Buying Wine, Random Musings

Vintage Charts Only Tell Half the Story

home wine cellar

When I first started collecting wine I paid so much attention to vintage charts and rankings. I would buy sparingly from mediocre vintages like ’89 Napa Cabernets but I would back the truck up for a vintage like 1990. Nowadays I find myself paying far less attention to vintages and far more attention to producers.

What changed my mind? I realized, in some respects, vintage rankings are completely useless.

For instance, many publications rate broad categories such as California Pinot Noir. There is a huge difference between the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast, not to mention other appellations including Anderson Valley, Mendocino and even areas like Paso Robles, that it does the consumer no good to read sweeping generalizations about an entire vintage. I know many collectors who passed on 2008 California Pinot Noir because of wildfires in the Anderson Valley, and to a lesser extent the Sonoma Coast. In actuality, most producers outside of the immediate area were not impacted by smoke taint whatsoever. I’m happy to have plenty of ’08s in the cellar from producers like Rochioli and Dehlinger.

A second issue I have with vintage charts is that they overlook the fact that supposedly “underwhelming” vintages can in fact produce some stellar wines. 2004 and 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape have always been overshadowed by the outstanding 2005 vintage. Both ’04 and ’06 rated a respectable 90 points, which only seems low when compared to the ’05’s 95 points. That being said, I have recently had some stunning ’04 CdP including Barroche Pure and Clos St. Jean Deus Ex Machina. If you skipped ’04 based on vintage rating alone you’re missing out on some great bottles that can still be found at very fair prices.

Finally, it’s common for the vintages with flashier, fruitier wines tend to get the high scores. It is becoming apparent that the 2010 vintage in Napa produced some outstanding, ripe Cabernets. But I know many collectors who are actually looking forward to the greener (and certain to be lower rated) 2011 vintage because the wines will likely be more old world in style. Think back to the high scoring ’97 Napa Cabernets vis a vis the lower scoring ’98’s. In retrospect many now prefer the ’98’s.

So for me, having been at this for nearly 25 years, my focus has shifted to the producer more so than the vintage. I will still sit out vintages that are a complete wipeout like ’02 CdP. Other than that, I will happily buy favorite producers, even in lesser vintages, with the expectation that quality is high and the bottles will be fairly priced.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

2 thoughts on “Vintage Charts Only Tell Half the Story

  1. I couldn’t agree more Tom. I follow producers more than vintages. A lot of the so called “classic” vintages are great in early drinking but flames out with the BIG fruit and alc. I think you hit the nail on the head too with CDP. I’ve had more 04 & 06’s that have delivered than 03, 05 and 07’s! I really like to see what my favorite procucers can do from year to year also.

Leave a Comment