Wow, apparently I’m a slacker.

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t written a blog post in nearly a month, so I should probably do that, right? Fortunately, I’ve recently been thinking about an issue that I’d like to talk about: bad vintages.

Wine writers make their living telling people when one vintage is better than another, and to a certain extent obviously I see the merit of keeping track of which vintages are the most desirable, what’s frustrating is the way people become slaves to the opinions of wine writers and attempt to only buy wines produced in what are supposedly the ‘best’ vintages.

I got thinking about this over last weekend when I had dinner with my parents. My father is an die-hard Burgundy fan, and when it comes to buying for his own cellar, he buys the way I think more people should; he finds producers he likes, and he buys wine from them every year. Last weekend we had dinner and drank nothing but ’04 Burgundy. Mostly village AC and Premier Cru. 2004 is a vintage that was pretty bagged on in the press.  Less than desirable weather in August resulted in some uneven ripening, and some producers’ yields were too high, overcompensating for a very small crop in 2003. The least impressive wines for the vintage, therefore, can display some green, underripe character or seem slightly diluted, but the truth is the weather conditions were not so bad as to prevent good winemakers from making good wine. I have met a few producers who express more pride in their 2004 wines than their 2005’s, a vintage that was wildly acclaimed in the wine press. The reason is simple: making good wine in 2005 was easy. You didn’t need talent to make good wine in 2005, whereas 2004 was a vintage that truly tested a winemaker’s skill. 2004 was overshadowed by 2005, however. By the time the 2004 wines had arrived in the US, reports on the 2005 vintage started to circulate, and some writers began calling it one of the greatest Burgundy vintages ever. So sales of 2004’s stagnated in anticipation of the release of 2005’s. When they did arrive, people couldn’t buy them fast enough. People who never bought Burgundy at all suddenly had to have it because the wine press had told them this was the greatest vintage ever. I can’t speak to the timing of events around the rest of the country, but in my store the waning fervor over the 2005 vintage and subsequent release of the 2006 vintage coincided almost exactly with the decline in the economy. This meant that not only had collectors completely blown their wads buying everything they could of the 2005 vintage, but the average consumer’s wine budget took a massive dive, and we saw sales of Burgundy in general come nearly to a halt. Now, obviously I don’t blame wine writers or the over-hyping of a vintage for the state of the economy. And, truth be told, from my experience I do agree that 2005 is a very good vintage, and the best wines will last a very, very long time. But the flipside of a vintage like that is that the wines may take years to reach maturity, so if you’re looking for a bottle of wine to drink anytime soon, you may not want the “best” vintage. You might be better off with a vintage like 2006 which, while it didn’t get nearly the critical fanfare of 2005, produced some absolutely gorgeous, lithe, elegant, and aromatic wines that were drinking beautifully from the moment they arrived in my store.

The bottom line is, with modern winemaking technology, the gap between a ‘good’ vintage and an ‘ok’ vintage can be very narrow. Now, there are exceptions. In the Rhone valley in 2002, for example, it rained so much during harvest that some vineyards were completely submerged, and some even washed away. Now, that’s a disasterous vintage. But obviously that’s a rare occurrence, and in the meantime try not to fixate on a vintage you’ve heard soooo much about.

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