Wine vintage matters

Napa vintages vary less.

Vintage: It’s one of the main keys to knowing and understanding wine quality and value, which is essential for collectors and investors. It has benefits for the more casual wine lover, as well.

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For example, knowing that 2015 was a spectacular year almost universally can inform anyone’s wine-buying enjoyment. A wine’s birth year is especially important when buying from regions such as those in Europe that have significant vintage variation.

All things being equal, weather is the primary player in the quality of a growing season or vintage, so let’s break down how it affects the grapes.

Whether you go with the flow or buy with a contrarian strategy, vintage knowledge can bring adventure and joy to your wine journey.

Colder or warmer-than-normal temperatures and when those variations happen during the year go a long way in determining ripeness, structure and flavor levels in the grapes. For example, significantly hotter weather makes for greater sugar/alcohol ripeness, but will depress acid levels necessary for balance and complexity in wine. It can also mean that important flavor molecules do not have a chance to mature before the fruit needs to be harvested. An ideal temperature year begins and ends with moderate heat. On the other end of the spectrum, colder-than-normal temperatures create ripening challenges, leading to thin vegetal wines. Yuck.

Two excellent Bordeaux vintages.

Water is another major weather issue. Again, it’s not just the amount of rain or irrigation, but when it arrives. Well-timed water promotes proper growth and maturation of the crop. However, heavy rain at key points in the season encourage various rots that can create the need for huge chemical intervention or change the flavor profile of the grapes making them unusable. If rains come at harvest, it not only brings potential rot, but it can also dilute the grapes, which is never a good thing.

Combine cold and precipitation and you’ve got hail. Some of the world’s most desirable and pricey wine terroirs such as Burgundy and Barolo experience hail on a regular basis, which damages crop size and often quality.

Lack of water or drought has issues, as well. Many areas in the world have little or no irrigation water available or winemaking laws make irrigation illegal. A mild drought leads to reduced crop size. Severe drought leads to major crop losses and reduced grape quality. Drought decreases food sources of animals and birds that are then more likely to raid vineyards for food.

To make all of this information work for you, I suggest you download a reputable Vintage Chart, such as The Wine Spectator’s, to use as a guide. Whether you go with the flow or buy with a contrarian strategy, vintage knowledge can bring adventure and joy to your wine journey.