The Matter Of Vintage Charts

Enclosed with the newsletter this month is a vintage chart that I have found to be one of the most versatile and useful. I chose to send one to every member. It is punched for inclusion in you newsletter binder. If you wish an extra copy for fram­ing and hanging in your cellar, let me know, I have some that have not been punched, and will be pleased to send you as many as you wish. I am also enclosing a wallet size version of the chart. It is on the back of the business card.

A little about vintage charts:

They are generally published by wine trade associations, public relation depart­ments of wine growing regions, wine im­porters or wholesalers, and wine writers who feel they have covered the entire field well enough every year to venture such a general opinion. Our chart is prepared by Don Schliff, president of a large California wine wholesaler. He has a cutting edge pa­late, and a world view of the wine trade. I appreciate Wine Warehouse allowing us to use their chart.

Vintage charts are universally numerical, with a top figure of usually 20 for the best score. I have seen some on a scale of 7, or a scale of 10. Just an option the author takes to show his scoring method. Our chart uses a scale of 20.

They are universally in tabular form, with one axis for the region being classified and the other axis for the calendar year of the vintage. I specially like our chart because it shows several wine regions of France, Ita­ly, Germany, Portugal, and California. The last one does not appear on too many charts.

What do they say?

Basically a vintage chart scores the suc­cess of the vintage, as far as the quality of the wine goes. The score for the most re­cent vintage or two is really an indication of the success of the harvest, for that year. The wine just made from that harvest is evaluated for its potential development as it matures by ageing. An educated guess, by wine makers who know the life cycle and idiosyncrasies of wine. Important to re­member that you cannot make good wine from lousy grapes that did not grow well on the vine because of weather, etc. Some skilled winemakers can, at times, make very acceptable wine from such grapes. Also remember that you can make lousy wine from good grapes, if you do not know what you are doing, or are not pay­ing attention that day!

Given good wine making, the numbers really indicate the success of the harvest as far as the quality of the grapes. For the earlier years on a chart, they can reflect the original premise plus how the wine is developing in its maturation process of ageing. It is possible that scores are altered by the authors as the wines for that year show a different posture as they age.

Now the key to using a vintage chart is to remember that it is a generalization. I like to recommend its use for avoiding the poor years, rather than for selecting a wine be­cause the chart says it is a good year. You still have to know the individual wine and winemaker to ensure success of buying a good bottle. To say it another way: you have no assurance that the particular wine you are selecting is a good bottle of wine because it is from a highly rated year. Many factors like the specific wine, winery, mood of the winemaker when the wine was made, the ageing conditions that the wine was exposed to, the original potential of that specific wine,  etc. all enter into the picture. But with a low rated year, you can pretty well bet that the wine is mediocre.

You want to be particularly wary of these off years in a restaurant where the owner is not a wine enthusiast. His wine list is often steered by salesmen who take advantage of his lack of interest and load him up with wines they have a hard time selling else­where. Be specially alert to wine lists that do not show the vintages of the wines on the list. The wallet version of the vintage chart serves as a handy tool to sneak into the pages of the wine list and look very intelligent in one’s perusal through the wines.

And then, there is your personal opinion that matters the most. You might not agree with the authorities! Do not be afraid.

Wine is made for enjoying,for consum­ing with food to enhance it.

Enjoy! To heck with the charts!

-P.K.

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