21 Feb A good year
– A Wine Bluffer guide
Today I’m going to talk a little about vintage and what that term means and why it’s important. I’ll also chat a bit about ‘bottle age’ which is another wine term that is often mentioned in the same breath as vintage.
For all intents and purposes, wine is harvested every year and the number of that year is known as the vintage. There is a subtle difference between vintages of the two hemispheres – as Jancis Robinson helpfully points out in one of her books. In the northern hemisphere the harvest takes place in September or October and so the vintage is clearly of the growing season that preceded it. Whereas, down south the grapes are picked in February and March so the vintage extends over the previous calendar year as well. And you may also be aware on non-vintage wines (like champagne for instance) and this refers to a wine that is made from multiple harvests.
So now we have got all that out of the way what makes a good vintage or year? Well, as you might expect with all things in the wine world it is down to a complex number of factors, but in the main to weather. A good (or bad depending on your point of view) example is what has happened to 2017’s Bordeaux harvest. So devastating were the frosts that production fell to 40% and forced some chateaux to not declare a vintage at all for the year.
But this is – hopefully – an exception and the effects of weather is what makes ‘Old World’ (European) wines so interesting. Interestingly the wines of the New World are subject to fewer bad years because the vines are generally irrigated, something that is frowned upon in Europe.
So that brings us to choosing wine that has matured for some years in bottle. Not all wine is meant to be aged in the bottle, in fact the vast majority of wines produced are meant to be consumed within a year.
Red wines because of their tannin content will generally age longer than whites. Over time the complex constituents in the wine interact to create interesting characteristics and the tannins are precipitated out for a rounder mouth feel.
So, next time one is at luncheon at one’s club, you can now covertly peruse one’s vintage crib sheet under the tablecloth, and see if what you are ordering from the list is good value.