Vintage Guides, help or all hype?

If you research “vintage wine guides,” you’ll find a dozen or more available to download. There’s Robert Parker’s vintage chart for Bordeaux, another writer’s for Australia and The Wine Spectator’s and Wine Enthusiast’s all-encompassing guides, to cite just a few.

One can only assume they are so readily available because some, perhaps many, wine drinkers need something to assist them in their wine buying decisions and in deciding when to drink certain wines.

Although most vintage guides downplay themselves as mere generalizations about a region’s overall performance, they still suggest we need experts to advise us because wine is too complicated for mere mortals.

The Wine Spectator’s 2016 vintage chart unknowingly undermines that argument as it rates the last ten vintages from every wine region and only one is rated below 85 out of 100. And by the way, 85 is a “very good” vintage. So it’s all good, right?  Or, good enough.

Not quite. Hyping a vintage is one thing that several online wine merchants painfully overdo. One of the tricks is to trot out an average quality wine and then hype it by focusing on the vintage’s star quality as if that carries over into every wine made that year. It does not.

It is even more devious when the vintage rating is based on the 100-point system. The site will rave about the 95 points somebody gave the vintage and then imply the wine for sale falls within that score by some sort of magic.  It does not.

Critics who seem to enjoy ranting on about different vintages are living in the past holding to the flawed concept that ageability is the primary component of a great wine or vintage.

Now before you delete your favorite vintage chart or tear up the printed version you carry with you at all times, hold on. Some information about vintage conditions can be extremely useful when you shop around for wines.

The conditions that made the 2010 vintage in the Medoc, St. Emilion and Pomerol merit a 98 or 99 rating are weather-related. That means the rains came when needed, and the sun shone evenly most of the time and everything was hunky-dory during the harvest days. But those conditions were present everywhere in the Bordeaux region, not only over Chateau Lafite in Pauillac or Petrus in Pomerol.

Our conclusion: in highly rated vintages, look for great values and bargains from lesser known producers and from those regions that are close to the upscale neighborhood.

Author: robywine, norm roby

My career as a wine journalist/critic began in 1975 when my article about California Petite Sirah was published. My focus remained on California as I edited a monthly wine magazine and then moved on to The Wine Spectator in 1981. Over the following years, my column appeared under the banner of “Stormin’ Norman, and I also wrote articles about wine collectors and wine auctions. Without getting into a year by year bio, let me try to summarize here. During my time with The Spectator which I enjoyed immensely, I taught wine classes at a culinary school and at other venues in San Francisco. Before venturing into wine, teaching was my thing, English Lit and Rhetoric. After The Spectator I was the U.S. Contributor to Decanter Magazine, writing mostly about California, but also expanding into Washington State and Oregon. My Decanter years began in 1992 and after buying a summer home in France in 2000, I traveled throughout France and eventually published articles about St. Emilion, Castillon, Bergerac, Minervois, Roussillon, Luberon, Provence, and Alsace. Also, around 2000, my wife began working for Cousino-Macul in Chile, so we tasted and traveled our way through Chile and, of course, managed to fly over the Andes and explore and taste our way through Argentina. As travel lovers, we have also spent many interesting days visiting the wine regions of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Sicily, Greece, and New Zealand. And to come to a close, I was Director of a Charity Wine Auction for 20 years, 1992-2000 that benefitted a local hospital. That brought me in contact with wine collectors and to the auction scene. And finally, I co-authored a book, The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine published by Alfred A. Knopf. It went through 4 editions and sold over 500.000 copies.

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