Have you been drinking wines before their time?
Staring at the vintage chart in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, my eyes began to blur. Red, purple, green, orange and blue squares merged into a vinous Rorschach test challenging me on which vintages to hold, drink or pour down the drain, with point scores showing the relative merits of each. The reputations of my palate and my cellar were at stake, if only in my own mind.
Then I focused and saw advice. Vintage charts represent the collective wisdom of a magazine’s reviewers, who taste thousands of wines each year, including current releases and older vintages. They are intended to guide collectors on which wine regions to buy or avoid in a given vintage, which to stash away and forget, or which to dig out of the boxes and racks in our basements, closets and temperature-controlled wine storage lockers.
The squares to the left of the chart, showing the most recent vintages, were red, purple and green, indicating wines to cellar; to either open now or hold for a few more years; or to pretty much hurry up and drink. Those to the right were mostly orange — “can drink, may be past peak” — or blue — “in decline, may be undrinkable.” Those squares signaled lost opportunities.
Vintage charts may seem irrelevant, since today’s consumers buy wine to drink it, not to collect it. We don’t parse the differences between the 2014 and 2015 Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay or the Barefoot Cellars Merlot, because those wines are meant for everyday consumption and are produced to minimize vintage differences. They are consistent and reliable, like a good beer.