When the best isn't the best
If a wine is from a first class vintage (serially dubbed ‘the vintage of the century’) and has scored a perfect or near perfect score, surely that wine is likely to give the greatest thrill; after all it’s considered the best that there is.
Or is it? If pleasure is what you're after, pulling a cork on highly–rated wine may be the most disappointing choice, especially if it’s from a relatively recent vintage.
Take the example of 1996 classed growth Medocs. Pontet Canet 1996 has impressive depth and purity that is currently held in check by a slowly receding tannic frame and enduringly fresh acidity. But one day it will surely be a very great wine.
Wines from so-called ‘off vintages’ (also known as restaurant vintages, shoulder vintages, an overshadowed by …. vintage) may give far superior current pleasure than its more illustrious, fêted siblings. Sticking with the Pontet Canet example, take your pick from 2002, 2004 or 2006 for wines which today deliver greater visceral pleasure; whether you favour Asian spiced, sweetly grained or delineated and pure fruit.
Switching to burgundy, surely great pinot noir doesn’t require the long wait of the finest red Bordeaux? Not so. Anyone who’s tasted the very best that 1999 has to offer will know how un-evolved, fruity and dense those wines still are. Sure, they impress with their texture and depth, but at the dinner table can disappoint with their primary-ness.
That peacock’s tail array of scent and flavour will one day burst out of the glass, seducing and beguiling the drinker. But today these wines merely provide waypoints to their future destination.
By contrast, the under-appreciated burgundy vintages of 1997, 1998 and 2000 provide some incredibly succulent current drinking, including Engel’s Vosne-Romanée Brûlées 1997, Ghislaine Barthod’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Cras 1998 and Denis Mortet’s Gevrey-Chambertin Champeaux 2000. There are countless others to pick from.
Thinking of arguably the greatest modern-era Italian, Roberto Conterno’s Monfortino, how can one compare the delicate 2002 with the blockbusting 1999? 2002 was a year in which most of sodden Piedmont suffered badly. Yet here is a sweet, perfectly poised wine showing soft red fruits and noble length. In contrast the 1999 is stunningly defined and intense, and a future monument for 10-20 years hence. But I’ll drink the 2002 now in preference.
What good is a cellar full of great vintages if you end up broaching so many of them in their infancy? Raise a glass for under-appreciated vintages. So often they will surprise and delight you, and may even win your best wines of the year awards!
Looking for ideas?
Leoville Barton 2002 - £450 (12x75cl) including duty and VAT
Montrose 2002 - £550 (12x75cl) ) including duty and VAT
Malescot St. Exupery 2004 - £350 (12x75cl) In Bond
Louis Jadot Corton Les Greves Grand Cru 2001 - £150 (6x75cl) In Bond.
Posted in: Fine wine analysis, Fine wine appreciation, Fine wine pricing and valuations,
Tags: Chateau Leoville Barton, Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Pontet Canet, Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Champeaux, Engel Vosne-Romanée Brûlées, fine wine,