Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting off, a bit prematurely

Every wine writer knows that to make his/her bones in the business, one must be an accurate judge of vintages. Robert Parker crowed about the greatness of the 1982 vintage of Bordeaux, when all other major writers and publications dismissed it. And look what happened. 1982 Bordeaux made Parker.

It can go the other way. Now, writers are so eager to praise or pan a vintage that often, they'll pass judgement when the wine is barely a wine. In Bordeaux, the En Primeur campaign begins in the April following the harvest, barely 6 months in. The wines are in barriques for no more than 4 or 5 months, and will be drastically different when they are bottled, 10 or 12 months later. And writers want you to believe that their tasting notes are accurate, and that you should make your buying decisions on such misguided notions of what the wine (or vintage) really is. It's like looking at a 5 year old and determining what their career will be. But everyone wants to be the first person to declare whether a vintage is good (vintage of the century!) or bad (to be avoided like herpes!).

I'm supremely disappointed that a few 'critics' have deemed the 2009 vintage in Niagara, Ontario to be weak. Will not name names, but I know exactly who's been saying this shit in print (and on radio). Stop it. This was a difficult year, with the cool weather and rain during harvest (making it even later than usual), but let's be honest with ourselves - the wines have barely finished fermenting, and you want to pass judgement on them already? They're barely born yet; the vinous equivalent of a baby still resting in an incubator. And you want to roast it already?

My position has always been that the strengths of Niagara are in riesling, pinot noir, and chardonnay. And those are the wines that I'm basing my opinions on. Everyone's heralded 2007 as the strongest vintage Niagara has ever seen, and in many ways, that's true. The 2007's are monsters in every way. But, at this stage of their evolution, I much prefer drinking the 2008's. The 2007 pinot noirs are just blockbuster wines, and not what I enjoy with this varietal. There's so much concentration, so much alcohol, that it doesn't know what to do with itself. Maybe a little like the fat girl who's deluding herself into thinking she looks presentable in that strapless dress. The 2008's on the other hand, are just stunning. Achingly beautiful wines, with a perfumed grace that are among the best wine experiences I've ever had with Niagara.

Those are just my opinions, but the point is this - don't be premature in labelling a vintage. True, everything may seem secondary to 2007, but taste the wines after they've become wines, and then decide. Learn to appreciate each vintage for the character it provides...after all, if every year were to taste like a 2007, would that really be better?


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