Does Vintage Matter?
I was recently lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when a group of enthusiastic (and generous) wine collectors popped the corks on eleven different 2007 California Cabernet Sauvignons from their cellars. All but one rated above 90 and one, the Shafer Hillside Select, earned 100 points. It was a glorious thing. But it got me thinking....does vintage really make that much of a difference? And is it important for every-day wine?
I asked one of the wine collectors about 2007 and why 2015 was a good time to try them. After quoting Kenny Rogers, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em...” he laughed and said, “It’s pretty much a gamble. You don’t want to hold them too long so you buy enough of it that you can open one or two a year to see how it’s developing. It’s intriguing to watch a wine as it changes year to year, and if one seems like it’s peaked, it’s time to start drinking it.”
What makes a vintage famously good is the weather. Overcast, rainy growing seasons are bad. Average or slightly warmer temperatures leading to an earlier harvest make better vintage years, like 2007. However, good winemakers and vineyard managers can make great wine out of bad years, particularly if the vineyard in question has deep, well drained soil. A good vintage can elevate the good wines to great, and the mediocre wines to good. A bad vintage tests the skills of everyone but knowing the producer and the microclimate can help the buyer make a more sound investment in wines to open over the next couple of decades.
But does vintage mean anything for that bottle I’d rate 100 points simply because it is in the right place (my fridge) at the right time (when I want it) and costs less than $20?
Yes and no. The vast majority of wines, particularly in the non-collector budget arena are meant to be consumed relatively quickly and are not meant to be aged. They are vinified to be ready to drink within 30 minutes of purchase- which is the average ageing time of 98% of wines purchased these days. If you happen upon a $12 Cabernet from 2002, it may be drinkable, but it’s likely old stock. Likewise for the $3.99 sale bin 2005 Pinot Grigio that is the color of sweet tea-although that may not be drinkable.
For daily-drinking reds look for the winery’s current release vintage. For whites, the younger the better and don’t buy inexpensive whites that are more than a few years old. For investment wines, check the internet for a vintage chart of the wine region you want to buy, and get a deal on a case. Hold them like Kenny Rogers for a couple of years, then start trying a bottle every once in a while.