Everything You Need to Know About Vintages
Vintage of a wine defines the year the grapes were harvested. It is not, as many think, the year a wine is released in the market. Vintages help a consumer know the year when the vinification process began. As bottles become older and become collectibles, the year becomes even more important. The year becomes an integral part of the character of the wine.
Most wines tend to have a vintage, the exception being sparkling and fortified wines. The essence of a sparkling wine is all about the house style and not the year. If a sparkling wine is made the Méthode Traditionelle it will most often have a blend of 2-3 vintages. Fortified wines too follow a similar style with Sistema Solera. Here too there are exceptions, especially when in a particular year grape production and quality have exceeded expectations then they are made into vintage.
With right amount of rain, adequate sunshine and fertile soil, grapes will grow and ripen in a slow and steady pace without stress creating a good vintage
Why is vintage important?
Growing conditions for grapes will never remain the same. Weather, one of the most important factor, changes and every year harvest differs. A good year with the right weather, terroir will result in a good harvest. Just the right amount of rain, adequate sunshine, grapes will grow and ripen in a slow and steady pace without stress creating a good vintage. It is after this the winemaker adds his skill to create exception wines from a good vintage.
As to whether vintage wines are better than non vintage, it is a subjective question. Depending on the varietal and region many wineries may age wines for longer duration and release them in the market only after some time. In such cases, vintages come in handy – these wines are mature, evolved and created for cellaring. Most of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines fall in such a category.
How to determine a good vintage from bad?
Remembering vintage years are similar to remembering dates and years during history lessons. It is not an easy task; a quick geography lesson is handier. Mostly it is the French wine regions which are dramatically susceptible to weather changes hence, good and bad vintages, along with a few regions in Italy and Germany. Weather in these regions can have dramatic impact and because appellation rules wineries are not allowed to take extraordinary steps of precautions. Famed winemaker Michel Rolland’s Le Défi de Fontenil is case in point.
Most other regions always have consistent harvests which lead to generally good vintages. The wines are also reliable in terms of quality hence as a enthusiast you do not need to worry about vintage.