How important is the vintage?

Does it bother you when you don’t get the vintage you ordered in a restaurant? What I’m describing is the situation where the list names the wine, gives a decent description and then the vintage and the price but there is no caveat at the bottom along the lines of “we reserve the right to serve a different year if we have run out of any particular vintage“. And when the server comes to the table and shows you the label prior to asking if you’d like to taste the wine, you notice it’s the 2006 when the list says 2005 but nothing has been said.

I am in no way expert enough to be able to spot vintage differences on the palate and I have a hard enough time remembering what years were particularly good/bad in any particular region but I like to get what I pay for. And I think that it should be common courtesy to inform the customer of any switch. Now I understand that many waiters and waitresses are young and don’t know much about wine, so a little latitude should be allowed but you really wouldn’t expect it in a place that obviously prides itself on its list.

I’m blogging this topic now as it happened to me yesterday. I was at the wedding of two good friends in a very smart English country house hotel in deepest rural Sussex. The wedding was held outside on the best day of the year (England’s summer has been truly awful so far) and were treated to a marvellous dinner in a beautiful dining room. So why, when the menu said the wines to accompany the meal were to be a white Rioja from 2002 and a Chianti Classico riserva from 1999, did we get a 2006 Rioja and a 2002 Chianti? At least the port, a Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas from 1996, was accurate.

Now I am sure we came off better with the 2006 Rioja but, having recently spent a day in the company of a number of Chianti producers at an event I was helping out at, I know the 1999 vintage would have been pretty special. To give the hotel the benefit of the doubt maybe they ran out of the particular vintages since agreeing the menu with the happy couple but this place has earned a Wine Spectator award for its wine list so maybe I would have expected better.

Now don’t get me wrong. This did NOT spoil my day. I’m not that much of a geek about wine but it has happened in other restaurants and I can’t recall ever having been told up front that so-and-so vintage was unavailable and therefore another one would be served.

So how important is the vintage?

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