasn’t very descriptive. He just described how many of his clients like the 2004 better right now because it was more open, ready, etc. But clearly the 2005 was a superior wine despite not being ready.

    I do understand your point. Maybe we should discuss it further sometime over a beer!

    Best, Eric

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