Posts Filed Under wine tips
Vintages. Can’t live with `em… pass the beer nuts!
The question of whether or not wine vintages (the year printed on the label, which is almost always the year when the wine’s grapes were harvested) matter is one that often perplexes the budding wine enthusiast.
The questions that the Dude here regularly fields regarding wine vintages generally come in this variety:
Is it a “born on” date? Or an indicator of quality? Or a deciding factor in how long (or if) a wine can be aged?
The answer is “Yes.”
In this post, I’m going to try to clear up some of this vintage mess for ya. Mostly because I genuinely want to help. And, to be totally honest, because I get asked about wine vintages a lot, so I want to have a place to send people for more info. (read: I am lazy and don’t feel like answering the question anymore… hey, so sue me, I’ve got a newborn in the house!)….
Here’s the honest truth (well, the truth according to the 1WineDude, that is) about wine vintages: For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
The reason that wine vintages (mostly) don’t matter is two-fold:
- 99% of wine sold today is not meant to be aged. Most of the wine that you encounter is meant to be enjoyed within 6 to 18 months of the vintage. In this sense, the vintage year functions more like a “born on” date – if someone is trying to sell you a really inexpensive older vintage wine, it’s probably because they want to pawn off their remaining stock of that vino that’s won’t otherwise sell because it’s past its prime.
Does this mean that the wine will magically turn into vinegar at the stroke of midnight 18 months after the vintage date, Cinderella-style? No – but thanks to the miracle of chemistry, there’s a good chance that the fruit characteristics of the wine will start to dissipate after that time. For the majority of everyday drinking wine that you might buy, you can set a mental note to enjoy it before its second harvest birthday. That way, you will get a chance to sample those tasty fruit flavors before they disappear.
For the most part, the wine vintages printed on the label don’t matter all that much.
- Modern wine-making can turn even poor harvest years into decent (and sometimes great) wine. Many moons ago, before the advent of versatile solutions for modern living that we take for granted today (like refrigerated transport, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, and best of all those nifty little laser-pointer flashlights that can fit on your keychain), winemaking techniques were not as advanced as they are today. As a result, the conditions of a particular harvest year (weather, economy, invasion by the Huns, etc.) could have a dramatic impact on a wine’s quality.
While this is still true today to some extent, the stability of most of the world’s major winemaking areas, coupled with ultra-modern winemaking techniques and technologies means that consistent producers can churn out decent everyday drinking wine even in poor harvest years. In my experience, this has even been true for some fine wine in “bad” vintage years from regions with consistent weather (like California – Opus One’s 1998 blend is a good example of this).
So when does a vintage really matter?
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year.
The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir areas of France that can produce wine tasting like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next. If you’re going to shell out the coin for something special (either for drinking now or laying down for a special occasion later), it can’t hurt to do a little vintage homework. I recommend using the mobile vintage chart from BBR.com, which you can reference right from your web-enabled cell phone while at your local wine shop. This can help you to gauge the relative quality of a vintage for a fine wine purchase.
BUT… don’t steer clear of a vintage entirely just because it’s been deemed of lesser quality than a previous year. Why? You can miss some amazing bargains that way – these vintages are like a lower stock value; it’s time to buy. In an “off-year” you might have access to quality wines that might normally be out of your comfortable price range, and it’s a chance for you to explore the winemaking styles of great producers without totally breaking the bank.
Vintages do matter when you’re splurging on a fine wine purchase from a region that has a variable climate year to year. The most famous example of this being red Burgundy, the fickle Pinot Noir from France that can taste like sublime berry seduction one year, and rotten cabbage the next.
The majority of my fine wine purchases have been in “bad” vintages – I scoop that up like a day-trading stock hunter! The bottom line is that a passionate producer with talented staff and a history of great winemaking will still make impressive wine in an off year. They may not be wines of sublime perfection, but they sure as hell won’t be bad, and they have the potential to totally knock your socks off.
(images: globalbeautes.com [modified by the 1WineDude], art.com, weimax.com)
Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).
Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…
- The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.
Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!
Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.
“Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”
In a word – Yuck.
Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.
End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.
If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.
Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!
“…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”
A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!
Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.
What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!
Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.
(images: chichesterdesign.co.uk, comparestoreprices.co.uk, oleswanson.com)
We’re all short on cash in these times of recess -er, I mean, economic challenge. So the Dude has compiled a list of his 10 favorite wine resources on the web. All of them FREE. Each one will cost you exactly $0.00 to use. Bumpkis. Nada. Goose-eggs.
You can thank me later, by clicking the “Make a Donation” button on the Left and sending me some cash. Oh… uhm… wait a second… never mind…
Anyway, chances are that even if you’re an experienced wine geek, you probably are not using some of these gems. I’ve found them to be extremely useful, or helpful in a pinch, and in some cases downright indispensable. Hopefully you’ll find them valuable as well (look at it this way – you’re almost guaranteed to at least get what you paid for `em!)…
- Wine Vocabulary: At a loss for words trying to find the right term to describe that wine you’re tasting? Not anymore. With this handy aroma/tasting card from Vinography, you’ll minimize the guessing and maximize the terminology in your tasting notes. And you are keeping tasting notes, right?
- Wine Terminology: Don’t understand a term on the back of that bottle? Not anymore. WineLoversPage.com contains a ridiculous amount of information, and their Wine Lexicon is especially handy, easy to navigate dictionary-style, and contains click-able pronunciations for those of us who have a hard time with French (i.e., everyone but the French).
- Wine Labels: Confounded by tricky wine labels on those Old World wines? Not anymore. Another gem on the WineLoversPage.com website can sort that one out for you – a Wine Label Decoder, which can help you unlock the “secret code” and interpret just what the hell those German, French, and Italian wine labels are trying to tell you.
- Wine & Cooking: Wondering why yeast is the primary contributor of flavor to wine? No? Crap you’re messing up my shtick for this article…! Anyway, maybe you will start to wonder about it after you check out GlobalGourmet.com’s awesome Wine & Cooking reference.
- Wine Vintages: Doesn’t it piss you off when you’re at the wine shop, and you’re trying to determine if that low sale price has anything to do with a nasty vintage? Not anymore. You can get a handy vintage chart to-go by pointing your mobile browser to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Mobile Vintage Chart.
- Wine & Health: Wondering if putting back those wines is putting years on your life ahead of your time? Wonder no more – the Professional Friends of Wine have compiled a wealth of wine health information in their Wine Health 101 Section.
- Wine Nutrition: Wondering about the nutritional content of that wine you’re drinking? No? Well, these are health-conscious times, my friend, so you’d better get on the ball! CalorieKing.com can help you out with their nutritional-label-style details on popular wine types.
- Italian Wine: Confused by Italian Wines? You guessed it – not anymore. ItalianMade.com has an expansive and informative section on Italian wines, complete with regional maps, varietal information, and wine & food pairings.
- Grape Varieties: Getting tired of feeling like a dunce because you don’t know the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? Alright, alright, it’s a trick question; but any budding wine geek who has even a passing interest in wine grapes should bookmark this great grape reference from CellarNotes.net.
- Best Bang for the No-Buck: Love ’em or hate ’em, the folks at Wine Spectator do know their stuff, and they have put together one of the handiest one-stop-shop areas on the Internet for wine knowledge. In the case of their Wine Spectator School Library, that shop charges $0.00 USD, and comes complete with a glossary, regional wine maps, tasting materials, wine tasting advice. It’s a fantastic place to start for the budding wine geek.
(images: freefoto.com, ox.ac.uk, thelanguagemenu.com)