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Vintage Wine – The Year That Matters

Article by Daniel Manu on May - 16 - 2011

When talking about wine we refer to vintages when we want to stress the fact that its made with grapes grown in the same year. Sometimes it can include grapes from outside the vintage, but that depends on the country’s laws.

Even when using the same grapes a wine’s characteristics will change from year to year, may it be due to terrain weather conditions of that year, or type of manufacturing applied. So different vintages may vary in color, palate, nose, body and development.

The term vintage is often confused. People use it when they’re trying to talk about a high quality wine or an old one. It is true, though, that it can denote quality, take the Port wine for example. Winemakers take extra care to declare vintage Port in their best years.

If you shop for wine you will observe that it has a year written on it. That is the vintage, it is the year in which the grapes were picked. Most still wines are from the same vintage. Producers combine wines from different vintages only to maintain a consistency in taste and market image. These wines are referred to as non-vintage.

Most fortified and sparkling wines are non-vintage for the same reason. It seems that buyers prefer not having surprises when opening a bottle of sparkling wine. This seems a bit of a shame to me because the whole idea of a wine is to constantly surprise you. Luckily Champagne and Port are wines that make exception to this rule, they do make vintage wines if the year was good.

Ultimately it comes down to marketing, should the producer make the same tasting wine or should he risk it, assuming that it was a good year, and produce a vintage wine. Because of this vintage wines are not necesarily high quality ones like most people would think. Applying all their experience in winemaking Port and Champagne usually make four or five vintages a decade.

So, how do you know if a particular year is a good vintage. It all comes down to weather conditions, more precisely the consistency of it. If there’s a year with temperate weather, no sudden bursts of heat or cold then the conditions are fit for a good wine. If on the other hand you had seven storms and it started snowing in march then the grapes will be compromised and will not develop as expected.

But not all is lost, this is were the skill of a winemaker comes into play. Using his knowledge about the grapes and decades of experience a good producer will manipulate the vinification process and blend the wines in such a manner that even poor grapes will make for a good wine.

Weather is why some regions like France and Italy are the best, they simply have conditions that make vineyards moan with pleasure. The Sauvignon Blanc grape does very good in cooler, damper conditions, like those found in the Loire Valley. Other grapes enjoy dry and sunny conditions that favor the reopening of its sugar. The Syraz is a sweet wine made from these grapes, grown in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

Mother nature can sometimes be unforgiving but it can also nurture like nothing else. In 1993, heavy rains spelled disaster for light wines while 1998 was a year to remember due to the exceptional vintages.The full diversity of wines is hard to understand but vintages help us select them better, choosing the ones that fit our tastes best.

Further reading:

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