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Johnson: vintages don’t matter any more

Top UK wine writer Hugh Johnson has claimed that wine vintages do not really matter any more.

Speaking to UK broadsheet the Times, the veteran taster said that numerous techniques had been developed by wine growers to ensure that their crops are no longer ruined by bad weather or diseases. He claims that any year is now a good one for drinkers.

Johnson’s statement, displayed in his 2008 Pocket Wine Book, is likely to divide opinions in the wine industry, especially in the sale houses. The writer railed against what he sees as wine snobbery.

‘The reasons people buy a particular wine are complex but have a lot to do with snobbery,’ he said. ‘If you sold a non-vintage Bordeaux nobody would buy it. It would be just as good, but it would not have the romance and interest.’

Other wine writers, including Spanish expert John Radford, agreed.

‘There have been so many wonders in research and we know so much that there are never going to be vintages of the appalling quality we witnessed after the washouts in France 1965 and 1968,’ said Radford.

Members of the wine trade were more sceptical of Johnson’s views, however, saying that climate contiditions in the year still play a large part in the wine.

Stephen Williams, managing director of the Antique Wine Company, said, ‘My view is that we now make generally better wine due to both technology, but more importantly improved oenological knowledge and weather forecasting. Nature still produces wines far better than the tinkering around that mankind can do. In fact in the greatest vintages the winemakers need to do very little indeed. It has been said to me by one of Bordeaux’s most reputed winemakers, that the 2005 vintage (the last great vintage) was made by wine makers from the deck-chair! Very little need for crop spraying etc. However we can now improve the taste of what would otherwise be disappointing vintages. 1997 and 2002 are perhaps examples of wines which are quite delicious to drink today, that twenty years ago would be likely as having faults significantly noticeable in their taste.’ (NB this is a correction of the original comment by Stephen Williams, in which we inadvertantly misquoted him)

Hugh Johnson told decanter.com he stands firm in his views. ‘I always think luxury markets are amazingly canny at keeping the supply and demand in the balance that suits them. Too much wine? Recruit more collectors. China and India have hardly started…watch this space.’

  • Hugh Johnson explains his position in the January issue of Decanter – out 5 December

    Written by David Higgs

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