In the last few weeks I have been asked plenty of times about vintage, what it is and if really matter when buying a bottle of wine. Lets try to answer these questions here.
Vintage, what is it? Vintage is the year, is the harvesting year, is the year when the grapes are harvested and every wine has a vintage, almost every wine. There are a few exceptions. There are wines, normally at the bottom of the appellation pyramid, and very cheap, that don’t have a vintage because they are made of wine from different vintages, wines obtained blending more than one vintage. Franciacorta, Prosecco and sparkling wines in general, are another exception, but for a different reason.
Does vintage matter? Yes and no. In a way, it always matter, even though it should not be taken into account when buying wines that are supposed to be drunk within a couple of years. However, even for those wines, in vintage year if there is any vintage declaration or in years with perfect weather conditions when there isn’t, when the grapes reach the winery in perfect conditions, even for those wines, the vintage affect the quality of the wine without affecting the price.
The influence of the vintage is only felt when winemakers rely on the mercy of nature and are not allowed, if not in very extreme cases, to intervene; when they are, the wine produced will be consistent across vintages without any marked difference.
Vintage is certainly more important for wines that are meant to be cellared and drunk several years from when they are made; for those wines, the quality of the vintage can make a difference even though with today’s technological advanced wineries, the impact of a bad vintage can be softened, it depends entirely on the wine maker philosophy. Not only, a bad vintage, doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole area and all wineries.
Every main wine region, from Bordeaux to Barolo, publishes, every year, the vintage rating based on the region, but it doesn’t affect all wineries in the same, identical way. There could be wineries badly affected and wineries that have not been at all, so despite the vintage being poorly rated, there could be very good wines, as long as you know where they are or where to get them. A good wine merchant is a good starting point. On the other side, when a year is declared a great vintage, prices tend to go up, and wine from a great vintage aren’t necessarily great wine, the vintage is only an indicator.
We mentioned that one of the exceptions of non vintage wines is sparkling wine. Generally speaking, sparkling wine, from Franciacorta to Prosecco, is non vintage unless indicated on the label, for two main reasons, ensure consistency across vintages and ensure supply due to the unreliability of the weather. Vintage sparkling wine is only available in the best vintages and is more expensive than NV, non vintage, wine.
We can conclude by saying that vintage does affect, for all reasons above and in different ways, the quality and the value of wine and in great vintages, the best and most famous wine makers will have prohibitive prices for the majority, but there will be plenty of less known wineries with more approachable prices.
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