So important is the vintage for a wine?
Wine is one of the few beverages that can be affected by what the weather is like each year. But is it really important? can it be generalised, should we discard the wines of bad vintages and look only for the good or excellent ones?
The year in which the grapes are harvested is such an important piece of information that producers strive to explain the qualities of each one. Whether it’s a particularly cool year, with slow ripening and no noticeable incidents, or a very sunny year and with good water reserves, or a dry year, or a year with a heat stroke, with warm nights that prevent the plant from resting.....everything affects the grapes and therefore the final quality of the wine, but we are sorry to say that it is not always decisive.
How do Appellations of Origin rate a vintage?
Let's look at the description made by one of the most recognised Appellations of Origin in Spain, Rioja. As the famous D.O. Calificada describes on its website, "the Rioja Control Board bases its decision on the results of the chemical and organoleptic analysis of the samples taken directly from all the wineries. This official assessment of the vintage is carried out on the newly made wines, so that "it must be completed with references to their evolution for the wines subjected to an ageing process". Perhaps it doesn’t clarify the matter. Needless to say, we are not able to locate a table of ratings that "mathematically" indicates when a vintage is excellent, good or average. On the other hand, this "average" vintage rarely reaches many Appellations of Origin, so it would not be surprising to ask ourselves if there really is no average year in the world of wine, let alone a bad year.
However, we are human, and therefore capable of understanding how traumatic a negative assessment of a vintage must be for all the wine families living together within each Appellation of Origin. In defence of these overall ratings of a given vintage, we can say that technology in the world of wine has allowed good wine to be made even in bad years, so it is not unreasonable to think that analytical metrics can throw up the bare minimums for optimal ratings with relative ease. The industrialisation of many wineries, especially those with the highest production, and the minimal controls carried out throughout the year by many regulatory boards, allows wines to reach these minimum quality standards.
Any winegrower who is asked will say that the overall assessment of a vintage is delicate and even inadvisable. Unfortunately, the consumer cannot keep up with all the news on current affairs on top of the weather conditions of each vintage.
Vintages should give us clues about the style of the wine, once we know the style of each of the producers we include in our shopping basket. The year of each bottle can tell us whether the wine is significantly more mature, significantly more alcoholic, whether its fruit is fresher or more mature, whether the herbal character prevails in its aromas, whether a refreshing acidity is expected or whether on the contrary the wine will tend to be more full-bodied, sweet and structured as a result of excess alcohol and sunshine.
Wine lovers melt at the sight of cool years. A cool vintage means that the wine can have endless qualities that will allow the wine to be great. Firstly, acidity, which is the essential ingredient, not only for the wine to age better, but also because this acidity is the backbone of a wine, it sustains the rest of the wine's attributes. Beyond the acidity, the wine will potentially have less alcohol in cooler years, and its fruit will tend to be more acidic rather than lavish and on the sweet side. On the other hand, a very warm year will make us think that the wine will be able to offer us more mature fruit, a higher level of alcohol and a less vibrant acidity. Broadly speaking, these simple indicators of a cool or warm year will also help us to predict whether a wine has a greater or lesser capacity for ageing. Whether we should drink it sooner or later.
The harvest in a wine is the reading that every winemaker and grape grower makes of a year, it is a little bit of time bottled, the summary of a growing cycle. This is why no two wines are alike. Yes similar, but fortunately never the same. The most prestigious wineries keep a history of their wines in order to know better the impact of their wines in time, knowers as they are of how each of their vintages behaved. This record of harvests writes an ecological biography of each producing family, of each winery.
It is said that in good vintages everyone is capable of making an acceptable wine, and that complicated vintages are those that allow the good winemaker to shine, because it requires greater genius and precision to make the best possible wine.
We invite you to delve a little deeper into the concept of vintage when it comes to consuming a wine, but do so not with the desire to find the best value, but rather with the spirit of knowing the impact that a given year has on the style of a wine you already know.