The Virtues of a “Lesser” Vintage

When it comes to vintages in the world’s top wine regions, everyone’s looking for the pot of gold.  A Very Good vintage just isn’t good enough. Partly, the mania for “Only the Best” can be laid at the feet of the drastic jump in prices we’ve seen for the top estates in the last two decades.   A vintage which everyone wants is sold at very high prices and becomes extremely scarce thus more expensive, so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the vintages which don’t have the hype, heat, whatever you want to call it, the very good, end up sitting in warehouses, shop windows, and restaurant wine lists, until everyone from the importer to the retailer calls it a day and starts lowering prices.

And that’s where the fun starts. Suddenly, you’ve got good wines from good vintages at good prices. Maybe not great wines, maybe not a great vintage but great producers make quality wine in every vintage and there are worse things in life then being able to drink top-notch juice with 5+ years of bottle age at prices which won’t make your eye twitch.

With that in mind, I thought I’d put forth a few vintages from a few famous regions which offer, or will offer, a lot of bang for the buck.

2006 Bordeaux

There is a shadow effect when a great vintage comes along.  The vintage right after, no matter how quality, never compares.  Such was the case in Bordeaux with 2001 and such is the case with 2006.  It is a year where there are plenty of gems to be found, now with just the right amount of bottle age to shed their muscular tannins, but the prices were driven up by the splendor of 2005 and just HAD to come back down to Earth eventually.  If you like acidity, if you don’t want your Bordeaux too heavy or extracted, if you enjoy bright-tart red fruit, then I would truly tell you to check out 2006. There are an absolute TON of 2006 Bordeaux floating around the world and I’m not just talking about lesser estates.  There are still First Growths on down ripe for the picking!

See Also:  2001 & 2008

2006 Burgundy

This is a Primo example of the perfect getting in the way of the good. 2006 wasn’t a great Burgundy vintage. It was merely good. If we were to rank the vintages of the aughts, 2006 would hit smack dab in the center.   It is a lighter, prettier vintage where the wines are already starting to show their true character. In other words, it’s a vintage for the medium-term, a vintage for the Burgundy drinker, rather than the auction house.

I’ll let Clive Coates explain how these things happen:

“At the outset no one was very enthusiastic about the 2006 reds. They appeared a little inconsequential. But they seemed to improve after the malos had completed and after the Autumn 2007 rackings. Once they had settled down after bottling it was clear that this was a vintage with no lack of merit.”

See Also:  2007, 2008 

De-Classify This!

The other trick of less-than-exceptional vintages is top producers de-classifying their best fruit to fill out their entry level blends. In full disclosure, this tends to happen in middling to poor vintages, rather than the “merely good” we’ve been discussing thus far, but there can be some delicious wines (and values) to be had, if you know where to look.

For instance, 2011 was a tough year for Willamette Valley (that’s probably putting it lightly) but as a result many of the best producers who usually make a wide range of single vineyard Pinot Noir took their prime fruit and put it in their high production entry level. Take for example the Siduri Willamette Pinot Noir from 2011. They didn’t make any single vineyards. They put it all in the entry level Pinot and that hits our shelves at $24.99!

Or 2009 in Barolo, where Giacomo Conterno didn’t make a single bottle of his top cuvee, Monfortino, which usually retails around $500. Instead, he put all those grapes into his entry level wine, Cascina Francia, which hits the shelf at $150.00.  While it’s hard to say with a straight face a hundred and fifty dollar bottle of wine is a “value”, compared to five-hundred it looks pretty good!

At the end of the day, I just want people to pay attention to the “merely good” vintages. In the mad scramble to snatch up the homeruns, the doubles and triples sometimes get lost. Whether we’re talking about the 2001 Bordeaux or the 2006 Burgundy, or snagging the great producers from challenging vintages, not every bottle needs to be great. There’s a whole lot to be said for very, very good.

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