By Guy Chatfield
I HAD one of those moments recently: sitting in my car at a set of lights with the brain very much in neutral when one of my favourite songs came on the radio, transporting me back to the halcyon days of Britpop.
Those of you who like that style of music may remember the late ‘90s song Help the Aged by Jarvis Cocker and his band Pulp.
When the DJ mentioned the year the song came out, my subconscious forced the (useless?) fact that 1997 was an exceptional year for German wine to the front of my brain.
What is that all about?
As I continued to idle in the hideously slow traffic, my empty noggin wandered further, contemplating the merits of the delicious wine I had tasted from that specific year, progressing to the thought that it’s a shame a vintage of any particular wine is finite.
Now, the vast majority of wine drunk in this country is not really vintage-specific.
What I mean is that, although it will mention a particular year on the label somewhere, it tends to be branded wine that’s consumed most – and the positive profile of that wine is based on its consistency over time.
To achieve that consistency of flavour, the big guys source fruit from a wide area and furiously blend the resulting juice into a wine that’ll taste very similar today, next week and the year after. This tactic irons out any vintage variation problems they may have with certain vineyards.
So, if you’re in the market for a wine that shows you something special, buy one from a good vintage and another from the same place from a ‘not so good’ vintage, and check out how brilliant wine with character can be.
Sure, they’ll be year-on-year differences, but that is the fun of it.
Key to this is going to a reputable merchant or supplier who will let you know what’s what. A good free service to use is the vintage charts on the website of the highly-esteemed Berry Bros. & Rudd (www.bbr.com).
If you can gather enough of the different years of a particular wine, you could organise what’s known as a ‘vertical tasting’ and compare and contrast multiple chronological vintages to see the progression and maturation, or lack of, of the wine.
I’m not a great one for analysing lyrics but, as a final thought, there is a line of that Pulp song that’s a pertinent reminder that good vintage wine does not last forever: “Funny how it all falls away…so help the aged”.
THE CORK DORK FACT:
Check out the very useful UK wine tax calculator app if you have an iPhone.