Every year is a vintage year!!!

Every year is a vintage year!!!!  The vintage year is the year a wine was produced and the characteristics of that particular year.

In simple terms, all young wine is a single year vintage wine until it gets blended.  If that’s with older wines, often from the produce of two or more years and pretty much necessary if a winemaker needs to create a consistent house/brand wine style year after year, it becomes an Non-Vintage (or NV) blend.  If, however, it is only blended with the same vintage wines, it becomes a Vintage dated wine and means the wine has been made from grapes grown and harvested in a single specific year.

South Australian Penfolds Grange Hermitage Vintage 1988
South Australian Penfolds Grange Hermitage Vintage 1988

Just to complicate matters, in the southern hemisphere e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile etc, their vintage dated wines tend to be the year the grapes were picked despite the majority of the vine’s growth cycle being in the previous year!  In the northern hemisphere e.g. France, Spain, Portugal, Italy etc, the vintage year covers both.  If you’re a fan of Canada’s lusciously sweet dessert Ice Wines or perhaps Germany’s Eiswein, the vintage relates to the viticultural element of the vine growth only as the grapes are left on the vine and only picked at around -8°C which is usually in January.

The vast majority of wines are Non-Vintage and made to be opened, enjoyed and consumed.  Although NV is sometimes seen as inferior to Vintage wines, this doesn’t make them bad wines and this issue perpetually creates lots of debate and controversy.  It has to be said that there are many top quality Champagnes, wines, Sherries, Ports etc that are NV.

Vintage dated wines though do tend to be made only in good to exceptional years when a producer decides the year is sufficiently good to produce a single vintage wine that is also capable of improving in bottle by lying them down for ageing.  A vintage status is only fully established in retrospect and wines of ‘superior’ vintages often command much higher prices than those from more average vintages.  Some wine producers, including Port, will only Vintage label in better than average years to maintain house/brand quality and reputation.

Vintage years began commercially when bottle and corks replaced barrels for long term ageing at the end of the 17th century, yet they didn’t really become that important until they improved the shape of the bottle and storage capabilities e.g. being able to lie a bottle on its side another 100 years or so later.

Healthy ripe grapes
Healthy ripe grapes

Vintage in the New World is less varied as they tend to have much more uniform weather during the growing season.  For Old World and particularly the cooler wine regions e.g. Bordeaux, Burgundy etc, the weather can vary dramatically region to region and even areas within a vineyard!  So vintage is very important here.  What has the weather been like?  Warm enough to bring the grapes to full ripeness?  If not the grapes can be low in sugar thus lowering the potential for quality.  Did it rain too much or perhaps just before harvest?  Rain can bloat the grapes and dilute the flavours & complexity, create water logging causing root death or diseases, yet too little or no rain can cause drought stress.  There are a plethora of weather elements that can bring joy or despair to a vine grower!

There will always be differences in opinion regarding the importance of vintage yet Vintage dated wines are a good guider for the consumer as a rule of thumb!!  New Zealand has recently hailed their 2013 Vintage as ‘one of the best in history’ and Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, said

outstanding (summer) with near perfect conditions for growing grapes…..the result is that we expect the 2013 wines to be vibrant, fruit-driven and complex expressions of our diverse grape-growing regions – 2013 looks set to be a vintage to remember

Some of the last exceptional published vintages for: –

  • Red Bordeaux was 2005, 2009 and 2010
  • Sauternes 2001 and 2009
  • Red Burgundy 1990 and 2005
  • Tuscany 1990 and 2006 and so it goes on!

Click for vintage chart as published by Vintages.

With all the improvements in winemaking, the importance of vintage is one about which debate, disagreement and controversy can be expected to continue.

The nuts and bolts?  It’s the quality of an NV or Vintage wine that’s the crucial factor if you are looking to improve a wine, Champagne, Port or Sherry by lying it down and ageing it in bottle.  Ha

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