Great Older Vintages: Top Wines, Top Years
Buying older bottles can be rewarding—but tricky. To get good value, look for top wines from these great—and relatively overlooked—years.
1999 This was a difficult year, with a growing season marked by hail and rain. But good winemakers still created wines that are enjoyable to drink now. Producers in St-Julien, like Château Branaire-Ducru, were particularly successful.
2001 This rather austere vintage failed to impress after the powerful 2000 wines, and the prices were therefore cheaper. But since then, that austerity has been transformed into fresh, pure flavors. The 2001 vintage was especially successful in St-Estèphe (notably at Château Montrose) and Pomerol.
2001 As in Bordeaux, alert Burgundian vignerons outsmarted some difficult weather in 2001 and produced reds with solid Pinot Noir character. Look for wines from the Côte de Nuits and top Côte de Beaune producers such as Domaine Michel Lafarge.
2003 This year marked both Europe’s hottest-ever summer and Burgundy’s earliest-ever harvest. Although some wines still have hefty tannins, they are balanced by some very intense fruit flavors. Value hunters should look to appellations like Savigny-lès-Beaune (e.g., Jadot’s Clos des Guettes).
1996 This was another year in a string of terrific Barolo vintages that began with 1995, and the wines are just now reaching their full potential. Better yet, they are still widely available—and at some reasonable prices, too. One fully mature find: Giacomo Borgogno’s Classico Riserva.
1998 A classic vintage, yet the wines were over-shadowed by the bigger, richer 1997s. Over the past decade, youthful tannins have matured elegantly. The Monprivato bottling from Mascarello is drinking wonderfully right now.
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
1999 This cool vintage produced wines that were firm, even hard, rather than flamboyant—much like Bordeaux. But the initial high acidity of these wines is now integrated with the fruit, as evidenced in bottlings from Mondavi and Philip Togni.
2002 Napa Cabs from the 2002 vintage are the antithesis of the reserved 1999 wines: They’re true extroverts, brimming with beautifully ripe fruit and marked by soft tannins. Two delicious Cabernets worth looking for are from Etude and Pine Ridge.
1993 A solid vintage of densely fruited wines with great acidity, 1993 has been largely forgotten by collectors—and the wines are underpriced accordingly. The Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken is true German Riesling in all its glory.
2002 Although the 2001 vintage was highly touted, 2002 failed to attract much attention. Now some of its best wines, once restrained, are just beginning to show a clear and penetrating minerality; the juicy Forster Jesuitengarten from Bassermann-Jordan is one to seek out.
Three Wines to Drink Now
1. 1999 Château-Branaire Ducru St-Julien Bordeaux ($58)
2. 2001 Domaine Michel Lafarge Passetoutgrain Burgundy ($19)
3. 1996 Seghesio La Villa Barolo ($60)
1. 1999 Mondavi Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet ($125)
2. 1993 Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken Spätlese Riesling ($32)