You know you’re in the company of a wine nerd when they instinctively know whether or not the vintage of the wine they’re about to drink is from a good year. Like most of the adult population, I do not have this innate knowledge and, I hear you ask, what does it even mean?
In essence, wines can vary greatly from one year to another based on weather conditions during the growing season – colder weather can result in fresher, crisper wines while hotter conditions give the grapes a higher concentration of sugar to form rounder, fruitier wines. Factors such as rain and frost at critical times also have an effect, e.g. through ‘watering down’ the grape’s flavour or – in the case of frost – killing the flowering buds at the beginning of the season.
Vintage variation exists all over the world, but generally speaking, it is more noticeable in classic old world regions such as much of France, Germany, Northern and Central Italy and even Northern Spain. In these regions, the climate is on the whole cooler and the weather more variable. Many New World regions on the other hand, have more consistent grape ripening conditions therefore vintage variation is less obvious.
So how do you know what the ‘best’ vintages are? The simple answer is to ask Google for a vintage chart of the region you’re interested in! Keep in mind a few things – that red wines and white wines require different growing conditions, so what could have been a bad year for one might have been a great year for the other. Also that some producers are better experienced and equipped to handle climatic differences year on year and work with the grapes on the vine and in the winery accordingly.
Add to that the fact that many wines sold are made by the winemaker to be consistent through the use of blending to iron out the vintage variation, and it isn’t actually something to lose your hair or sleep over.
If you do feel like supplementing your wine knowledge, I do know that excellent Rioja vintages over the past 20 years have gone in approximately five year cycles – 1995, 2001, 2004/05, 2010/11 and 2015 is looking promising too!
Image courtesy of Wines from Rioja