This is a question that we sommeliers hear on a nightly basis, as our guests wade through our wine lists and entertain our suggestions.
The answer is invariably "yes," but often we do not give pause in the context of a busy evening to launch into the "why." I stayed on here in New York for the week after the Wine Experience and have been drinking my fair share of good wine. But much of it was from what are generally considered "off," or poor, vintages.
In just the last two days, I have enjoyed three terrific red Burgundies from the 1980 vintage and a couple from 2004. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came in a blind tasting when I guessed that the wine being served was a 1988 Château Latour when in fact it was a 1987 Mouton-Rothschild.
All of these wines come from fairly maligned vintages, with the Mouton ’87 perhaps the “poorest” of all. While I recognize that these examples were all from great producers, they very aptly point out that these vintages can indeed be good in the context of a good producer. This, however, is not the whole story as the answer extends beyond just the famous producers and blue-chip wines.
I would propose that each and every vintage is good for something, and this is something I live by as a sommelier and a wine drinker. Oftentimes, highly regarded vintages are best kept in the cellar for enough time until they have the opportunity to settle into themselves and become more giving to the drinker. If we open these wines too early, they may impress with their girth and their promise, but may lack the grace that comes with time, only hinting at what is to come. It follows that some "lesser" vintages can often give immense pleasure more immediately.
For example, 2003 Bordeaux is an especially regarded vintage that produced classic wines built for the long haul. These wines will offer much pleasure for many years to come. The following vintage, 2004, is generally less well-regarded. I find that though the '04 wines may lack the stuffing to go the long haul and become classic old Bordeaux, they do offer immense near-term pleasure. At the Little Nell, we bought both vintages. Between the two, it is the 2004s that we recommend to drink tonight. At some point, years down the road, the opposite will be true. This situation can be found in every quality wine-producing region of the world.
Now this isn't to say that you should buy everything from every year. That would be impractical and impossible. We still have to sort through what's out there, and the best way to do so is taste. Trust your palates, and taste everything you can, or take the trusted advice of others who have tasted and let them be the guide.
But don’t let vintage charts be your master. If we are open to the possibilities that “poor” vintages can give, we'll find we've left the door open for loads of pleasure to be discovered.
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — November 6, 2007 7:18am ET
Eileen Stamp — USA — November 7, 2007 10:54am ET
John Miller — Windsor, CA — November 8, 2007 12:56pm ET
Bernard Sun — New York, NY, USA — November 8, 2007 1:26pm ET
Jeff Vogel — Kaiserslautern, Germany — November 9, 2007 6:54pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — November 13, 2007 7:15pm ET
Joann Sprung — January 14, 2008 1:46pm ET
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