Dear Restaurant Owner,
While I understand there is a cost associated with updating your menus and wine lists; the vintage of the wine you are selling DOES matter! And, you CANNOT tell me that a 2-year difference in a Spanish Tempranillo doesn’t make a difference, because it does, and I am going politely explain why....
I ordered my first choice wine and after 10 minutes of waiting for the bottle to arrive, the waitress politely told me that they did not have that bottle any longer. Frustrating. But the plot thickens. After choosing my second bottle, which was more expensive than the first, the waitress brought a bottle to the table, and the vintage was incorrect- it was a 2009 not a 2007. I expressed my concern and asked what the price would be on the 2009 given it was not what was listed on the menu. The owner then arrived and tried to tell me there was no difference in price or quality between the 2007 and the 2009. Instead of causing a scene, I politely declined the bottle and was back to the drawing board to select my 3rd wine of the evening. After 40 minutes, my lips finally touched the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods- wine!
This is not the first time this has happened to me, and I really wonder how many other people have been “duped” with the age (vintage) of the wine compared to that of what was on the wine list. When they present the wine to you before opening it, do you pay attention to the vintage? Because if not, chances are you have been sold the wrong vintage without even knowing it. Here’s Why Vintage Matters....
Weather Changes from One Year to Another
The growing conditions from year to year significantly affects the quality and style of wine being produced- especially in Europe. One year might be hot and dry and the next might be wet and grey. The more sun a grapevine basks in, the more sugar a grape can produce: this effects alcohol, complexity and flavour profile. It is a delicate balance for heat and rain, and much of Europe does not permit irrigation. Severe weather, including hailstorms and spring frost can also significantly effect wine production. Hail is an extremely prevalent risk in places like Burgundy and Argentina, for example. As such, if a growing season is affected by hail, you will get a flat, often watered down version of wine.
Spanish Wine prides itself with Age
In Spain there is a labelling system based on the age of maturity for Tempranillo from Rioja. It begins with Joven (literally meaning young) and climbs all the way to Gran Reserva where a wine is aged in Oak for a minimum of 2 years and then in the bottle for another 3 years before it can be released for sale. Time spent in oak and ageing significantly changes the flavour profile of the wine. Much of Europe has ageing rules on certain styles of wine that are not even depicted on the label.
Older Wine Doesn’t Always Mean Better Wine
There is always a risk when ordering an older wine, as to whether it might be faulty due to age. As a wine ages, the cork can potentially dry out, causing oxidation. If it has been improperly stored and exposed to too much sunlight or heat, it can cause a fault in the wine. In a restaurant, a faulty wine should be replaced with another bottle of the same vintage (provided they have it). At home, there isn’t much you can do. The LCBO will take back defective products, however, if you have been cellaring it for prolonged periods of time, it isn’t a guarantee that they will issue a refund.
Exceptions to the Rules
There are many wines that don’t include vintages, this is especially true for some Champagne, and wine that is blended across many years- Sherry, and some Port. It also doesn’t make much of a difference for mass-produced table wine from the new world, where winemakers focus on blending wine to get the same taste and style year over year.
Next time you are at a restaurant and order a moderate to expensive bottle of wine, take a close look at the vintage they are bringing you. If you aren’t comfortable, or feel as though the wrong vintage has been served, speak to your wait-staff and explain the situation- most are very accommodating. A quick Google search will give you the information on the vintage quality. No one is expecting you to memorize vintage charts!
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New Age Nonna
Wine Expert and Food Connoisseur