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Do Vintage Charts Matter?

We celebrated our 1st birthday at Good Grape last week and as I reviewed virtually everything I wrote over the course of the 12 months it gave me pause to look at some of the things I was proud of and a lot of the things that I wasn’t as proud of.

It was a year of wine growth for me, akin to that awkward year when you go from adolescence to puberty—all scratchy voice, pimply face and gangly coordination.  I learned a lot along the way, mostly by questioning things, but answering with my own authoritative and contrarian voice.  As the saying goes, frequently wrong, but never in doubt.

And, there are still a lot of wine related things I’m uncertain of and one of the things that I’d like to get better at is the interactive nature that makes blogs the powerful conversational tool that they are.

As a juxtaposition to that blog interaction and immediacy, if you’ve ever worked for a really large company and ever sat in a very senior management meeting then you know and understand that the people in the room, while in the grasp contextually of dynamics and some information, are so far removed from the actual mechanics of a situation that it renders any real analysis null and void and especially null and void to make a concrete decision based on facts. 

This leads me to vintage charts.  I have very mixed feelings on wine vintage charts.

As I was reading along in the subscriber only section portion of Wine Spectator online and looking at their exhaustive vintage charts, I asked myself if these really matter.

Let me offer a brief aside and say that I would provide an example of the WS Vintage Chart here, but, unfortunately the WS terms and agreements that I agreed to when I forked over my $49.95 for a year’s digital subscription prohibit me from, in their words:

You may not republish any portion of the Content in print or electronic media including but not limited to, any Internet, Intranet or extranet site. You may not incorporate the Content in any database, compilation, archive or cache. You may not distribute or participate in the distribution of any Content to others, whether or not for payment or other consideration, and you may not modify, copy, frame, cache, reproduce, sell, publish, transmit, display or otherwise use any portion of the Content. You may not scrape, cut and paste or otherwise copy our Content without permission.

Ahem.  If this were in print the question begs to be asked whether I could actually provide my already read copy to a friend to read, based on their ownership of ALL the intellectual property.  But, I digress.

Do vintage charts matter in the sense that they provide any usefulness to people to make purchase decisions?  Clearly, somebody spends time on putting these things together—not just at Wine Spectator, but elsewhere and certainly many journalists preface their introductions to the wines they taste with flowery descriptions of what a good year it was in such and such locale.

I reviewed the 41 vintage charts that Wine Spectator provides and they are all perfunctory in the information presented.  Does it matter that the Chilean ’04 vintage is rated an 88 overall?  Does it matter that you can “Drink or Hold?” Does it matter that there was a:

“Cool start to growing season with warm finish, then harvest split by rains: Carmenère suffered while later-ripening Cabernet strong; whites harvested in excellent shape.” 

In contrast, does it matter that the 2003 was rated a 91 and you can “Drink or Hold.” Does it matter that there was a:

“Cool start followed by a long season of warm days and cool nights; wines show power and structure from all major valleys.”

I just don’t see how and why this is important?  If I’m in a store buying a bottle does any of this matter, particularly because I probably don’t have this information with me. 

Somebody help me understand what I am missing.  Aside from French and Italian wines and Napa Cabernet, I just don’t see how these pithy vintage charts matter much.  And, even for French, Italian and Napa Cabernet I still don’t see how a 100,000 foot view of ’02 versus a ’03 is going to matter much.

Please convince me otherwise, tell me I’m a fool and naïve and a lot of other things. Leave a comment.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (9) |


On 01/31, Tim Elliott wrote:

No, I don’t believe vintage charts matter any more for any of the New World appellations and much of the Old World. I posted my thoughts on the subject last October:

On 01/31, johng wrote:

It’s like the larger issue of the WS and WA 100 point scales.  It reduces wine to soundbites. In an instant a vintage chart makes an expert out of anybody who “knows” that 00 Napa Cab is bad and 01 Napa Cab is good.

On 01/31, Ken wrote:

I like the handy wallet cards that WS provides.  People who do not study wines like me find them quite handy.  If they get stuck on the spot and do not have time to prepare, it is nice to have the handy card to tell you 2000 & 2001 where very good years in the Piedmont and 2002 was not. 


On 01/31, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Good comments, gents.  Thanks.  Across the board, too. 

I agree with Ken, that for Italian and Old World varietals, I think a little guidance is sometimes a good thing.

But, in general, I think they are much ado about nothing.


On 02/09, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

For Bordeaux I find vintage charts invaluable.  That Pauillac 97 is drinking extremely well and 95 and 96 are clearly not ready is not obvious.  However if you drink a few bottles of a few different wines of these vintages it becomes clear that this is an accurate description.  97 drinks alot more like 85 than many of the vintages in between.

I have only had to drink some intermediate vintages because I looked at the chart.  It was correct for 85, 97, 99, 2000, 89, 86.  Accordingly I trust it for some of the others.  Obviously a rating is not very accurate.  Nevertheless, comparing a 1985, 1982 and a 1997, all of which are drinking wonderfully makes it painfully obvious that the ratings are meaningful. Not neccesarily accurate but still useful.
Maybe I am drinking a small sampling of wine or my taste is not that accurate but it is shocking how similar a 1985 cos d’estournel tastes to a 1985 Talbot tastes to a Leoville Barton etc.  They are not the same.  But they are shockingly similar when consumed together.

The biggest difference seems to be how the change over the course of a meal. Tasting different at one moment and then much more similar 20 minutes later.

In any case I find Vintage charts useful in both predicting what will drink well today, and in predicting gross variation in wine quality (a 98 rated year is going to be vastly better than a 90 which is vastly better than a 84).


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