There really is no simple answer to the vintage date question because there is so much variability from wine region to wine region. As a matter of fact, there are usually significant differences among wine-producing regions from within the same small geographic area. Vintage disasters in one area can be mitigated in another by Mother Nature, vineyard practices or good winemakers.
The individuality of vintages reminds us not to take things for granted in the wine world. It is a good lesson, and vintages like 2011 serve as reminders for us to dig a little deeper and find good wines in "bad" vintages.
So the next time you wish to know about the quality of a particular vintage, consult one of the many vintage charts available, but be aware that these guides can be general in nature and somewhat misleading. Always remember to trust your own palate.
Here are a couple of wines from two distinctly different vintages you might wish to try.
2011 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot Noir ($25): An example of a wine produced from a "poor" vintage that is very tasty. From a very cool region, this pinot noir has cherry and cola flavors along with an earthy toasty oak aroma. Pair it with roasted salmon that has been brushed with soy, sriracha and ginger.
2010 Cantine Colosi Rosso Sicilia ($13): From Sicily, this Nero d'Avola red is full of ripe plum nuances and is a medium-bodied but rich wine. With excellent balancing acidity, try this with grilled Italian sausage and fried sweet and hot red peppers.
For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.