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Are Vintage Charts Outdated?

Are Vintage Charts Outdated?

by Tim Elliott on October 13, 2006

A post to the comments on my review of the 2000 William Hill Cab got me thinking about vintage charts and how maybe they are a bit outdated. With advances in technology, vineyard management, clone selection and global warming, most years produce decent wines. There have been no terrible vintages like in the 20th century with the possible exception of the perception of 2000 in the Napa Valley. Robert Parker rated this year a 78 on his scale; on the high side of “average.” Not terrible by any measure but a lot of wine geeks don’t think any of the wines from that year are worth trying.

So I thought it would be interesting to see what a quick search in the Wine Spectator online database would turn up. I found three wines rated 95 or above from 2000; they are:

  • Colgin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Tychson Hill Vineyard 2000, Score: 96
  • Colgin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Herb Lamb Vineyard 2000, Score: 95
  • Shafer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Hillside Select 2000, Score: 95

A quick look on either side of the year in question turned up 11 wines for 1999 (Parker 88 vintage) and 13 wines for 2001 (Parker 96). All this means is there are really not many great wines in a year no matter how highly the vintage is rated. Often times there are better values to be had in these average years than in the years everyone agrees are excellent.

My advice is to trust you palate over general vintage assessments and don’t listen to Michel Rolland about who makes great Napa Cab 😉

  • Great follow-up, Tim. You are right on the money about this. After I posted yesterday, I looked a little deeper into the year 2000. Mostly I looked into comments from individual winemakers. Almost all agreed that the weather (heat spikes, etc.) was a challenge but the final product was of high quality. Whenever I look at Parker’s chart and see the letter ‘C’ next to the score, I ignore the vintage entirely. I doubt this was his intention or if he realizes what an impact such a critique could have. Reconsidering his stance on 2000 could also lead me to belive that it may not endure a long life in the cellar. In any case, I am guilty of too much reading and not enough tasting. Imagine the shame!

  • Thanks, Tim. I think that they are useful, though, in cases where there is great wine variability–which is not true of California Cabs which are tend to get pretty consistent ratings year after year, at least in my experience. Where I find the vintage ratings really useful is with Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Beaujolais–especially the last two, since finding wines from these regions in my area is a bit hit or miss. Knowing that the vintage as a whole was pretty good gives me greater confidence to pick up bottles of Burgundy or Beaujolais that I find in local shops and give them a try.

  • Tim

    I agree that vintage charts are more useful in regions where there is more weather variability as there is in some parts of France. It would be of particular interest in less expensive wines to know if the year was overall very good and that lesser wines might be better than in average or poor years. In looking over Mr. Parker’s chart, however, you have to go back to the early 1990’s to find average vintages in most parts of France, with the notable exception of southern Rhone wines in 2002.

    Thanks for your comments!

  • Tim:

    The Parker vintage chart was updated in April 2006 (http://www.erobertparker.com/info/vintagechart1.asp). This is what I’ve been using to scrounge through inexpensive beaujolais from recent vintages, and it hasn’t steered me wrong, yet! I’ve really benefitted from the “Caution: Wine may be too old” for this region’s wine.

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