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T+L’s Vintage Cheat Sheet
When you’re juggling varietals, regions, and producers, vintages may be one variable too many. The good news: better wine-making techniques have made bad years almost extinct. Follow these tips and order like a pro.
Years to Know: In Bordeaux, 2000, 2003, and 2005 got the headlines, but seeking out 2001, 2002, and (especially) 2004 from top châteaux will get you a great bottle that’s ready to drink at sometimes half the price.
When Age Doesn’t Matter: For all but the most age-worthy white wines and pretty much all rosés, the rule is that the best vintage is the newest one.
Sweet Finish: With dessert wines, it’s the opposite direction. Anything with a little age will have its edges rounded, its angles softened, and a mellow sweetness.
Finding Value: In Italy’s Piedmont and Spain’s Rioja regions, difficult years like 2002 mean that there aren’t always enough superior grapes to make reserve and single-vineyard bottlings, so many wineries include their superior grapes in basic releases, making them even better.
Lesser Knowns: If you’re in doubt, sommeliers are often eager to recommend wines from years that didn’t get the hype. (They’re known as restaurant vintages, after all.) —Bruce Schoenfeld