Think about vintage wine, and you might envision a wealthy wine enthusiast lovingly fondling dusty bottles and ruminating on their relative worth.
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Bordeaux? The 2000 vintage was a great one! The 2001, though, was mixed, so you’ve got to proceed with care. 1982 got a lot of attention when the critic Robert Parker Jr. launched himself to wine-nerd fame with his glowing reports; but 1986 is looking better now. Burgundy? That’s a whole separate realm, and most who can afford it look for a reliable guide to its subtle nuances.
Vintage matters, sure. Domaine Leroy 1986 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru can range in price from $9,869 for the 2015 vintage to $6,100 for the 2005 and a paltry $2,950 for the 1992.
And so it goes, around the world: By and large, the wines most affected by vintage variation tend to be those well above my budget, and I imagine that a lot of you share that disinclination.
So for most of us, does vintage even matter?
Well, sure! Not from the standpoint of investment growth or, to any real degree, evolution into the ethereal flavors that come with cellar time. But that vintage date on the bottle still provides useful information.
Remember that, shorn of its mystique, vintage is simply the year in which the grapes that went into the wine were harvested. We don’t put vintage dates on the label of Coca-Cola or iced tea, but wine is different.
Some wines are meant to be aged and may gain tremendous flavor benefit from cellar time. Investment value too, maybe, but financial experts don’t recommend adding wine to your stock portfolio. It’s too volatile, and worse, a simple power outage to your cellar might spell the end of your limited fortune.
For most of us, though, we can take that visible sign of the wine’s birth year and use it in reverse. For the 99 percent of wines that don’t benefit from aging – the good but everyday wines that most of us enjoy with dinner most of the time – vintage can also serve as the wine’s “best by” date. You spotted a 10-year-old Beaujolais Nouveau on the bottom shelf, or an ancient rosé that was young and fresh at the end of the 20th century? Don’t get excited about that find! (Although if you’re like me, you’ll probably pull the cork and take a cautious sniff anyway, just for the sake of science.)
Even when we’re not seeking those extraordinary, often pricey wines that pay flavor dividends for careful aging in a temperature-controlled wine cellar, paying attention to vintage can still be interesting and fun.
The combination of vintage and location establishes each bottle of wine in its time and place. Wine grapes are an agricultural product, and even the simple ones can vary significantly – for better, for worse, or just for different – depending on the weather that prevailed during the growing season.
Did the grapes in this vineyard enjoy long, warm days and cool nights? Was the vineyard blessed with calm weather or cursed with fruit-smashing hailstorms? Did the region avoid rains near harvest, which can yield diluted juice in the grapes? And, sadly, in California and other regions in recent decades, did smoke from wildfires taint the grapes with undesirable odors? All these variables can make the difference between extraordinary, average, or disappointing wines, even at the modest price levels that aren’t sought after for cellaring.
Finally, to be honest, as a wine lover I simply enjoy walking into a wine shop and spotting a recently arrived vintage of a familiar wine. Chances are that it won’t be much different from the previous year’s bottling, but opening the new bottle can be as pleasant as greeting an old friend on their latest birthday.
And as a certified wine nerd, I enjoy pulling out my tasting report from the previous vintage – only after tasting the new wine so the old notes won’t unconsciously slant my observations – and seeing how they compare.
This week, for instance, I was delighted to find the recently arrived 2019 vintage of an affordable favorite, Famille Perrin “Nature” Côtes du Rhône. Checking my notes, I was intrigued to discover that I had tasted the 2018 vintage almost exactly one year previously, near the end of October 2020.
My notes on the 2019 were similar to those on the 2018, of course. Modern producers, particularly in the everyday-wine range, seek to produce a consistent flavor, as much as the variations of vintage will allow. But my notes weren’t identical, and that’s what vintage variation is all about.
The 2019 was darker in color, the fruit perhaps a bit more abundant, and the focus on the raspberry scent of Grenache more evident. A hint of licorice in the 2018 was absent in the 2019, and the 2019 offered a spicy mix of black and white pepper, against the vivid white-pepper notes in the 2018. And so it goes. All these difference were minor, while the overall impression of this delicious Southern Rhône red made from organically grown grapes remained similar. And that’s a good thing.
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Today’s Tasting Report
Famille Perrin 2019 “Nature” Côtes du Rhône ($12.99)
Perrin “Nature” Côtes du Rhône is made with certified organic grapes, as the name “Nature” implies. It’s a field blend of Grenache and Syrah in undisclosed proportions. It’s very dark reddish-purple with a garnet edge. Grenache shows itself in a delicious raspberry aroma with subtle black and white pepper shyly hiding in the background. Juicy and ripe on the palate, its flavor blends red berries and dark cherries in a good but not overbearing acidic structure with light tannins; peppery-spicy notes become more present in a long finish. It’s partly finished in oak barrels and part in steel vats; the label reports 14.5% alcohol, but it’s well integrated and doesn’t get in the way. U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. (Oct. 21, 2021)
FOOD MATCH: The winery website recommends lamb, and this makes sense. This sturdy, well-balanced but fruity red should go well with any red meat. It was delicious, too, with the rich cheese and abundant pepper in our meal of cacio è pepe reimagined as a risotto.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although simple Côtes du Rhônes aren’t billed as long agers, this one’s balance and quality persuades me that it wouldn’t suffer, and might gain, from six to eight years in a good cellar.
It’s a remarkable value at Wine-Searcher.com’s $14 average U.S. retail, and I’m delighted to pick it up for a dollar less..
The back label QR code takes you directly to this informative page on Famille Parrin’s English-language website.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Perrin “Nature” Côtes du Rhône on Wine-Searcher.com.
Learn more about the Côtes du Rhône and browse dozens of vendor offerings for the region at this Wine-Searcher link.
Wine Focus: Wine 401 – Syrah & its blending friends
We’re into the last quarter of the year, and it’s time to get into some more advanced Wine Focusing: We’re going to start blending. This month it’s Syrah and its favorite blending partners: Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, Carignan, and more. It’s all up for grabs, from a classic Châteauneuf du Pâpe to a New World Syrah/Viognier blend made in the sprit of Côte-Rôtie, or even a Mourvedre/Carignan (Syrah is not mandatory!) that’s representing the interest and opportunity of a winemaker looking to do something different. The weather is getting cooler in the Northern Hemisphere, so make up a hearty stew or soup, and pop a robust bottle of one of these red blends. Here’s your link: Wine 401 – Syrah & its blending friends
Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.
Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!
- Famille Perrin 2019 “La Vielle Ferme” Rouge ($7.99)
- Querceto 2019 Chianti ($10.99)
- Porto Kopke Fine Ruby and Tawny Port ($9.99/375ml)
- La Fiera 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
- La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
- Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
- Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
- Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
- d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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