Vintages – How Important Are They?

Vintages – How Important Are They?

When you look at a label on a wine bottle, you’ll see information such as the name of the winery, the name of the grape (in New World wines) or the place where it comes from (in Old World wines), and probably a year.

The year, or “vintage” of the wine indicates the year the grapes were harvested, but not necessarily when the wine was released for sale.  First of all, grapes are harvested in the northern hemisphere around September or October, and it takes a few months for the juice to actually become wine.  Second, many wineries let the wine age in barrels or bottles for a while before it becomes available for sale.  In fact, some very high-end wines (and many Champagnes) might age for years before release.  A wine like Spain’s Vega Sicilia Unico stays in the cellar for 10 years before anyone is allowed to buy it.

So…what’s the fuss?  First of all, seasons vary.  Sometimes there’s hail that cuts down the crop, or an early frost, or rain during harvest that dilutes the juice and makes for weaker wine.  The wine world has good years and bad years.  In the Bordeaux region of France, the year 2000 had a spectacular growing season…the rain, sun, and all climatic conditions were perfect, and the wines made from that vintage sold for thousands of dollars.  Other years, the winemakers are not that fortunate.

How do grape growers and winemakers protect themselves from the uncertainty of Mother Nature?  Some don’t.  Especially in very expensive regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, they take what they can get.  High prices for one vintage, and lower prices for those that didn’t turn out so well.

The good news is that most wines we enjoy are made by blending Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (for example) grown in different places.  Let’s say the label reads “Sonoma Coast.”  All the grapes used to make that wine must come from within that legally-designated region.  But if it says “California,” the grapes can come from anywhere in the state.  So if there’s bad weather – and a poor vintage – in one area, winemakers will find good grapes from somewhere else.

And some regions are big enough to encompass all sorts of climates.  Many of our members’ favorite wines come from the Mendoza region in Argentina, which encompasses over 57,000 square miles.  So it’s entirely possible for one place to have a so-so harvest in a particular year, and another to have a sensational one. 

Some wines, like Champagnes, are made by blending wines from several vintages.  They are known as “non-vintage” wines and you’ll see the letters “NV” on the label.

One more thing:  anybody can sail when there’s wind, and anyone can make good wine in a good vintage.  But the wineries we work with take excellent care of their grapes in the vineyard and in the cellar, so the vintage shouldn’t make any difference – especially when the wines are made (like ours) for immediate enjoyment.

So…unless you’re planning on buying a bottle of Burgundy that costs $20,000, my advice is to not worry all that much about vintages.  When we source Direct Cellars wines, we demand quality and consistency from year to year.

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