What vintages mean
You may have occasionally heard people claim that “the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux was exceptional” or “2002 in the Rhône Valley was very difficult.” But what do such statements mean exactly? Do you have to carry around a vintage chart in order to understand what kind of wine you’re dealing with?
The vintage always refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. The date is written on the label, or sometimes on the neck of the bottle, or even on the label on the back of the bottle. Grapes are harvested in the fall in the northern hemisphere and during our spring (that is, spring in the northern hemisphere) in the southern hemisphere.
Without exactly telling us everything we need to know, the vintage can help refine our wine selection. And yes, a vintage chart may be a useful tool in making a selection. By knowing the year, you already know the age of the wine and can opt for a young, fresh, frisky wine or, on the other hand, something more evolved and complex.
The vintage can provide some indication of the quality of the harvest. The grades that are sometimes attributed to particular years refer to the climatic conditions in play at the time. In general, the difference between two vintages of the same wine corresponds to the differences in weather conditions during the two years in question.
What is a good vintage?
Making good wine is sometimes the result of making good choices, both in the fields and in the cellar. Not all the producers in a given region harvest their grapes at the same time, have the same kinds of terroir or receive the same amount of rainfall. So what is a “good year”? Ideal conditions can differ from one region to the next, but the general agreement is that sunny, dry weather produces the best results. Wines produced during good years are usually more robust, powerful and rich, and can thus be kept for longer periods.
It is often said that lower yield produces better quality. It should also be noted that a vintner who produces high-quality wines during a difficult year is a conscientious, skilled artisan who knows how to make good decisions depending on the circumstances. It is also true that wines produced in more difficult years are often more easily drinkable right away. So there you have it—now you can find the perfect accompaniment for tonight’s dinner!