WINE: Does vintage really matter?
Spring is here! While we have been busy trading out the snow blower for the lawn mower, cleaning up the yard and emptying out the dusty closets we might have missed the fact that new vintages of wine have arrived with the fresh green grass!
So you may wonder, does a vintage really matter? The short answer is yes ... wine is an agricultural product and as long as it stays that way it will continue to matter. Wine comes from grapes; which have to be farmed meticulously by farmers. The grapes and the fate of the wine are interconnected to the weather; known to wine drinker as the vintage.
In order to have a declared vintage there must be 90 to 95 percent of the grapes harvested that year in the bottle, it varies appellation to appellation and some wineries will blend from different vintages to make a value based wine labeled NV for non-vintage.
So what makes for a good year versus a bad year? Certain weather conditions can aggravate the grapes; which makes for a poor vintage. Vineyard workers can deal with excess rain which dilutes the flavor of the grapes, too much rain can also cause rot.
Now keep in mind grapes suffering from botrytis rot make for some stunning wines. However in most cases this is on purpose and the wine maker keeps the grapes on the vine after the regular harvest allowing the sugars to ripen.
Other factors that can come into play are frost and hail. These two dangerous weather conditions can destroy the vines, leaf canopies and worse the grapes. In Argentina where hail is such a problem the vines are protected with strong netting. Excess heat can cause early ripening and lead to overripe grapes that are too alcoholic.
With all that said; even in a poor year a great wine maker will produce fantastic wine and the poor vintage goes unnoticed. The key to a good vintage and a good wine is balance, a balance between heat and rain is very important. The vines need enough water to sufficiently produce fruit and enough sunshine to allow the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Remember that wine is natural and with enough sunshine and water it will be a great year. I love the Burgundian saying: Laissez le vin de se faire: Let the wine make itself!