Vintage dates on bottles of California wine don't mean much. While rainfall totals vary from one year to another, and a freak freeze or surprise hail storm could affect yield, the growing season from one year to another in California is fairly steady. Thus, vintage dates only rarely amount to a helpful buying guide. Not so in several of the world's other wine regions, where fluctuations in weather can have more profound impact. As a consequence, the quality of the vintage can vary relatively dramatically from one year to the next. Then, vintage dates mean something.
I was reminded of this over the weekend while browsing through the wine section of a local supermarket. A sign over one bin boasted that the 2005 vintage of this imported malbec had received 91 points from the critics of a prestigious American wine magazine. As I dove into the bin, however, all I could find was 2004 and 2006 vintages of the wine, not a single bottle of the 2005.
I suspect this was simply a case of sloppy stocking, not an intentional attempt to mislead consumers who might not pick up on the difference in vintage between what was on the promotional sign and what actually was in the bin. If I remember correctly, supermarkets have been slapped with fairly stiff fines for misguiding consumers with this sort of promotional ploy, whether intentional or not. At the least, consumers currently caught up in the year-end frenzy of wine buying should pay close attention to whether the wine in a bin is the same wine promoted in the placarb above the bin.