Using a Vintage Chart to Pick Wines Sucks … Here’s a Better Way!

2 Jul

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Many moons ago, just after I’d finished my first vintage, I made my way to The Ed, the local bottl’o’. ‘Cashed up’ I went nuts, spent the rent money, $640 later I had 4 bottles of what I thought was Filthy Good Vino in my hot little hands.  The wine: 1990 Mouton-Rothschild, a 1st Growth from Pauillac in Bordeaux, one of the great wineries of the world.  The Vintage was getting huge reviews, Parker scored the vintage an immense 98 out of 100.  10 years later I opened the first of the four bottles, decanted this treasure, poured it to share with a Filthy Good Vino loving mate. With great anticipation, we raised our glass, gave it a big whiff and looked across at my each other in horror! The wine was knackered, it had a winemaking fault, a spoilage yeast, Brettanomyces.  This wine STD had dulled the fruit, delivering a hard, angular, metallic wine to my pained, devastated tastebuds.

Source: snspost.com via Nicole on Pinterest

What went wrong?

Simple, I chose the wine using the least imported info first and failed to use the most important info at all.  At the grossest level, I had played the 98 out of 100 point Vintage first, then I had played the Winery and as the wine was not accessible to taste,  I had not played the most important factor, the individual wine itself.  This once again demonstrated that in the wine world, scores that excessively generalise, like Vintage Charts, are a waste of time.  There are just too many variables to rely on Macro scores to help you make a decision on which wines to buy.

BEWARE, DANGER, … LIES AHEAD! THE VINTAGE CHART!

Vintage Charts are the grossest incarnation of attempting to quantify wine quality, yet, there are countless wine journals and writers publishing an anual chart. Check out these two examples and then read on to find out Why using a Vintage Chart to Pick a Wine SUCKS!

Robert Parker Vintage Charts at 28Jun2012

Robert Parker Vintage Charts at 28 June 2012

Wine Spectator Vintage Chart 28June2012

Wine Spectator Vintage Chart at 28 June 2012

Let’s pretend you’re trying to work out whether or not to stock the cellar with 2006 reds from Victoria and you like Pinot, Shiraz and Sangiovese. What value do the above charts actually provide? Absolutely none! To the standout pieces of bullshit in these charts:

  1. Both charts rate the quality of the Vintage for the entirety of Victoria, the top one throwing Tasmania into the mix. A quick look at the map demonstrates that with a bit of squishing you could fit all of France and Portugal, or Perhaps German and Italy into Victoria.  The bottom chart restricting its score to only Shiraz wines, clearly we don’t grow anything other than Shiraz in Victoria! At least they’ve broken France down into 6 regions and corresponding 15 sub-regions, a nominal area compared to the distance you’d need to drive to circumnavigate the wine regions of Victoria. To suggest uniformity of quality across such a vast area of differing terroirs, with great than 850 wineries is sheer insanity.
    How much Filthy Good Vino can you fit into Australia Wine
  2. One scores the vintage 93, the other 87 out of 100. The majority of vintage scores for both charts, sit between 85 and 95, in a 10 point range. Basically one score is suggesting an absolute cracker of a vintage and the other a catastrophic year. So, with one poorly placed stroke of the pen, the wines from an entire state itself bigger than France and Portugal combined are consigned to the dumpster.

These charts fail to recognise the difference between, region or even sub-regions in Victoria, let alone individual sites.  One site with Pinot may be picked months before, another with Sangiovese.  One site may be prone to frost, flooding, have higher rainfall, one vineyard may be over cropped, another vineyard perfectly balanced. Out of the Vineyard and into the Winery, one winemaker may be incompetent, another exceptional.

Even when they do provide greater granularity, like Parker’s Vintage Chart for Bordeaux, which breaks down the region into 6 sub-regions, scoring the Appelations of St Julien, St Estephe and Pauillac together, it won’t save you from the 1990 Mounton-Rothschild and its ultimate destiny … the drain!

Wine Spectators abysmal score of 84 for the 2002 Vintage Score in Victoria is just another case in point.  If you chose not to buy wines based on this score you would have missed out on some cracking Shiraz wines from low yielding vineyards, produced by passionate dedicated Winemakers.

A better approach …

Try before you buy! Play the wine first by tasting it and making your own judgement.
Get advice from a Trusted Source. If you can’t taste it, get the opinion of someone you trust whether friend or industry professional.  Keep in mind that it does take a while to understand how any individual’s preferences relate to yours, so, an element of risk enters.  There is a bewildering array of resources, offering qualitative wine suggestions for you to give a whirl and quantitative, scores in Stars out of 5, Glasses out of 3 or points out of 20 or 100. With training and practice industry professionals are able to consistently score wines.  Remember, just because a wine scores well doesn’t mean it will be to your personal taste.
Play the Winery.  Seek out wineries that outperform consistently producing good wines, wines that you enjoy, even in tough years. Remember, even, the greats like Mouton-Rothschild, sometimes have a blow out.  That said, I buy the wines of Wendouree every year untasted, Tony and Lita are, simply put, legends of the Aussie Wine Industry with the added bonus that they are the kind of salt of the earth, no BS, humble people who you can’t help but warm to.
Winging It. I kinda like this method. Serendipity has often been the mother of great discovery. Trying something different is one of the great pleasures of drinking wine. You might get a dud, you might also discover some gold!

In a Nutshell

Get it in you gob, taste for yourself, get to know the better producers, their dedication to excellence will typically see them produce the best wines possible given the conditions any vintage presents them.
Don’t miss out on the Nuggets of Gold, like those made in 2002, just because a self-professed expert has made some ridiculous, meaningless, gross generalisation and tarnished a vintage as a dud.

Epilogue

Coincidently just as this blog was about to go to press, Leanne DeBortoli posted “Wine of the Century … You Decide”. Included in her post was the best vintage chart I’ve every seen.

To which he also included the KERMIT LYNCH VINTAGE CHART. See below

Best Vintage Chart Ever Filthy Good Vino

Cut it out and save.

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  • Marco

    Great advice bud . I just calculated i spent 13,000bucks on alcohol in the last 12 months and I am no Millionaire. Bret is EVERYWHERE… BEWARE of the STD

    • Man you got some serious passion going on there. What’s inspiring you in the wine world at the moment?

  • Grant

    Good article, and I agree wholeheartedly, especially re the better wineries as I too buy Wendouree every year irrespective of vintage report.
    However, you might want to brush up on some geography. The combined area of France and Portugal is 3.1 times bigger than Victoria – France alone is 2.7 times as large. As for Germany and Italy, they are 50% and 27% larger than Victoria, respectively, and combined they are only just bigger than France. If you throw Tassie into the mix with Victoria, it’s just larger than Italy but still only 47.5% the area of France.

    • FilthyGoodVino

      Thanks Grant, Will update on the new site when it goes live in a few weeks. winedecoded.com.au

    • Thanks Grant, Will update on the new site when it goes live in a few weeks. winedecoded.com.au