What makes a good vintage, and what’s in a year? Why do those four digits printed on the label provoke such debate between wine enthusiasts, and even determine the value of some wines? Gary Bates, Majestic’s Marketing Manager, tackles these very important questions.
As with any fruit, the quality of the grapes used is directly dependant on the conditions in which they are grown, and the weather can vary enormously from one year to the next. This influences every point in the growing season, from the time when the vines begin to flower, to the time when the bunches of fruit appear, all the way through to the harvest.
A growing season of perfectly-timed rain and sunshine may lead to a perfect, healthy harvest. On the other hand, extreme heat or cold, excessive rain or freak hailstorms can seriously upset an entire crop. As a consequence, weather conditions also affect the decisions made by vignerons regarding leaf pruning, management of yields, irrigation (where permitted) and most crucially, the date of the harvest. Those with skill and experience can still produce excellent quality grapes under less-than-ideal conditions with careful vineyard management and well-timed harvesting, particularly when assisted by a bit of good luck!
Some parts of the world enjoy relatively similar conditions every year, while the more marginal climates can be extremely challenging, and often lead to wide variation in quality or style between vintages. Back-to-back tasting of two vintages from the same producer can provide a fascinating insight into the influence of different climatic conditions experienced in each year.
Knowledge about a vintage can also help you to answer that nagging question of when you should open a wine to enjoy it at its best. While certain vintages may favour rich, firmly structured wines with great ageing potential, others may be better suited to lighter, more elegant wines that can be better appreciated in their youth.