Vol. 1, No. 24, June 28, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Does vintage really make a difference?
One thing's for sure: Vintage variations demonstrate that wine really begins with farming. Vine growers are farmers, and like all their kin, they pray for good weather. Hard freezes in the springtime can kill the blossoms that produce the grapes; a terrible winter freeze can actually kill the grapevines. Hailstorms can batter the vines and, at worst, destroy an entire year's crop. You don't want too much rain during the growing season, which can induce rot in the grapes and, at the end of the season, puff up the grapes with water, diluting their juice. If the summer is too cool, the grapes may not ripen fully at all. If it's too hot, the grapes may not thrive, or they may become so overripe that they produce weird and one-dimensional wines. A perfect vintage demands a season in which the weather consistently breaks to the farmer's advantage, and that doesn't happen every year!
In modern times, wine making technology has made it easier for wine makers to make palatable wines in vintages that would have utterly disastrous in our grandparents' time. But vintage remains important, and part of the fun of wine appreciation as a hobby is learning to taste the differences between a wine from a great vintage and one from a year that's only so-so.
Don't make the mistake of rejecting every wine from a so-called "poor" vintage, or assuming that you can't go wrong with any wine from a great one. Even off years - like 1987 or 1992 in Bordeaux or 1989 in Napa - can produce good wines, and they may offer especially good value. We have some basic vintage charts on The Wine Lovers' Page, designed by Pim van Ravesteijn, at www.wine-lovers-page.com/vintage. Another invaluable vintage guide is Hugh Johnson's little Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine, which is updated annually and contains literally thousands of individual wine listings giving his vintage ratings and advising which are ready to drink.
What are your vintage experiences? Have you found vintage a reliable guide, or have you had good luck mining the "lesser" years? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, as always, don't hesitate to drop us a line if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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A good year for Chianti
Weather was almost perfect for the 1997 vintage in Tuscany, the northern Italian home of Chianti, and as these wines start arriving on the market in quantity, my experience so far has been good - even with relatively modest, mass-market labels like this one. Clear dark-ruby in color, it shows fresh if simple fruit and spicy oak aromas and fresh, juicy and crisp fruit flavors. Simple but appealing, it's a good quaff and a good table wine at a budget-range price. U.S. importer: Excelsior Wines & Spirits, Farmington, Conn. (June 15, 1999)
FOOD MATCH: A light summer rendition of beef stew, using sirloin chunks and fresh garden vegetables and herbs, made a natural match for this simple quaffing wine.
I'd also like to set the record straight about Roland Marandino's TableWine, which I recommended in a recent edition. I had been under the erroneous impression that this was a commercial site, but Roland assures me that he presents his excellent page entirely out of love for wine.
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