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Friday, September 14, 2012

Current Vintages in Wine Shops

Imagine you’re a fashion designer.  You design beautiful clothing, and your company sells the clothing to many different stores.  Some stores are good at selling it, even if it’s a bit pricey, because they know it’s good quality, and they know how to display it properly.  At the end of the season, all the clothing you sold to the good shops is sold and the customers are happy.  Now imagine a few years later, you happen upon another shop, and you go in, and find that same outfit you designed a few years prior.  It hasn’t moved, and it’s been sitting in the direct sunlight and now it’s faded and ruined.  If someone finally buys it, they won’t look so good in it.  You wouldn’t want someone wearing it like that, and you’re disappointed to see that it’s still sitting there, long past the time when it was in style.

There are a lot of wine shops that buy a lot of wine.  Sometimes they buy certain wines in bulk to get special discounts.  I can understand that.  And I’m not talking about a discount on 5 cases.  I’m talking about a discount on 50 cases.  But what’s troubling is going into a wine shop and seeing the same vintage of that wine available for a few too many years.  Obviously it hasn’t moved.  And what’s also troubling to me is when a wine hasn’t been stored at a shop under the proper conditions - temperature, dryness/humidity, and away from sunlight, or setting the bottle at the correct angle for the sake of the cork or sediment.

If I were a vintner, I’d be disappointed to see how lots of wines are left to turn strange in some wine shops.  The vintner wants his/her wines to show well and for the customers to enjoy it.  I’m quite sure they don’t want people opening the bottles past their prime, and the customers to drink spoiled wine.  That’s a bad reflection - but people might think it’s a bad reflection on the winery.  In fact, it’s probably a bad reflection on the shop that failed to store the wine properly and sell it when it was supposed to be enjoyed.

Jancis Robinson has noted that approximately the top 10% of all red wine and the top 5% of all white wine are capable of aging to the point of being more enjoyable after 5 years, as opposed to after 1 year.  Think about that for a moment.  This means that most wines are ready for consumption within the first year after release.  So if you see wines much older than that, sitting on the shelves of wine shops, perhaps think twice.  If so few wines are intended for aging, what are they doing in those shops?  They won’t be as enjoyable if they’re past their prime, but if a shop bought more than it could sell, perhaps for the sake of a discount on a tremendous amount of wine, or to make matters even worse, failed to store it properly, that wine might not be fit for consumption.

Current vintage

That used to happen to me quite often - I’d buy a bottle and when I opened it, I realized it was long past peak time.  The fruitiness might taste completely dried out, or the wine might taste like vinegar, or raisins, or however it wasn’t supposed to taste when the vintner created it - it’s expired.  I’m much more conscious of that now since I have a lot more experience than I used to, and I shop in places that keep current vintages, or store ageworthy wines correctly.  You wouldn’t buy the faded clothing sitting on a shelf too long.  You wouldn’t buy something in the supermarket that’s long past its expiration date.  So why buy expired wine?

Current vintage

I respect the shops that buy when they believe they can sell in the proper window of time, and the shops that make sure they’re storing the wine correctly.  Those are the places I’d rather shop.  Shops are an important part of a wine’s journey - it’s how many of us are connected with the wines we’ll enjoy.  And I believe shopkeepers have a duty to make sure consumers are getting the wine when it’s ready to be enjoyed, and to store them correctly.  Please consider giving your business to those shops - they’re the ones making the best effort and putting what matters first.

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