You always hear a lot about vintage variation and it’s importance on the wine produced during said vintage. There are a variety of vintage charts out there that will tell you which vintage from a particular region was great or horrible, but those are sometimes fallible. Don’t get me wrong vintage charts are a great resource for a baseline of understanding a broad scope of how a vintage performed but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.
A vintage report can sometimes be misleading, depending on how it was produced. People like Parker and Spectator seek out the best Chateaus, wineries and Bodegas to taste from, not necessarily the little artisan winemaker down the street. For better or worse it can give you a false impression of what the weather has done for a region. The little guy could have explored some vineyard tactics to thwart late season rain that larger producers didn’t want to risk and thus pulled their fruit early. Some people think that vintage assessments are made to early, and thus you hear about “sleeper vintages”. Ones that took a while to come into their own, and were initially not given superior marks. Incidentally, these “sleeper vintages” can provide some excellent values.
I think that vintage reports can sometimes provide too much information. Meaning that, it provides just enough information for a person to ignore a wine that may be perfectly fine or even great, but is overlooked because “2004” only got a 85 rating. That could lead us to a discussion on ratings in general but that is another post.
By the tone of this post, it may seem that I don’t put much credit in vintage reports but in fact I do. As I said at the beginning of the post, it gives you a great jumping off point for research on a wine. Also, one of the biggest places I think it helps is restaurant wine lists. On a list where you don’t recognize a single label, knowing that a certain vintage was supposedly “perfect” may help you in finding a nice bottle.
Weather is a key factor in wine making, grapes are an agricultural product and thus rely heavily on the right weather conditions. Technology has come a long way to help mitigate some of the problems that can occur in an off vintage, but nothing can really help a cold, rainy growing season. The problem with weather is that it can sometimes be fairly localized. What’s happening on one side of the county may not be happening on the other side. For larger more developed growing regions, vintage reports are usually broken down into smaller AVA reports and provide a better micro-vintage report.
One of the best and free vintage reports out there is over on Enobytes blog. I always wish there was better free detailed content on vintages out there versus just ratings. Parker publishes that information but you have to pay for it, and Spectator and Enthusiast both do, but again it’s in their magazines. Wineries will often have vintage report information on their sites but always end up telling you they were very pleased with how things turned out, not always giving you the complete picture.
In the end, take vintage report information with a grain of salt, well, maybe two grains.