Monday, December 6, 2010

Medoc and Graves vintages

A vintage begins when the grower determines that an ideal balance between sugar and acidity has been attained; a condition which will vary between varietals and from plot to plot.  Vintage is especially important in a region like Bordeaux as the quality of wine produced may vary widely from year to year as the region is particularly susceptible to rainfall at harvest time.

Weather is the most important variable in vintage quality and can make its presence felt in a number of ways.  Winter freezes can damage grafts and cause vine death while spring frosts can damage buds.  Excessive temperatures can lead to early ripening and a sugar-acid imbalance which can, in turn, reduce the ageing potential of the wine (see, for example, the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux).  Drought conditions can force the vine to use sugars for its own internal processes thus leaving smaller amounts of sugar for storage in the grapes.  Excessive rains close to harvest can lead to a dilution of the sugars and flavors in the grapes and the damp conditions can promote rot.

I consulted a number of sources to determine their perspectives on left-bank vintages between 1995 and 2005.  Robert Parker provides a separate numerical rating for the Medoc and Graves while Jancis Robinson, Decanter, and Berry Bros & Rudd provide qualitative descriptions of the vintages and, within that content, make any necessary distinction between the right and left banks.  All reviewers consider the 2000 and 2005 left-bank wines to have been superior. Parker rates the 2008, 2003,1998 and 1996 as outstanding, with all others in the decade being Above Average to Excellent.  Jancis Robinson relegates the 2003 and 1997s to "drink-now" status (you may remember the tiff between Robinson and Parker as to the merits of the 2003 vintage).  She sees 1996 as a "tough, slow-maturing vintage ... for keeping not drinking ..."

The most important barometers of the perception of vintage quality are the price at which the wine is initially offered to the market place as well as its performance over time in secondary markets.

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