Have you ever opened a restaurant wine list to find that the vintages were missing?
That happened to me while I was on vacation in South Carolina. Edisto is a remote and rustic island south of Charleston, and its virtues do not include sophisticated nightlife. But there is one fine restaurant, called the Old Post Office, and I went there with a group of friends. The 40-selection wine list offered some good producers, but no vintages were listed at all.
I suddenly felt strangely lost. It was like looking at a map, but all the street names were missing. You could recognize the general neighborhoods, but it was practically impossible to find a specific address.
First came the difficulty selecting a white. I hesitated between a Bourgogne blanc and a Pouilly-Fuissé, both priced under $40. Normally, I'd figure them to be similar in quality and character, since both are Chardonnays from France's Burgundy region. But what if one were significantly older? That could make a huge difference in the taste of the wine. A younger vintage would likely offer fresh fruit and bright acidity, while a wine that had been in bottle for a few years might be softer, duller, even oxidized.
Then came my quandary over the red. Some of my guests were Zinfandel lovers, and I spotted a reasonably-priced Châteauneuf-du-Pape that I thought would intrigue them. But not if it was a 2002, from a rain-soaked vintage that produced mostly tart, diluted reds. And maybe not if it was a 2005—a great vintage, but one whose massive wines still need a few years in the cellar to show their best.
The waiter didn't know the vintages off-hand, so I asked him to bring the bottles to the table so I could know for sure what I was ordering. As I waited, it struck me that many people probably feel "lost" like that much of the time. Because even when they do know the vintage, they may not have the background knowledge to extrapolate from the vintage date to the character of the wine.
That's where a vintage chart can be very, very handy.
Vintage charts summarize the quality and character of wines from a particular region in a specific year. A good one delivers two crucial pieces of information. First, it provides a general assessment about the quality of a given vintage relative to other years in a specific wine region. Second, it offers a window of drinkability for each year rated. Are the wines concentrated, tannic and potentially long-lived? Or is it a lighter, more forward year that will be approachable early?
Wine Spectator editors rate vintages from more than 30 regions around the world. Each vintage rating consists of three components. The score indicates the general quality of the wines. The description sums up the growing season and the wines' character. The drink recommendation suggests when the wines will be at their best.
Our vintage charts are now available in a free iPhone app, which you can download from our app page. We think you'll find them helpful, and we hope you'll give them a try.
Of course, vintage charts are general in nature, and can't guarantee they'll lead you to a great wine. But at the least, they'll help you find a better choice than a 2002 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
When do you use vintage charts? Have they ever helped you make a better choice, or avoid a bad one?
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — August 10, 2010 11:30am ET
Josh Moser — Sunnyvale, CA — August 10, 2010 12:00pm ET
Martin Stoevesandt — Germany — August 10, 2010 12:17pm ET
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m — miramar beach, fl — August 10, 2010 12:42pm ET
Chris A Elerick — Orlando, FL — August 10, 2010 1:02pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — August 10, 2010 1:05pm ET
Mike Gries — Cedar Rapids, Iowa — August 10, 2010 1:56pm ET
Steve Ritchie — Atlanta, GA — August 10, 2010 2:18pm ET
Daniel Kaufman — Charlottesville Virginia — August 10, 2010 2:59pm ET
Scot Geoghegan — bothell, wa — August 11, 2010 1:24am ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — August 11, 2010 5:34pm ET
Ed Chin — Bay Area — August 11, 2010 6:30pm ET
Dana Nigro — New York, NY — August 11, 2010 6:43pm ET
Robert Hight — CA — August 11, 2010 11:10pm ET
Robert Vandongen — Wildwood, NJ USA — August 12, 2010 1:39pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — August 12, 2010 3:03pm ET
Scot Geoghegan — bothell, wa — August 12, 2010 11:47pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — August 13, 2010 11:13am ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — August 13, 2010 11:44am ET
David Cable — Santa Barbara — August 13, 2010 6:30pm ET
David Allen — Lufkin, Texas — August 14, 2010 1:26pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — August 14, 2010 2:39pm ET
Jeff Perkins — South Carolina — August 14, 2010 10:35pm ET
Martin A. Cody — Chicago, IL — August 15, 2010 11:39am ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — August 15, 2010 3:49pm ET
Mace D Howell Iii — fremont,ca,usa — August 16, 2010 4:02pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — August 16, 2010 5:29pm ET
Ross Morrison — Toronto, Ontario, Canada — August 17, 2010 8:58am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions