What’s in a Vintage?

vintage 2
As per usual,  I’m just going to start this by taking a dig at wine snobs.

Ever so often at the wine store I work at someone (picture the stereotype – white, middle aged, male, $$$) will be hunting out their case for the week (usually French) pick up a wine, proclaim ‘Oh that was a glorious vintage!” then go ahead and dash out a few $100’s for ‘The Vintage” – never asking if anyone has tried it, anything about the producer or region, nor to see the tasting notes, just, BAM. It’s all good, as usually they’re hitting up the kind of dollars that it’s ensured to taste like liquid gold. But there’s this huge wine snobbery etiquette that somehow seems to interchange the words ‘good wine’ for ‘great vintage’ without thinking about what vintage means in the whole scheme of things.

So lets dissect this ‘Vintage’ , of course in a way that is totally fabulous with less snobbery and more metaphors.

Basically ‘Vintage’ is the year you see on the label, and is the summer that the grapes were harvested. Usually you wont see the wine on the shelves for quite some time as the winemakers are fermenting, blending, ageing and doing all kinds of crazy magic to it. Or the wine could be released just few months after vintage, if the grapes were super ripe, picked nice and early and the style doesn’t require much intervention or ageing (here’s to looking at you, Sauv).

There are so many factors that can make or break a vintage – tiny factors in climate, weather patterns and geography that could come together  to make your wine super fabulous, or have you hitting up that spittoon. Pretty basically, most grapes adore the summer sun as much as we do, and hitting things back to home, New Zealands 2013 summer was insane – as was the vintage. It’s been proclaimed the best decades by wineries, writers, soms and France.

The ideal summer day spent bikini clad, lazing in the sun, building up a tan and sipping on Mojitos, equates to grapes sitting in the sun, getting crazy ripe as they convert acids to sugars and building up some sick fruity flavour and absorbing enough water to keep it all going (but not too much – they don’t want to bloat). And in the same way that rain could totally ruin your week, rain before harvest could cause a grape to bloat, split and rot – which does not translate will once its in your glass, gross.

Of course there’s a gazillion variations on a gazillion things that could give you happy or sad grapes – If only it were so black and white. Like my little babies that they are, wine grapes are all special in their own ways (Slash bloody difficult), where your plump, baked Shiraz’s are total heat fiends, Sauvignon Blanc thrives off cooler nights to give it that herbaceous bite, whereas a bit of rain and rot is the perfect thing for sweet Riesling and some of the most expensive wine in the world is make from grapes picked frozen off the vine, buzzy stuff.

So thats a little bit of Vintage 101, and as per its use in wine snobbery, all I can say is the vintage does not make the wine – your vintner is currently adapting and developing his vines, methodology and technology to predict and enhance and repair whatever mother nature throws at him – and sometimes what he does is a risk, then you’ve got the winemaker who holds so many keys to conjuring up the next drop, and countless options with each, then lastly theres you – the humble consumer – what do you buy? how long do you cellar it for? or how long can you hold out from cracking it open? what should you drink it with? at what temperature? What glass should you use? (it makes a difference, I promise) so many dilemmas!

Of course those are some questions to ponder for another time. For now just bask in the glory of a stunning summer gone past, and get oh so excited about the 2013 goodies that’ll be rolling out over the next few years.



Filed under Wine, Wine Life

2 responses to “What’s in a Vintage?

  1. Well spoken! To me, vintage is the icing on the cake, but a good wine maker can make a good wine out of any vintage. Also, as I have been assured by some really well versed friends who have been trying a ton of aged Rieslings over the years, the concept of good or bad vintage really starts to blur once you reach the 10 to 20 year range of bottle age. I have to say that 2003, which was considered a weak year along the Mosel, has given me some of the most pleasurable Rieslings this year. Just outstanding taste…

    I always feel like this sticking to the holy grail of “Oh, this is a three glass rated Gambero Rosso winery” or “Oh, this is a good vintage” or “Oh, this was talked about in Wine Spectator” is just a pretension of knowledge, not knowledge. It is to masquerade an inherent insecurity, and leads to, unfortunately, a narrowing of minds…which I find sad. So much to taste out there!!

  2. Love it, especially the last point! I hate seeing or hearing people mention ratings, or, god forbid, letting stars and ratings influence what they buy! Each palate to their own. Also love that point about the beauty of an aged Riesling- so very true – one of the only times I got excited about the vintage on a Riesling was when it was older then I was! (it was also oh so delicious)

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