“A vine bears three grapes — the first of pleasure, the second of drunkenness and the third of repentance.”
With apologies to Scythian philosopher Anacharsis, wine classification has become a bit more refined since 600 BC.
Classification systems known as vintage wine charts show ratings for every year in a certain wine region and can be useful guides when buying quality wines. A convenient aspect of these charts is that they also often indicate when to hold and when to drink the wines.
Defining a Wine”s Vintage
A wine”s vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. It also hints at both the weather conditions in which the grapes grew and the quality of the grapes.
Paying attention to a wine”s vintage can be important for the discerning buyer, helping to identify years in which the weather might have had an ill affect on the quality of the grapes.
That said, it”s also important to keep in mind that vintage charts are based on averages, so although a vintage may be purportedly bad in a certain region, there may still be some bottles of wine within that year that are of outstanding caliber. You never know, and vintage charts only provide a fair guess at the quality of a wine.
Another factor to consider is that there are no set criteria for “outstanding” except the taste buds of the experts compiling the charts. Obviously, tastes differ.
How to Use Vintage Wine Charts
World vintage charts are usually divided according to regions that share both general climactic properties and soil composition. Wines from the Bordeaux region of France, for example, are grouped together due to their similarities. A vintage chart for this region will then be ordered according to the year of production.
Vintage charts also grade wines based on their taste, aroma, balance and other qualities along a point scale. While some charts are based on a 100-point scale, others work within a 10-point system.
Oenophiles determined to drink well on the cheap just need to do a bit more research. Many great wines are hidden in years that are sub-par overall. Take some time to cull the vintage charts and you”ll have a head start in finding some real bargains.
World Vintage Charts by Region
The Bordeaux region of France has long been famous for producing wonderful, high-quality wines. Located close to the ocean, this wine-producing region is noted for its humid climate and moist soil. Its temperate climate, consisting of warm summers and mild winters, allows the winemakers of Bordeaux to produce wine year round. In fact, experts estimate that Bordeaux produces around 700 million bottles of wine each year.
Burgundy is another famous wine-producing region in France. Given its distinct climate and soil conditions, the Burgundy region mainly produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Champagne is a renowned French region known to produce its own distinct wines. In fact, the bubbly that we open for New Year”s Eve and other special occasions can only be called ”Champagne” if it is produced in that area. Otherwise, the beverage is known as sparkling white wine.
The Douro Valley of northern Portugal is home to port production. Set within a mountainous region that is about forty miles from the ocean, the Port region is known for its extreme climate: hot, dry summers turn into cold, wet winters. As a result, ports turn out to be one of two distinct varieties, either wood ports or vintage ports.
Italian Vintage Charts
Modern rating systems were adopted from the standards Italy first set into place. But Italy”s vintage charts have the added denotations “DOC” and “IGT,” which are not used in charts of other regions.
“IGT” designations allow for foreign grape varieties to be added. It is used most famously in Tuscany. Supporters of the “DOC” designation are more concerned with “terroir,” a French word used to refer to the general characteristics — soil type, sun exposure, weather, even social history — a region has on a wine”s taste.
Charts, Not Stone Tablets
In 2000, the famed New York Times wine columnist Frank Prial declared that the vintage chart is dead. ”Winemakers of the world have rendered the vintage chart obsolete,” he claimed.
That”s not to say that the charts have now fallen out of use. Many people still religiously use them. In his article, Prial did concede that especially for the uninitiated, wine is just plain confusing. So, for a beginner wanting to get their feet wet and learn more about wines around the world, using charts can be a great way to get started.