Vintage, the year the grapes were harvested, is one of many factors that influence the quality of the finished wine. It most directly speaks of the weather for that particularly year. For example, 2012 in Burgundy started out wet, cold and plagued with hail. This means that the growth of the vines and berries started late and many of the vineyards were destroyed by the hail storms. The end of 2012 finished up better--sunnier, drier and warmer--so harvest went pretty well, just very small. According to wine writer Stephen Tanzer, there are excellent wines made in 2012, but “buying the vintage will require selectivity.” In my opinion, in good vintages, just about everyone can make good wine. In difficult vintages, it’s much more likely that only the best producers will make good wine and everyone else will make ok wine or worse. Good producers know how to adjust for difficult vintage conditions and make changes, both in the vineyard and in the winery, in order to account for less than ideal crops.
Technology has also made it easier for producers to adjust for challenging vintages so more and more producers are making better wine even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. In general, I tend to use vintage as an indicator of the style of a wine, not the quality, the same way I look at grape type or region. Wine made from colder, wetter years will have more earthy flavors and higher acidity. Wine from warmer, drier vintages will be fruitier and higher in alcohol. In fact, in many instances I prefer wines from “off-vintage” years, years that weren’t rated as highly, because they are often more European in style. That is, they are often lower in alcohol and higher in acidity which means they pair better with food and can often be more elegant. In many cases, they are also less expensive because the scores aren’t as high and the demand is not as strong.
The 2012 Burgundies at this tasting proved my theory about difficult vintages. Very little of the wine we tasted was very good. Most of it was just ok, and some was worse. The whites, which are made from chardonnay, lacked the acidity and brightness I look for in chardonnay and the reds, made from pinot noir or gamay (in the case of Beaujolais), were thin and lacking in fruit. The few Chablis that were there--Chablis is a small region within Burgundy that makes primarily white wine, also from chardonnay--struggled most with finding acidity, while the reds from Volnay and Morey St. Denis--two other small regions--were the best wines I tasted. I particularly enjoyed the Volnay “Fremiets” Premier Cru from Domaine Faiveley as well as the Morey St. Denis “Faconnières” Premier Cru from Domaine Lignier Michelot. The wines from the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, while normally some of my favorites, struggled to find balance with the exception of the wines from Domaine Armand Rousseau whose Chambertin Grand Cru was probably the best wine of the tasting.
The 2012 Burgundies won’t be released for at least a couple more months, in the case of the whites, and maybe another year for the reds, so there’s still time for them to get better. Unfortunately, I think the good wines coming from Burgundy in 2012 will be few and far between. That’s not to say they’re not out there, they’re just harder to find.
After the tasting, Jamie and I headed across town to meet up with a friend for a drink at Mustang Sally’s. My gin martini was a nice refresher after so much wine. Then uptown to Café d’Alsace. This was definitely the highlight of the day.
We’ve been to Café d’Alsace a few times before. Having studied in Alsace, and loved it, it was nice to find someplace that had a fairly authentic feel and on top of that excellent food and a great wine list. We’ve had some great experiences in the past, and this time was no exception. We both ordered starters off the specials menu, foie gras for Jamie and gnocchi for me, and I ordered a bottle of Côtes du Rhône but they were out, so the beverage director, Gianni, was kind enough to offer a bottle of the 2004 Mont Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe for the same price. It was a great surprise and turned out to be a great bottle of wine. We chose two excellent entrées, boeuf bourgignon and lamb stew and were pleased when chef Philippe Roussel came out to chat with us.
By this time it seemed like Gianni, our server and us had become good friends and after our entrées, we were treated to two excellent desserts and Gianni insisted that we try some great beer he had on tap. It was definitely out best experience there yet, and I can’t wait to go back and chat more with Gianni about their great wines and beers. Typically I’m not a very outgoing and talkative person. Once I get to know someone, I’ll be friends with them for life, but making that first connection is difficult for me. I’ve been challenging myself lately to be more outgoing and to be more intentional about getting to know other people and I believe that this type of experience shows how rewarding that can be.