Why VINTAGE Matters (How It Affects Wine’s Quality, Ageability & Flavor)

Hey there, wine lovers! This is Enock from LiquarMan, and today let’s talk about why vintage matters and how it affects wine’s quality. Whether you’re building a wine collection or simply want to enjoy the full potential of the wines you’re drinking, it’s important to understand the impact of the vintage on the wine.

Why Does Vintage Matter?

People often discuss vintage and its quality, especially if the wine is sourced from one of the classical regions of Europe such as Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rioja, or Port. Some regions experience greater weather variability during the growing season than others. Therefore, vintage, for example, is more important in Bordeaux than in Napa, where the weather is more consistent.

It makes sense that weather differences can affect specific characteristics of wine, such as acidity, tannin, and alcohol level. These weather conditions can also influence the overall quality of the wine and greatly impact its ability to age. If we are planning to age our wine in the cellars, vintage and vintage variation play an important role. However, if wine is to be consumed within the next year, vintage plays a less important role, but it still matters.

What is Vintage?

Vintage refers to the season when wine has grown, produced grapes, and was harvested. However, in the northern hemisphere, there may be few exceptions when grapes are harvested the following year, such as ice wine or in rare cases truck and bed and Auslese or Rooster Ausbrook. In these cases, the label will still state the vintage the grapes were growing rather than the year they were harvested.

In the southern hemisphere, grapes usually bud and flower in October/November and are harvested in April or March. In this case, vintage on the label will refer to the harvest year. Some wines like most Champagnes and other sparkling wines, port wines, and Sherry will not have a specific vintage on the label. This is because they are a blend of several vintages, which is essentially a way to achieve a constant style over the years and avoid being affected by the variability of weather each year.

Factors Affecting the Vintage

Let’s talk about six factors affecting the vintage and how they may reflect in the wine.

  1. Temperature
    Temperature is one of the most important variables that greatly affect wine style and its quality. Warm and sunny weather ensures that grapes are healthy and ripened to develop the necessary sugar level for the wine. Low temperatures, however, slow down the ripening process and may leave grapes with high and not particularly well-balanced acidity.
  2. Challenging Seasons
    Sometimes vintages can be challenging and labor-intensive, greatly affecting yields but not necessarily the quality of the finished wine. Early spring frost or hail, windy and damp weather during the flowering can have a drastic impact on yields. However, if the wine is able to recover, and the season is followed with favorable weather, it might just mean that grapes will be of exceptional quality, but yields will be low.
  3. Rain and Precipitation
    Rain and precipitation play a very important role in viticulture, especially nowadays when water availability is an increasingly important topic. It is crucial to consider how much it rains and when it rains too much. Heavy rain just before or during the harvest can cause grape swelling and dilute those precious sugars and flavors, sometimes even causing grape splitting.
  4. Vintage Variation in Europe
    In general, vintage variation is greater in Europe than, for example, in regions like Napa Valley, California, where weather is more predictable. However, in recent years, wildfires have become a significant concern in the United States, Australia, and even Chile. Smoke from the fires affects the grapes, which later translates into wine, having a devastating impact on the wine

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