Yes, a wine vintage is the year a wine’s grapes were harvested. But there’s so much more to it than that!
In the simplest sense, a wine’s vintage is just the year when that wine’s grapes were harvested. But if that’s the case, why is there always some scene in a movie where one of the characters requests a bottle of wine from a specific year? Maybe you’ve even visited a vineyard and heard the vintner remark that a certain year produced particularly good wine.
Does that mean that some vintages are better than others? What makes them better or worse? Do you need to shop for particular vintages? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the answers. Read on and discover what a wine’s vintage means, what influences a vintage, and learn whether or not you should really care.
What is a Wine Vintage?
It’s not complicated. If a vineyard harvests grapes in 1988 and then creates wine from those grapes, that wine’s vintage IS 1988. If you see a wine bottle advertising a vintage of 2001, then that’s when its grapes were harvested. That’s it!
So…why is that important? Because the vintage can tell you a LOT about the taste and quality of that wine. While the growing techniques, geographical location, and wine making practices will almost always stay the same each year, the weather isn’t always consistent.
For example, imagine that one year a vineyard gets LOTS of wind and rain. Then the next year, it’s really dry and hot. Even if the vintner does everything precisely the same, the changing weather will influence the final taste and quality.
There are, however, non-vintage wine bottles. When you run into those, it just means they were created using a blend of grapes from multiple years. These are usually very consistent when it comes to taste and quality, and they’re often used as house wines.
Vintage vs. Terroir
Another piece of the puzzle is terroir. Terroir is about the geographical location and unique features of a particular vineyard. That includes soil composition, elevation, latitude, and climate.
It’s important to remember, however, that vintage and terroir are two very different aspects of wine analysis. For example, say there are two vineyards within the same area. Slight differences in soil quality and latitude may create a difference in terroir. But if the same weather conditions affect both vineyards, the qualities associated with that vintage may be similar.
Maybe that’s only interesting to wine nerds like us, but we think it’s fascinating!
Are Some Vintages Better Than Others?
In general, a “good year” in regard to vintage means the grapes received the optimal amount of sunshine so they could reach full maturity and optimal ripeness.
Too much rain and not enough sunlight makes it harder for grapes to ripen, they can become prone to rot, and they’re often lower quality. Too hot, however, and the grapes will raisinate and have more bitter tannins. It’s a delicate balance.
If you examine the features in specific wine regions, you can do a bit of deductive reasoning to determine if a vintage is good or not. For example, the German wine region sometimes has wet summers. This can often lead to fungus that can ruin grapes. So, a wine from that area with a vintage known for its wet summer…might not be great.
It’s also important to remember that different grapes prefer different climates and weather conditions. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes require climates that are dry, hot, and very sunny. Other types of grapes, however, need hot days and cool nights.
Honestly, there are so many variables that contribute to the final taste and quality of a wine, that it’s often best to just discuss it with the vintner.
When Does Wine Vintage Matter?
For regions with relatively consistent weather, vintage isn’t that big of a deal. With consistent weather from year to year, there’s fewer differences between vintages. That includes areas like Southern Italy, California, Australia, Central Spain, etc.
However, regions with intermediate climates can produce varying qualities of wine depending on the changing weather. This includes certain regions of France, Northern Italy, Northern Spain, Germany, New Zealand, etc.
Wine vintage can also be important if you’re actively attempting to grow your wine collection. Certain vintages of specific wines will get better with age, so hunting down vintages of certain bottles can be important depending on how extensive you want your wine collection to be.
Vintage is Part of the Wine Story
Ask any vintner and they’ll tell you, in their own way, that wine making is a serious art. Vintage is just another way to explore and experience the complex, beautiful story of wine.
If you’re interested in learning more about wine vintages, we HIGHLY recommend visiting a nearby vineyard and speaking with the vintner. Trust us, no one knows more about a wine than the person who created it.
Every vineyard has its own unique qualities to impart on a glass of wine, and you can experience the subtle nuances in every sip. Follow us for all the latest updates, and don’t forget to tag us in your next SECCO Wine Club adventure!