enhanced in 2009

Wine vintages, vintage charts

Basically the vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. This notion also hints at both the weather conditions in which the grapes grew and the quality of these grapes.

Vintages should only serve as shorthand for assessing rough attributes of wines produced in a certain region.

Predicting any wine’s "quality" from weather conditions is much too partial — you would need sounder criterias (as explained below). Wine tasting is much more reliable. Trying to "understand" the wines from the vintages is nearly useless.

 

Wine vintage charts

A wine vintage table shows ratings for every year in a certain wine region. Would you think ratings would sum up the qualities of wines? They cannot. Rating only shows a rough estimate of a vintage's reputation. A convenient indication found in charts is when to hold and when to drink the wines.

Beware that producers, distributors and many critics tend to underplay the difficulties of the latest vintages on offer. You should therefore discount early reports.

Keeping in mind that wine vintage charts can be misleading, here are some wine web sites related to wine vintages:

  • Mr. Parker and his magazine do not grasp the specificities of Pinot Noir, the Loire, or Rioja. So use Robert Parker's vintage table only for red wines — specifically the Rhône area, Bordeaux, and the US Cabernets.

  • Use the Wine Spectator vintage charts only for big wines (raised in new oak, with a high maturity of grapes, and little acidity) — to be drunk within the current year.

  • Charts by Berry Bros. & Rudd present a reference for the Burgundy and the Bordeaux wines at more than USD 30. They give ratings, aging potential, and descriptions of wine vintages.

 

Consistent products

The years of harvest make little difference to the quality of wines from most regions. This is notably true of wines from the New World (new to wine that is). The favourable climatic conditions of regions such as Australia, California, and Languedoc make for steady output.

Moreover the same wine can be produced year after year with industrial winemaking methods. This is related to the "international style".

There is little if any vintage variation in this group of globalized, branded products that sells for $15 and under. Generally the winemaking imposes a target taste.

 

Wine craft

Yet wine vintages still do matter in cool climates. The temperature weather of regions such as Europe, New York, Washington state, or New Zealand, help bring taste focus to the wines. Year in year out, winemaking can make for an interesting wine

  • if it lets the grapes juice evolve and
  • if enough care has been taken in cultivating the vine.

Furthermore winemaking may allow for variation in high quality or estate-grown wines. This enables a variety of wine tastes.

Thus, a wine produced by a demanding vintner in "a difficult vintage" will often taste better that a wine made by a careless vine grower in a year of great repute. Neighbouring vineyards will show different qualities, for example due to September rains. Only good producers can salvage a crop crippled by bad weather.

 

Varied good wines

Furthermore variation and quality do not directly depend on price.

An example is the Gros Plant made by A.Michel Brégeon. (Winery importer in the US: Kermit Lynch.) In 2001, 2002 and 2004 the wines were excellent — very pure but typical: intense with gooseberry, lively but short. In 2005 the wine was stellar.

In 2003, 2006 and 2007, the wine was not up to the high standards of the vigneron. This is why it was sold in bulk to the 'négoce' — maybe to join a group of standard products. In each vintage the grapes were produced by the same old vines.

(Where to buy wines made by Brégeon)

The Vouvray Sec by François Pinon is imported in the USA by Louis/Dressner and can be found at $14 retail.

At age 6 both the 1995 and the 2000 were fresh, wide on the palate and minerally. Yet the 1995 showed pear and seashell where the 2000 showed mango at the same age.

My point in a nutshell: for good and varied wines, you should follow the good vintners.

 

The notion of vintages is convenient

Generalization can help the wine lover grasp wine complexities to a certain extent. The weather conditions (mild winter, frost, hail, rain before harvest) undergone by the vines and grapes give collective traits to the wines of a certain year in a given region. Here I am thinking about a cool climate such as in Oregon, France or Germany. Herebelow are examples.

In France and the Italian Piedmont, the 2003 spring rain deficit and the ensuing summer heatwave often resulted in wines that lacked freshness.

In practice, wines of a given county - if bottled at one or two months interval - may share some features:

  • They are difficult to taste for the same length of time (a few weeks for the 1997s in Burgundy and the Loire Valley, a few years for the 1998s);

  • They share an acidity tendency: most of them taste fresh (1996 and 2001 in France) or most of them taste flabby (2003 in Europe);

  • They are rough (1998 in France) or smooth (1996 and 1997 in Burgundy);

  • A fine wine in an "exceptional" year (1989, 1990, 2000, 2005 in France) is a keeper: it will reward being cellared longer than a wine from the same plot in a "difficult" year (2003, 2004 in France). (Plenty of exceptions here.)


 

Have you read my primer on types of wines (per variety and district)? Or my summary of storage conditions for aging?

 

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