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Jul 9, 2008 03:27 PM

Wine Accessory?

I was doing some research on wine vintages and came across these wallet sized vintage rating charts, or cards as the seller calls them. Was thinking about buying some to pass around to family and friends but wanted to find out if anyone here had seen or heard of them.


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  1. Please don't misunderstand my questions, but why? Why would you give pocket-sized vintage charts to family and friends? What is the purpose you hope to achieve?

    Vintage Charts are not really very helpful. They basically tell you if the climate that particular year was good for grapes; they tell you nothing about the quality of wines from any specific winery. The HOPE, of course, is that ALL wineries amde some great wines from those grapes, but who can tell? NO matter how great (or how weak) the quality of the grapes grown in, say, the Napa Valley may be in 2012, I can guarantee you that some wineries will produce outstanding wines in 2012, while others will produce mediocre wines at best.

    Actually, "Napa Valley" is a good example of what is wrong with vintage charts. Calistoga is a very different climate than Carneros; Mount Veeder is different than the Stags' Leap District. But most Vintage Charts assign one value to Napa Valley as a whole. They assign one value to Mendocino (or "North Coast") -- let Anderson Valley is exceptionally cool, and the Potter Valley quite warm.

    If you want to give someone a Vintage Chart go to Robert Parker's site and print off copies of his vintage chart. You can find it here:

    But then ask yourself: why does Robert Parker give five different ratings to the red wines of Bordeaux, yet only one to "California Cabernet Sauvignon" -- regardless of where in the state it is grown?

    Indeed, he assigned five ratings to Calfiornia: California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Chardonnay, California Zinfandel, California Pinot Noir, and California Central Coast. Now, four of these are grape varieties, but the last one is a region. So what if you have a California Chardonnay from the Central Coast? Which number do you use? The higher one, of course . . .

    My advice: don't waste your money.


    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Gotta agree with Jason. Skip the vintage cards.

      I saw a deck of cards that had wine facts/trivia once- that would be much more fun. Or the wine wheel. Or how about you just make up a list of your favorite wines and have them printed up on business cards? Nice personal touch.

    2. If you are looking for a wine-related gift item, I would strongly recommend the UC Davis Tasting "Wheels," created by Ann C Nobel. They are available by mail from the UC Davis bookstore, and you can get volume discounts.

      I give these as "favors" in wine tasting events, or as prizes.

      To me, they are far more useful, than "vintage charts," but that is probably just me.


      3 Replies
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        That's a great idea actually. Thanks for the tip.

        I'm a little confused about the dismissal of vintage information here though. I believe the more info people have the better. Like anything, it depends on how you use it.

        1. re: lyndentodd

          Again, it's not "the dismissal of vintage information." Vintage information is -- or at least -- CAN be CRUCIAL. But as it is presented in a vintage chart, it's next to useless.

          There is a huge difference between those two things . . .

          1. re: lyndentodd

            Unfortunately, "vintage" info would fill a 4k page volume. With the various micro-climates, and the differences in winemakers, only a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica could do honest justice to the nuance.

            Example: '89 was a poor year for CA reds. All of the critics said so. Still, I have some absolutely wonderful CA Merlots from that year, that are, just now, drinking wonderfully! How can this be? It's about the micro-climates and winemakers. To get all of this info onto a set of vintage charts, would take far too many pages. It's about hundreds of exceptions.

            Now, vintage charts, taken as a very general reference, are OK, so long as the user knows that there are few absolutes in the world of wine.


        2. I would think wines from most wineries (producing most of the wine that most people drink) would be disproportionately affected by the weather, since they source their grapes from a broader area as opposed to smaller micro regions. I know that wine vintage information is developed for collectors but I try to remember it because I kinda assumed that vintage ratings would apply more to all the rest of the wine that most people drink.

          Often in a store or wine shop, I'll be trying to remember which vintage was better for which region. I assumed others were too. So I thought this might be a handy gift for wine drinkers who consumer wine not from a micro region or an estate.

          99% of wine drinkers will never drink a bottle from either Mt. Veeder or stag leap's district. I agree with you on one hand, but think your advice misses the point for the vast majority of wine drinkers. I thought they looked kinda fun too.

          5 Replies
          1. re: lyndentodd

            Bill's idea of the aroma wheel is an excellent one.

            However, if I am understanding you correctly, I think you're in fact looking at the trees rather than the forest. Don't get "hung up" in and amongst the clutter of "micro regions" within the Napa Valley, and misunderstand the main point.

            IF you are seriously talking about people (friends? family?) when you say, "99% of wine drinkers will never drink a bottle from either Mt. Veeder or stag leap's district," I must either presume that you are speaking of people who live outside the United States or who never buy wine that costs more than $12-15 per 750ml bottle. That's fine, in that I can find plenty of enjoyable wines to drink that costs less than $15, but it misses the point, too.

            You write that, "So I thought this might be a handy gift for wine drinkers who consumer wine not from a micro region or an estate." But the more broadly a vintage chart covers a region, the less accurate it is. For example, in 1964, it rained in the Haut-Médoc, but not in St.-Émilion and Pomerol. A vintage chart that just gives "Bordeaux" a single rating will not reflect that, whereas a vintage chart that rates those regions separately will. But neither way would you know that Château Latour (located in the commune of Pauillac within the Haut-Médoc) picked before the rain and made an outstanding wine in 1964, whereas Château Lafite and Château Mouton (also in Pauillac) didn't pick until after the rains, and made really horrid wines . . .

            If you buy a wine with a "California" appellation, you have no idea from the wine's front label where within the state the grapes were grown. (There may be additional information on the back label, but one cannot count on that, so let's ignore that possibility for now.) There have been many years when (e.g.) a year is great in, say, the northern part of the state, and mediocre in the central part, or vice-versa. In that, you MAY be able to "average" it out, but are you speaking of (e.g.) Kendall Jackson, in which "California" means the coastal areas of the state, or are you speaking of Cribari, in which "California" means the Central Valley.

            This is not a minor point. In fact, most wines made in the state of California DO carry the California appellation, and range in price from $1.99 to as much as $100 or so.

            However, California -- to stick with this as an example for a moment -- is indeed a huge place, and needs more specific details than most vintage charts (certainly Parker's, at least) provides. But at the same time, the specific vintage is LESS important in California than it is in, say, France, because the climate here is more consistent, year-in and year-out.

            This ignores the impact of global warming, but -- what the heck . . .

            Even just Bordeaux, with its multiple ratings is no guarantee that any specific wine is good. Or bad. 1968 is arguably one of the worst vintages in the second half of the 20th century, yet I've had many superb bottles of the 1968 Les Forts de Latour -- bottles I preferred drinking to the higher-rated-on-a-vintage-chart (and deservedly so, by the way) 1970.

            Clearly it's your money, and I'm not telling you how to spend it. But you did ask for the opinions of fellow board members. IMHO, vintage charts are generally one step above useless. They tell you nothing about any bottle of wine that may be on the shelf in front of you, and may in fact cause more harm than good.

            Just my 2¢ -- no doubt worth far less -- and you may keep the change! ;^)


            1. re: zin1953


              It is all about micro-climates! OK, so maybe not. I agree with your points. As I gave examples of, Vintage charts are always too broad to be more than minor reference points.

              How many "lesser" Bdx., have you had that were excellent? We could all cite dozens of exceptions to vintage charts.

              I'm still enjoying some '98s (Cal Cabs) from restaurant lists, that are priced very well. They were great "restaurant" wines, upon their release, but some are still drinking well today. The wine press declared this one of the worst vintages in decades, if not "ever." They were looking at other aspects, and not immediate drinkability. These usually turned out to be really good wines, at bargain prices (restaurant prices), because the "vintage charts" panned them.

              Charts are good rough guides, but one needs to know where to stop. The folk, that you, and the OP reference, might not know how to read between the lines.


              PS trying to post again. Please disregard an double post.

            2. re: lyndentodd

              I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other about the vintage cards. If you like them, then buy them, particularly if you think they are fun. However, just as you say 99% of wine drinkers never drink a bottle from Mt Veeder or Stags Leap district, I would be willing to guess that probably 98% of wine drinkers (the general population which is not reflected here on this board) never shop where they have the option of anything other than the current release. (Remember, lots of people buy their wine at Bevmo, Total Wine, TJs, the grocery store, etc.) Even in some of the better wine shops in SOCAL, my options to buy more than a few recent vintages is limited and usually only applicable to of some of the higher end wines. The places where I have access to more vintages tend to have staff that could be of more helpful than the vintage chart, or in the case of a restaurant, a sommelier which could tell me about the individual wine. Accordingly, on a practical level, I don't think the charts are useful to most people. Just my opinion.

              1. re: scrappydog

                That is why I suggested the UC Davis aroma/wine wheel. They are fun, and relate to any wine, that one is likely to drink.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Agree. More practical in my opinion.

            3. Wow, I think these are pretty awesome. For your garden variety wine drinker who may not know Latour from Lafleur these are pretty darn clever. So clever in fact, I went ahead and ordered 6 sets for friends and family. I think the issue here on chowhound is that you're talking to a bunch of well versed wine people and well, those of us who know our way around can be a bit on the snobby side. I'm certainly guilty as charged, try as I might to think otherwise.

              Honestly, anything that helps lighten the pretension surrounding the wine culture is a good thing. As is opening the experience of good wine up to a variety of people. Making good wine choices shouldn't have to be a mystery or an elitist activity. These little tools provide the everyday consumer with a good foundation of basic knowledge. Where's the harm in that?

              6 Replies
              1. re: CAG

                >>> Where's the harm in that? <<<

                To paraphrase the poet, "Let me count the ways . . . "

                Vintage information is one important piece of information, but only one among many. The problem is that -- by definition -- they are limited. Obviously a Vintage Chart can never tell you if a specific wine is good, only that the weather was, and that (presumably) that THIS year is generally very good for wines and THAT year is not as good. The more restricted an area the chart covers, the better it is; but the more specific it is, the more unwieldy it is. After all, who want a chart that says this vineyard was great, but that one only so-so? But when it's too broad (all of California, for example), it is totally useless -- YET it masquerades as meaningful, and there's the rub: to be truly useful, it has to be as specific as possible; to be well used, it has to be as broad as possible . . . .

                THIS is where the harm comes in. People who know a little about wine are often intimidated by it. Going into a Beverages, and more -- or even a Trader Joe's -- can be intimidating just because of the sheer size of the selection. Some people are further intimidated by talking with a salesperson -- afraid to look silly, not sure how to explain what they want, how to ask/answer the "right" question; etc., etc. Knowledge is essential. But false knowledge is (IMHO) worse.

                2012 gets high marks on a Vintage Chart, while 2011 ranks lower. People armed with a Vintage Chart may be -- and I would postulate, likely to -- opt to buy the 2012 Chateau Cache Phloe Cabernet Sauvignon over the 2011. AND . . . they may hate it. Why? Because the 2012 vintage is too young to enjoy today, while the 2011 is actually drinking quite well right now! Yes, ultimately the 2012 will be the better wine, but not until 2024 when it has a chance to age and develop to its full potential, whereas the 2011 doesn't need all that bottle age to become enjoyable.

                I included two other examples in my reply to lyndentodd above.

                Vintage Charts, like any tool, is just that: a tool, a guide. It isn't gospel; it isn't foolproof. In the case of a Vintage Chart, it's a very weak tool; few people, it seems, understand just how weak. They are far too heavily relied upon, IMHO.

                1. re: zin1953

                  I get you and I see what you're saying but honestly, it pretty much excludes everyone who doesn't have at least an intermediate level of knowledge. People need to get their feet wet. Dive in with a little confidence and experiment. Of course they will have things they dislike. But through that experience they will be better able to determine what they do. I view this sort of tool as a springboard to an overall greater knowledge. A gateway drug if you will. He he he...

                  A person has to start somewhere and something non-intimidating that offers basic information is as good as any. Nothing is fool-proof and I doubt anyone making a vintage guide is operating under the assumption that it is a be all and end all resource nor are they marketing it as such.

                  Nonetheless, you raise some good points. Perhaps one ought to include a side note on such things that says something to the effect of "always defer to a trusted wine professional."

                  1. re: CAG

                    "always defer to a trusted wine professional."

                    I'd replace with :

                    "Always refer to your own taste."

                      1. re: RicRios

                        The "trusted wine professional" is a GREAT source of information and recommendations, but the bottom line is that no one else has YOUR taste buds inside their mouth but you . . .

                    1. re: zin1953


                      It almost sounds like you are coming to the "dark side" with me. Let the "force" be with you...

                      "Jason, I am your father... "