Old wine seller maxim: “Best vintage is the one you have to sell.”
Modern winemaking reduces importance of vintage—harvest year—as quality indicator, but does not render vintage meaningless.
When everything goes right—think 2005 Bordeaux—winemakers achieve better quality than when they battle Momma Nature from drought-stressed bud-out to rain-soaked harvest. Modern winemakers can make good wine in poor years. Their same tricks create exceptional wine in good years. We have more good wine today than ever before. We also have more exceptional wine.
Vintage means different things.
In certain appellations (wine districts) of United States and France—Napa and Bordeaux, for example—vintage means 95 percent or more of grapes were harvested that year.
In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and most of Europe and the U.S., vintage means 85 percent or more of grapes were harvested that year.
In Chile, vintage means 75 percent or more of grapes were harvested that year.
This is not deception. Wine evaporates aging in barrels, so winemakers top off with newer wine. Mixing also helps consistency.
General rule: vintage is more important the higher the quality and price. For wines most of us drink—ones usually recommended in this column—vintage is an indicator of wine age more than quality.
• The Crossing Sauvignon Blanc. Tangy lime, citrus fruits. New Zealand makes fabulous Sauvignon Blanc; this is example. $13
• Chateau Lagarosse 2005. Merlot-driven French 2005 Bordeaux you can afford. Cherry, bell pepper, chocolate; silky; lingering finish. $16
• Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep ruby color, licorice, black currant, velvety; cigar-box nose. Gold-standard Napa. $36