How much a wine’s vintage matters has been a topic of interest among self-professed cork dorks for a while now (our wine blogger Daniel Duane even weighs in). Those who sneer “Vintage-schmintage” point to advances in farming techniques and fermenting technologies that “iron out” any potential crop bumps. Purists who uphold vintage’s relevance cite the disaster of autumn 2002, when many of Europe’s vineyards were submerged in floodwaters and the wine suffered.
Famed British critic Hugh Johnson is swirling the vintage dregs again with the introduction to his 2008 Pocket Wine Book, which he has used as a bully pulpit to espouse his opinion: Not only do wine vintages hardly matter, but wine criticism has become a “very dull process” because so many wines are alike. The only thing vintage is good for now, says Johnson, is as a hook to hang wine snobbery on:
‘Vintages used to be really crucial but the difference now is not so much in quality as reputation, because the most famous ones are traded up to ridiculous prices. The reasons people buy a particular wine are complex but have a lot to do with snobbism.’
‘If you sold a nonvintage bordeaux nobody would buy it. It would be just as good, but it would not have the romance and the interest.’
‘Those nonprestigious years and wines are better than they have ever been in the whole of their history; at the precise moment when vintages matter less than ever in terms of drinkability, they matter more than ever in terms of saleability. Crazy or what?’