WHAT MATTERS MORE, producer or vintage? Its one of the questions that oenophiles often ask themselves and one another when considering whether to buy a particular wine. Can a great producer overcome the odds of a poor vintage or will a year of bad weather trump even the most talented woman or man?

My friend Alan, a knowledgeable if somewhat frugal oenophile, believes that no vintner can fully overcome the effects of rain, heat, hail or drought. He would rather buy a wine from an unknown producer in a great year than chance a bottle from a well-known vineyard in a bad vintage, which he believes is never a great deal. (He doesn’t buy the wines of great producers in great vintages since they tend to cost more than he’s willing to spend.) However, Alan conceded that his is the minority view and that wine professionals, especially sommeliers, tend to have faith that top winemakers will turn out a great bottle even in the worst years.

Was Alan’s assessment of sommeliers accurate? I asked Belinda Chang, wine director of the soon-to-open Maple & Ash restaurant in Chicago. Ms. Chang, who has worked in top restaurants in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, declined to answer specifically but told the following story instead: While recently dining in Del Frisco’s steakhouse in Chicago, she overheard the sommelier suggesting a bottle of Napa Cabernet from 2011a widely panned vintage to a group of men. Ms. Chang said the men, who had been checking vintage charts on their phones, were horrified that the sommelier had the temerity to suggest such a thing. They all looked at her like she was on crack, she said.

Ms. Chang has tasted 2,000-plus wines in recent months in the process of assembling her wine list. She tasted vintages bad and good and found worthy wines in both, including a 2011 Napa Cabernet and some wines from other so-called appalling vintages like the 2008 Rhne Valley and 2011 Bordeaux.

Of course, for the majority of wine drinkers, the greatness of a particular vintage is often beside the point. As Gerald Weisl, proprietor of Weimax Wines & Spirits in Burlingame, Calif., said, most of his customers arent looking for the very best vintage but simply “a bottle to put on the dinner table.”

Image courtesy of wsj.com

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