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Wednesday 9 November 2011

Weekly Wine: The Perfect Year

You might think you're being all suave and flattering by telling someone they're like wine because they 'just get better with age', but - much as I don't want to rain on your parade - that's not always true.

Case in point: my Dad recently found a bottle of Chardonnay from 2003 in his cellar, and excitedly opened it for me. It was, unsurprisingly, vinegar. And not even good vinegar. Bless him for trying though.

Not all wine improves with age, and likewise you shouldn't get sniffy about drinking a more youthful bottle: depending on where it was grown and by whom, you might be more onto a winner than you think.

What a good vintage means

If you get perfect growing conditions, then it's like all the components slot into place - but just to make your brain hurt, a good vintage can differ massively from region to region, e.g. what's good for Burgundy might be a disaster for Bordeaux. In some years there can even be a huge difference between North and South Rhone, or Left Bank and Right Bank Bordeaux. Pesky weather.

A truly cracking year for a region means wines made there can spend decades mellowing into something ridiculously special, but these tend to be on the more 'whopping' end of the price scale. Instead, most of us will be looking for wines from a good year that are ready to drink much sooner, but knowing whether you have a good wine that needs time in a cellar or a good wine that you should pop the cork on right now can drive you a bit mental when you feel clueless.

My best tip is to get your paws on a vintage chart. You get ace ones in the pocket-sized books Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke do every year if you want to take your wine geekery to whole new levels (I get both every year. Ahem…) but a quick trip to google gives you most of what you need. The Wine Society and Berry Brothers in particular do fantastic online guides: not only do they tell you if it's a good year, they tell you whether you should drink or keep wine from that vintage. Handy, eh?

As a rule, though, if it's super-pricey, it probably has longer drink dates. Cheaper wine from a good year is where you want to find your 'drink now' stuff.

Don't know where to start? Here are the recent vintages that have got the wine gurus all excited:

2005 - pretty much everywhere!

Throughout France, and also in Rioja and Germany, 2005 was the year all the winemakers skipped around gleefully.

You don't have to pay through the nose to try this vintage, as a lot of the wine from this year is coming into its own now: the Chateau Lafleur Beausejour 2005 is under a tenner at £8.95 per bottle from The Wine Society and is a delightful example. If you're looking for something a bit more special from 2005 for an anniversary or dinner party, however, you can try the beautiful Chateau Caronne St. Gemme 2005 for £17.95 from Fraziers. A well-known name that never fails to deliver, t's a tad young now, but you can enjoy it any time up until 2020.

2004 - Rioja and Tuscany

Spain and Italy are exceptionally proud of their 2004s - this was a classic year for silky smooth Rioja and Chianti . The best of these will still last, but you can already find some scrumptious examples if you're impatient.

Try Rioja Gran Reserva 2004 Berberana for £13.99 (or £8.99 if you buy two bottles) from Majestic for a beautiful example. You might need to decant it for an hour or so before you drink it.

2007 - South Rhone

The best year since 1990 - look out for Cotes-du-Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cairanne, Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

For example, this Cotes-du-Rhone Villages Cairanne Les Arnevels 2007 from Marks and Spencer is £11.49 each when you buy a case of six, and should give you tons of spicy fruit and complexity.

2009 - North Rhone

Another perfect year - but the best examples need a few years in the cellar. Look out for Crozes-Hermitage from this year, but I'm particularly enamoured by this Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes from Jaboulet-Perrin. Super-fruity with a little peppery spice - perfect Syrah. It's £9.95 from The Wine Society.

2008 - Chablis

This was on a par with the 2005s for Chablis, and is shaping up nicely to show the classic crispness and minerality you'd expect.

Try Tesco Finest Chablis - not only is it 2008, it's a Premier Cru (or 'First Growth') which means it's from better vineyards. Pretty super value for £11.67 per bottle (when you buy a case of six).

Do you have a wine question you've been pondering for a while? Tell us about it on Twitter or Facebook, and we'll see if we can help! Thorough 'research' may be required, of course...

Image taken from Stewart's photostream under the creative commons license


  1. Absolutely fascinating. I might print this out, memorise it and then win brownie points with my Grandad when I start recommending good vintage to him over Christmas dinner.

  2. Thanks, Tina and Elizabeth! :) I do think if you can say 'oh, that's a VERRRRY good year' you earn instant wine expert points. ;) Handy in a variety of social situations...!


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