Subscribe to Wine Camp

Add to Google

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Craig Camp's Facebook profile
Wine Camp: Publishing online since 2003 - as always, a points-free zone
Photography by Craig Camp on Smug Mug
Nominated as “Best Wine Blog” by Saveur Magazine

Named one of the top
Wine Blog authors by
Food and Wine Magazine

50 Best Wine Blogs

From Guide to Culinary Schools

Winner “Best Jazz Writing on a Wine Blog”
Powered by Squarespace
Current Topics
Contact Me
This form does not yet contain any fields.

    « Vino Wire Reports on the Brunello Debate | Main | Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa »

    Facing Facts

    facing facts If you tell a big lie enough people will begin to believe it. That has been the case with James Suckling of The Wine Spectator who has repeated over and over again his ranking of the 1997 and 2000 vintages in Piemonte as great vintages. The winemakers there averted their eyes when this topic would come up, all to willing to take his PR blessing to help sell these wines at higher prices. On the inside the story was very different with “off the record” comments on how problematic these two hot vintages were. Most producers admitted that these two years produced extreme wines, atypical in character that exhibited overripe flavors and aromas, which overwhelmed the classic characteristics of nebbiolo. In other words the growers themselves didn’t consider these to be great vintages and felt the wines themselves had serious deficiencies. By no stretch of the imagination could 1997 and 2000 vintages have been considered great in Barolo or Barbaresco. Suckling was wrong.

    Perhaps now those wines are long sold out, producers are more relaxed and open in their assessment of these two artificially hyped vintages.  In the Grape Radio video linked to below, Danilo Drocco, the excellent winemaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba in Barolo, leads a group through a vertical tasting of his wines and with a refreshing honesty, which is typical of Danilo, comments on the well known faults of these two vintages.

    Hot vintages that produce big, soft wines that don’t age gracefully are not great vintages. Good vintages sure, but great vintages never. Too hot can have as many problems as too cool. Suckling incorrectly rated these two vintages and should fess up and adjust The Wine Spectator vintage chart to reflect a more accurate and widely held ranking. Ranking the 2000 vintage a perfect 100 points and 1997 an almost perfect 99, while rating more highly regarded vintages lower only damages The Wine Spectator’s credibility.

    The reason for these dysfunctional ratings can be seen in Suckling’s own description of the vintages:

    • 2004 - Harmonious, perfumed reds, with fine tannins and lots of freshness (89 to 93 points)
    • 2001 - Aromatic, structured and firm reds with racy character (95 points)
    • 2000 - Rich and opulent reds with round tannins and exciting fruit; perfection in Nebbiolo (100 points)
    • 1997 - Superripe, opulent, flamboyant wines (99 points)

    Once again, an American writer is seduced by opulence and flamboyance, while missing the beauty to be found in wines defined by harmony, aromatics and a lively, racy character. You’d be hard put to find a producer in Barolo and Barbaresco that will tell you that 1997 and 2000 are superior nebbiolo vintages to 2004, 2001 and 1996, which most producers believe to be truly great vintages for Barolo and Barbaresco.

    Successfully avoiding strike three, Suckling rates 2003, another hot, over the top vintage, only 88 points and comments, “Many unbalanced wines due to an extremely hot growing season, but some nice surprises.” Oddly enough most winemakers, now better trained in how to handle hot vintages after dealing with 1997 and 2000, probably handled the heat in 2003 more deftly then they did in those two previous difficult vintages. You can see why serious collectors of Barolo and Barbaresco have fled The Wine Spectator in search of more reliable advice.

    The video above from Grape Radio is a great piece of work and is well worth watching for the graphics and information offered. Danilo Drocco is perhaps one of Piemonte’s most underrated winemakers and he has transformed Fontanafredda into a reliable producer that often makes exciting wines. The Fontanafredda Barolo Serralunga is widely available and has been one of the best values in Barolo for years.

    There is no shame in making mistakes when rating wines and vintages. With time, wine changes and you have to be willing to change along with it.

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (7)

    Over the years, I have become more of a cynic. Maybe it's all the hype "the best vintage of the decade" from the critics. Or perhaps, it's the producers that seem to price wines as if each vintage is better than the last.. Call me crazy, but as a general rule, I get more blunt talk from the European producers than the American ones. The Europeans have more experience dealing with weak years than the Americans. Thus, they know how to adapt to the vintage.

    October 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJay Selman
    Great post! I often agree with this statement . . the overhyped vintages are often very warm, and not beautiful; just very ripe. I like the underhyped vintages, for instance 1999 in Bourdeaux. Just elegant and pretty.
    October 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterben
    While I might agree that these vintages were rated higher than deserved, especially vis-a-vis, 96, 98, 99, 01, and 04, they are excellent vintages. I would not dismiss them or the wines produced. My experience with 97's show they are ageing just fine. They remain riper and more accessible but the best wines are still not mature. I have not opened many 00's since their youth, so I can't say for sure about that.
    October 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLoren Sonkin
    I'm not dismissing them. There are many very good wines. It's just than out of the vintages you mention they are at the bottle of the barrel. Admittedly that's among some outstanding competition. I would say in general that barriqued versions of 97's are really best avoided.
    October 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCraig Camp
    Great essay, Craig! I will be commenting on this matter further in the coming days, in Spanish, in La otra botella.

    It's always seemed pretty snicker-worthy to me that the "Great Era of American Wine Criticism" was born out of just such a hyping of the wines from a very ripe vintage. Does "Bordeaux, 1982" sound familiar? Ever since, an entire wine aesthetic has been predicated by the major American wine criti--er, hype-generators.

    Oh, and another thing: The Wine Spectator has "credibility"? That one baffled me...:-)


    October 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterManuel Camblor

    Thanks for mentioning my video in your post! What I didn't include in the final cut (probably because it sounded too blunt) was that Mr. Drocco said that 1997 was "a great vintage for the journalists." This comment elicited bellows of laughter from the attendees, who were mainly top Los Angeles sommeliers and wine buyers. I can attest that the 1996 Vigna La Rosa was far more complex and youthful than the 1997.

    October 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark Ryan
    James Moleworths comments in his recent Spectator article entitled a new wave in Chatauenuf-du-Pape struck me in a similar way. His writing reveals the same mindset as James Sucklings. - when it comes to alcohol and fruit, bigger is always better.They view it as sign of progressive thinking. As a result, many vignerons feel that they have no choice but to reluctantly get on board now, or be left behind. Perhaps we bloggers can cause others to take notice and be a counterforce.
    November 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRamblin' Wino
    Member Account Required
    You must have a member account on this website in order to post comments. Log in to your account to enable posting.