Buying wine from less than perfect vintages…

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Buying wine from less than perfect vintages

‘Back to reality’ reported Decanter back in September, as winemakers reflected on the 2011 Bordeaux vintage with a sense of relief that the vintage had not been exceptional.  With all the hype of the previous years, and prices going up astronomically, speculation on what would happen if 2011 provided another amazing year was rife.  Fortunately for everyone, it didn’t.  Difficult weather conditions including hail, heat waves and late humidity made it a challenging year with lower yields and much to be done in the winery.

That is not to say that we should ignore the 2011 wines.  Far from it – when they arrive on the secondary market, at considerably lower prices than the 2010s, few will see them as sub-standard wines.  This was a difficult vintage, that winemakers described as labour-intensive, and most were more than satisfied with what they produced. Only in the fine wine trade would a less than exceptional vintage be not just tolerated, but welcomed.  The thing is, a wine from Bordeaux from a less than perfect vintage is usually still very, very good.  And tasting is subjective of course –even though Jean Michel Cazes has openly said that the 1974 Lynch-Bages is one to avoid, a wine from his own estate, many tasters have disagreed with him.

Of course, it would be great if every year provided perfect weather and growing conditions so that an abundance of perfect grapes arrived at the winery ready for the next part of the process.  But isn’t the excitement about Bordeaux the fact that so often this just doesn’t happen?  The fact that producers have to use their skills and expertise with the technology in the winery to make the best of a poor harvest means that every year is different – plus the very essence of blending means that a good year for Cabernet might not be such a good year for Merlot, and so we never quite know what to expect in terms of flavour.  If every year was the same, there would be little need for Robert Parker’s annual trip – he could simply write one tasting note for each wine and it would apply to every vintage that followed.

So what can we expect in 2012?  We can’t predict the weather obviously, but I wonder whether producers are holding out for another year that will slip under the radar, or is one year’s respite enough; perhaps they are already secretly hoping to hail 2012 as the best year of the millennium?