A wine”s vintage refers to the year that the grapes were picked for its making. Variations in climate and weather conditions effect the quality and taste of grapes harvested from a particular region and influence whether the wine produced that year will be deemed a good or bad vintage.
The first vintage wine chart appeared in 1855, inspired by the most prized French wines of the time, those of the Bordeaux region. In an attempt to rate the quality of these wines, critics devised a system based on the reputation of each wine, and this rating often determined the wine”s auction value.
Understanding Vintage Wine Charts
Today, many critics still utilize charts to rank wines according to their perceived value. Wine vintage charts are a way of grading wines based on a numerical scale, which is usually one to 100, but can also be one to 10, depending on the wine critic”s particular system. The wine is assigned a grade based on its flavor, aroma, the balance of sweetness and acidity and other qualities.
Vintage charts are often divided into sections, with wines grouped according to region and climatic conditions. For example, all the wines from the Champagne region of France would be grouped together because they share the same climate. The wines are then ordered according to the year that they were produced.
The purpose of vintage wine charts is to provide buyers with ratings for every year in a particular region so that they can make informed decisions when purchasing wine. When unfavorable weather conditions, such as frost or abundant rain, damage a crop of grapes in a region, it will likely translate to a poor rating in vintage wine charts, steering buyers away from a lower-quality purchase.
Cons of Vintage Wine Charts
Although vintage charts can be a useful source of general information about wine quality, wine chart ratings should not be used as the predominant indicators of a wine”s value. Here are a few reasons why vintage wine charts fall short of offering a comprehensive assessment of wines:
- It”s a matter of taste: Vintage charts are compiled by people whose tastes and may differ greatly from your own. While the charts can be helpful guidelines, in the end, your own taste buds should be the best judge of a wine”s quality.
- Ratings are based on averages: In almost any vintage year from any region, there are likely to be both outstanding wines and also some awful wines included. Because of these variations, there are exceptions to the rule in any rating.
- Quality prevails: No matter how ideal the weather conditions in a certain region, the truth is that some vineyards are not as highly regarded as others. For instance, a wine produced by an experienced vintner in a difficult year will often taste better than a wine made by a less skilled wine producer in a year hailed as having excellent growing conditions.
- New World wines don”t count: In many regions, harvest years make little difference to the quality of wines, rendering vintage charts irrelevant. This is particularly true in the case of New World wines (from regions such as Australia, California and Languedoc) where weather conditions remain fairly steady and production is often controlled with industrial wine-making methods.
Pros of Vintage Wine Charts
Despite the inherent weaknesses of judging wines with sweeping generalizations, vintage wine charts do serve several important purposes. Here are a few reasons you may still wish to consult the numbers before heading out to buy your next bottle of wine:
- High-end wines vary in character: In high quality or estate-grown wines, notable variations in vintage still exist. More traditional methods of winemaking allow for greatly varied tastes in wine, making vintage wine charts useful tools when purchasing high-end bottles.
- Knowledge is power: In addition to the rating system, vintage charts do offer wine drinkers access to a lot of information, including details on when and where the wine was made and how soon it should be consumed. When you need to make a quick decision on a purchase or you don”t have time to taste and compare yourself, the vintage chart system can be a useful tool.
- Generalizations provide helpful guidelines: Although it is difficult to predict a wine”s quality simply based on weather conditions, general information about the climate in which grapes are grown can be helpful in choosing a wine. For instance, grapes grown in cooler regions like Oregon or Germany will have distinctly different flavors than those grown in California or Spain. Some of the additional information provided by vintage charts can often help in determining which region will provide the exact flavors you desire in a wine.
All in all, vintage wine charts should be considered helpful guides, but not bearers of an absolute standard of wine quality. In the end, it”s up to the buyer to trust his or her own tastes, with perhaps a little help from the experts.