What is Vintage Variation & Why Does it Matter?
Did you know wine can vary greatly from one year to another? This is called vintage variation and it affects certain wines and growing regions more than others. Cooler climates and regions with higher variable weather tend to have greater variation between vintages. So how do you know what the ‘best vintages’ are?
What is Vintage Variation and how does it affect my wine?
Most people purchase superior vintages in order to enjoy the wine as closely to the wine marker intended the wine to taste.
Good vintage wines can be significantly more expensive than their counterparts. But reversely there can be some fantastic wines in a perceived bad vintage that can be snapped up for a bargain.
Even subtle changes in vintages can have a huge impact to the length of time a wine will lay down for. Hotter summers give sweeter grapes and help the wine age for longer.
As wine is essentially a crop, it is susceptible to climate variations that have a direct impact on the quality and volume of the crop. Even small changes to the weather at the wrong time can have a dramatic impact of that year’s crop.
What makes a good vintage?
The ideal scenario (in wine’s ‘capital’, Europe, anyway) is a vintage characterised by above-average temperatures and sunshine, and dry – though not parched – weather.
More specifically, you want balmy weather at flowering time (May), as the potential crop size is determined at this time. If you get wild weather it can decimate volumes, with knock-on effects on price. High summer (July, August)is not especially important, although growers in some areas will pray to avoid devastating hail (Burgundy), or work hard to ward off fungal attack if warmer conditions are accompanied by excess humidity. Winemakers wish for an ‘Indian Summer’ then for the month before picking, to aid ripening – potential alcohol will rise by about one percent each week in the run in – and keep disease at bay.
Bad years, unsurprisingly, tend to be cold and wet. Rain before harvest can be disastrous, as the water gets sucked up into the plump, ripe berries, often bloating and splitting them, and allowing fungal attack to take hold. Even if the grapes don’t rupture, the devil-rain dilutes the precious juice.
However with advances in winemaking techniques, huge variations are now relatively rare. If drought has over ripened your grapes, then reverse osmosis will rein in the hot alcohol. If it was windy during flowering and you have uneven flowering and ripening, then an optical sorter will seed out and destroy any subpar grapes.
However, vintage can be largely irrelevant for the more mass-market wines, which invariably are blended from across vast regions to maintain consistency, and are anyway ‘corrected’ in the winery to smooth out any bumps that remain. These wines still bear a year on their label but the rule is always, drink as young as possible.
Vintage charts or guides exist for many wine regions and, while indicative and helpful, no one should be a completely reliant upon these. Vintages are never uniformly great, average or terrible. Even within a small appellation, each year, some producers will have done better, or worse, than others.
Good producers make good wine every year!French Vintage guide