Meaning of a Vintage Date
When a wine consumer buys mainly by brand and moderate price and sticks with one or two brands, he or she rarely looks at what vintage is being bought.
And at lower price points, such a strategy is often safe. Most large wineries creating these lower-priced wines do some sophisticated blending from year to year to make certain that the house style of a wine is about the same as it was the year before.
Over the last decade, for instance, Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc, Fetzer gewurztraminer, and Sutter Home merlot -- three reliable and lower-priced wines -- have been excellent values because their winemakers do what they can with their blends to make each wine similar to the one that came before.
The main reason for buyers of low-priced wine to pay attention to the year on the wine label is to make certain that they arent getting older stock. If I were presented with a choice of the Fetzer 2005 or 2006 gewurztraminer or the 2007 edition, Id quickly pick the youngest wine. It would be fresher and taste a lot better.
This is a bit less true of red wines, but in general it still holds for most reds under $10 a bottle. Younger is usually best, though the exceptions can represent great stories.
It might be easy to assume that with more expensive red wines, older is better, but that depends on what you like. I have a friend whose motto is, Cook em rare and drink em young. He doesnt mind pulling the cork on many wines that experts say are best left until they have aged.
He appreciates older wines, to be sure, but he also is pleased to drink 2005 red wines that have just come to market, even though the folks who made them, the winemakers, are pleading for them to be aged a bit.
Indeed, the 2005 vintage is one of the best red-wine vintages to come out of California in a long time. As you move up the price scale, one thing we are seeing in wines of the 2005 vintage is that they seem to have a bit better balance and more fruit than did wines of the prior three vintages.
In 2002, 2003, and 2004 there was ample sunlight, so most wines had California ripeness aplenty and good flavors. Of the three vintages, 2004 was perhaps the most challenging because of extremely low humidity levels and a few ultra-hot days during the lead-up to harvest.
So a lot of 2004 wines were quite ripe and chunky.
The majority of 2005 wines, both whites and reds, had slightly better acid levels and slightly more interesting fruit because the weather was considerably cooler, and the vintage went a bit longer.
Much the way tomatoes ripen best on the vine, grapes picked a bit later in 2005 than in the prior few vintages showed a bit more fruit and a bit less alcohol.
This makes for better wines across the board. Lower-priced wines from 2005 were generally better than the same houses wines from 2004.
As an example, I tasted a nice 2004 zinfandel from J. Pedroncelli, but didnt write about it because of faintly less harmony and balance than I usually prefer.
But in 2005, the wine was stellar and an attractive value in a chewy red wine.
The 2006 vintage poses even more intrigue. That story another day.
Wine of the Week: 2005 J. Pedroncelli Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Mother Clone ($14) The aroma of this excellent red wine is of blackberry and cranberry, with a fairly crisp entry and noticeable tannins, so it needs a hearty beef dish to match with it. And itll be better in a year or two.