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Are you getting all confused about what a wine’s vintage could mean? We do tooin France and that’s maybe because one of our national pop singer, Pascal Obispo, created a song called “Millésime” (vintage wine) in which he compares his child to the best wine he made. So even if in the common sense a vintage wine usually refers to a great wine, a wine’s vintage is simply the year the grapes that were used to make that wine were picked. According to this vintage, the price, the quality and the ability to keep the wines differs and Winalist tells you all about it !

A vintage helps you appreciating the quality of a wine.

A bottle that shows 1994 on its label indicates that the wine inside was grown, harvested and turned into the valuable beverage in 1994. Beyond giving a wine’s age, the vintage is an important reference point to appreciate the quality of this drink allowing the comparison of a same wine over different years and deducing which years gave the best ones.

 

Why can the sensory qualities of a given wine vary that much from one year to another?

The wine is made from grapes, which is a fruit that is as sensitive to weather variations as the others. Rain, hail, wind, and also temperatures have an impact on the vineyard, and consequently on the wine that will be produced. Looking at a year’s climate, winegrowers can predict if a vintage will be good or not, even before its harvest. The magic formula would be a slightly wet spring and autumn, so that the soil can make water reserves, a sunny summer, so that the vine leaves are exposed to photosynthesis and boost the sugar production of the grapes, and a mild September, in order not to gorge the fruit with water before the harvest. The years 2005, 2009 and 2010 were a good example of this recipe: the quality of the wines produced had admirable sensory qualities that made specialists called those years “great vintage”. A vintage is hence reflection of a year’s climate.

Which wine can’t have a vintage on their label?

Most of sparkling wines, champagnes, portos and sherries cannot display a year on their label because they are made of a blend of grapes harvested over two years or more. Champagne makers mix grapes from different years to maintain a constant quality from year to year but you can still find a vintage champagne : in this case, it’s a champagne harvested within a year and whose quality has been recognized as exceptional by the national committee for Champagne (CIVC).

Looking at the wine’s vintage : to drink or to keep? That is the question.

There are several vintage rating systems that are made by different wine professionals. They classify wines’ quality on a “average, good, very good, excellent and exceptional” ladder using either grades or stars rating systems. They all give a good approximation of each vintage quality according the type of wine and helps consumers choose their bottles.

According to Magali Rème, the founder of Les Sommelières,  “very good and great vintage are always a guarantee of quality” when you want to buy a bottle. Wines from a great year both have high and balanced levels of acidity, sugar and tannins – such wines should be called “great vintage wines” but are imprecisely just referred as “vintage wines” too often, hence the confusion. You can keep these wines to have their aromas enriched over time and find an interesting beverage for a 12 euros entry-level price per bottle. The less well-graded vintages’ wines are to be enjoyed directly as they don’t get better with maturation.

Should we rely on the vintage to choose a bottle?

Great vintages are when the climate was kind to the wine so you take less risk buying a bottle from years that received a high evaluation mark. On the other hand, the worst years do not necessarily correspond to a lower quality for all the wines. For example, a very wet year won’t receive a high evaluation mark but while such a climate can prevent a red wine’s tannins to maturate and spoil its quality, such weather conditions will refine a white wine with a touch of acidity. The size of the vineyard is another example : a smaller vineyard can wait a few days for its grapes to reach maturity if the month of September is milder, while larger ones cannot because of a precise timetable they depend on.

Beyond a wine’s vintage, men work matters. The winegrowers’ know-how remains very important and often allows to make a quality wine even during an average year. Since most of this information on the work behind each bottle is not available in supermarkets, Winalist recommends you to pick your bottles out of wineries or directly from the winemakers. Now have a shrewd tasting!

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