With a special occasion last week we had the opportunity to try a couple of older vintages of wines we have consumed over many vintages, one a 1995 Bald Mountain Zinfandel from a ranch that straddles the Sonoma and Napa County line in California and the other a 2008 Querciabella Chianti Classico that appeared in the Wine Spectator top 100 list a couple of years back. Both were delicious and in fabulous shape, one came from our personal cellar the other was on the wine list at Scratch where they maintain a well rounded innovative list.
After both experiences we contemplated how wine consumers can get access to older vintages. In the case of a vintage from decades ago like the Bald Mountain we mentioned it can be quite difficult. For more recent bottlings though it is easier than you might think, and is something we do for customers all the time. It comes up for many reasons, a customer may have lost track of a bottle they previously purchased or received in a wine club, or they may have just finally drank the last bottle from a case purchase of a wine they were very fond of. Whether it is these or other reasons consumers just want more, and the particular wine and vintage are not to be found sitting on a store shelf.
Your first stop should be the source where you made the initial purchase. Most retailers will have access to additional bottles regardless of whether it was in their wine club or just an item they stocked on the shelf. If you don't recall where you purchased the first bottle, stop by our shop or visit your favorite wine professional and see if they might know where to access more of the wine from that year.
With domestic wineries we frequently contact the winemaker to see what they have in the "library" and what they might be willing to part with. Wineries and winemakers almost always hold back some cases in their "library," which allows them to go back and try different vintages to see in their own opinion how age worthy their wines are and the changes taking place over the years. The best winemakers keep meticulous records of each vintage, and many possess encyclopedic memories of the different years and the qualities of the wines they produced. When they combine these technical recordings with their own impression of tasting the wines years later it gives them the ability to know what to expect in similar years. The saving of these past vintages also gives the winery the opportunity to re-release their most prized wines in later years to their best customers.
The important thing for all wine consumers is this "library" of older vintages provides a stash of wine that may be available for purchase when the wine can't be found through conventional channels. Our ability to gain access to these past years will be driven by a couple of factors including how much the winery still has and the caliber of the overall vintage. Having said all that asking the winery is easy and works more times than not so is always worth it.
A cautionary note though too. Not all wines because of vintage, varietal and winemaking styles are created equal, and while some are age worthy and worth tracking down to secure more of, some may just be old and past their prime. This is where the advice and knowledge of not only a trusted wine professional, but the winemaker are of great value. If we are unsure of how the wine you inquire about is ageing we can call and ask the winemaker, as we said they keep records and memories of these things and are almost always willing to share their "intel". As wine professionals too we have our own impressions of years and winemaking style that can help guide your decision of whether to reload on a vintage.
One other item to keep in mind, it is much easier to go back for domestic producers than international ones. While winemakers almost always keep some of their older wines around, importers and distributors are unlikely to hold back wine from previous years. This combined with the logistics of getting wines from overseas makes it very unlikely you will be able to access wine from specific years on the retail market.
We encourage all wine consumers to remember their favorite years and favorite wines from those years, asking the question about getting more is easy and the trip down memory lane will almost certainly be enjoyable.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party - a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo and is the wine editor for Coeur d'Alene Magazine (www.cdamagazine.com). You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.