2004 Brunello is one of the hottest things going right now. Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate rated the 2004 vintage for all of Tuscany a 96. Anything between 96 and 100 is considered extraordinary, and as the crème de la crème of Tuscan wines, the 2004 Brunellos are commanding a lot of attention.
Why does vintage matter and what does it mean for the consumer? Wine is a farming product. The growing season has a huge impact on the ability of the harvested grapes to be turned into great wine. There are certain years that come along when all the conditions are just perfect. I always say I could have made an incredible 2005 Bordeaux all by myself, and I'm no winemaker. The vintage just carries the day.
One thing I like to remind people is that vintage is a huge factor in the aging ability and drinking window of wines. Whereas wines from lesser vintages should be consumed much earlier in their lifespans, wines from superior vintages (in general) are built to last. In fact, it's a common misconception that you have to buy from great vintages to get great wine. Most of the time, if you are looking to drink a bottle tonight, you will be much better off buying wine from a more marginal vintage. You'll almost certainly pay less money for it, and in all likelihood it will be more pleasant to drink than the wine from the better vintage.I always kind of chuckle when I see people in a restaurant pulling out their pocket vintage charts and ordering the latest hot vintage, only to end up drinking a wine that is much too young and spending a lot of money in the process. Meanwhile I'm a few tables over drinking something delicious for a fraction of the price.