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Why Vintage Matters

A Wine's Vintage Offers Key Clues to Consumers

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A wine’s vintage, or the year that the grapes were harvested, is a critical clue in determining if a wine will meet your expectations or not. The vintage year is one of the key pieces of information that you’ll find on the wine label. You can have the same producer, the same grapes sourced from the same vineyards, the same winemaker and the only piece of the vinification equation that is changed is the year and ...boom… this year’s wine offers a completely different experience than it did the year before. Why? The vintage variable plays a major role in determining what kind of wine will be bottled.

The Weather and Wine

Most consumers don’t pay attention to vintage reports from year to year, they know that they like “wine X” and they continue to scout for it year in and year out, they may notice that it doesn’t taste quite like the last bottle and maybe even that the year has changed on the label, but beyond those details they press on and stick with the particular wine.

When in reality, the wine could be dramatically different from year to year depending on the weather patterns hitting the vineyards, the harvest time and how a unique micro-climate was affected by both obvious and subtle nuances in the weather. Was it unusually hot this year, but last year they battled an ongoing soggy season? Were there any unusual early or late frosts this year?

Grapes varietals are affected by weather in various ways. The Riesling grape, for example, thrives under cooler growing conditions, and that’s precisely why Germany and Oregon have much of the market cornered on stellar Rieslings. However, if you have a particularly warm, dry growing season, the Riesling vintage could suffer that year and the same producer that offered the Riesling you fell in love with the year before, might not meet prior expectations this vintage and you could be left waiting to see what the next year’s weather will bring to a region and ultimately a vintage.

The Miraculous Winemaker

After a rough weather season you might think all is lost and you’ll just need to stretch your favorite bottles until the next vintage, but that’s where skilled winemakers can really work their magic. If poor weather patterns prevail for a given region, an experienced winemaker can salvage the vintage by employing various interventions and techniques during the vinification process. Whether, the vintner brings the wine around via blending, utilizing different fermentation processes or considers additives – it takes a knowledgeable winemaker to “save” a potentially sour vintage and keep reasonable consistency in a specific wine between vintages.

What about “Non-vintage” Wines?

Most sparkling wines and fortified wines are classified as “non-vintage” wines, because they are typically a blend of various vintages. This blending practice is utilized to try to get a very consistent style of wine from year to year. In exceptional years, a vintage Champagne or vintage Port will debut due to ideal growing conditions and you can expect that these particular vintage wines will garner a pretty penny.

Every year updated vintage charts document the most and least noteworthy wines from a specific region, while these can be cumbersome to maintain in a detailed online format, for those truly interested in delving deeper into various vintages, there are several solid books that will take you on the full excursion through a mighty vintage tour. Robert Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, 7th Edition: The Complete, Easy-to-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More than 8,000 Wines from All the Major Wine Regions is a fairly exhaustive resource on the vintage variable.

When you think of vintage, consider a region’s weather pattern for the specific year and you’ll be on the right track in determining what odds were for or against the wine right from the start. You can access a region’s vintage report for individual years either online or through resources like Wine Spectator.

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