Everyone who is into wine knows the importance of vintage. When writing the name of a wine, the vintage is as vital as the producer, variety and region. That is because every wine from every season is different.
So, I get frustrated when I see a sweeping disclaimer on the bottom of a wine list simply stating that ‘vintages are subject to change’. Even worse, is after carefully selecting wine from a specific vintage, a different vintage is presented without comment.
It does not only relate to bottles. I have had three occasions in the last month where the wine-by-the-glass I was poured was not the vintage listed. Now admittedly these were local eateries and not fine dining establishments. But that is beside the point. Vintage matters.
Some restaurants may put a simple disclaimer to cover themselves from a legal standpoint if a disgruntled customer gets picky. However, I would like to see the occurrence dealt with in a more detailed fashion, acknowledging that occasionally the vintage selected may not be available and that the establishment will endeavour to inform you of this and discuss an alternative.
Of course, many restaurants handle this extremely well and thanks to those with well-managed selections and knowledgeable, informed staff.
With local wines, I think a misnomer exists that as the Australian climate is generally warmer than our European counterparts, we don’t get extremes in season from year to year. However, there are years where wines look significantly different to others. 2011 was one of those seasons for some, but certainly not all, regions.
But it is not only about the strength or character of the vintage. Sometimes it is purely about the age of the wine. If I have deliberately chosen a five-year-old red, I don’t then want to be presented with the younger current release, whether it be by the bottle or glass.
From the restaurant’s point of view, I admit that it is costly, time-consuming and wasteful to regularly reprint wine lists, especially when dealing with large inventories. And one may also pose the argument that many customers would simply not notice or be worried by it. However, the wine-drinkers of Australia are becoming savvier, and vintage is a fundamental parameter that conveys information about wine style and quality.
So, from the restaurant’s point of view, it comes down to solid staff training so that there is an awareness of the importance of vintage. And from the customer, a polite ‘This is not what I was after, could you please suggest something else?’ rather than making an unnecessary fuss.
Proper communication regarding vintage changeovers is essential, rather than simply accepting the fact, or hoping that no one will notice.