Why Does A Wine’s Vintage Matter?

Written by
Vintage Cellars
June 28, 2018
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How significant is a wine’s vintage and should it affect whether you buy it or not? Is there such a thing as a ‘bad’ vintage? Should certain past vintages be avoided? We’ll look at what that number on the label really means in terms of quality.

What is a vintage?

‘Vintage’ comes from the French word ‘vin’ which means wine. The term vintage refers to the year in which the grapes used to make the wine were harvested. It does not have anything to do with when a wine is released to market or how long it has been aged for.

Vintages have appeared on labels ever since wine first started to be sold in bottles (previously, it was transported in clay vessels and casks), and wine makers and lovers have spent just as long debating the best vintages. However this doesn’t mean wine wasn’t categorised before moving to bottles. In Ancient Egypt they used to mark ceramic wine containers with hieroglyphics detailing the winemaker and their process for making the wine.

When people talk about buying wine based on its vintage, what they’re talking about is buying wine based on a flavour profile of that specific year and location. A wine’s year can really affect the taste. Why? Primarily because of the weather that affects the vines during the growing season.

For your reference, a non-vintage wine is made by blending grapes from multiple harvests. A wine’s vintage may not necessarily taste better or worse than its non-vintage (NV) counterpart, but it can produce notable differences.

What makes a vintage special?

A ‘vintage variation’ is the difference in taste between the same wines made in different years. The change in flavour depends on the way the weather has influenced the crop; for instance, if one year the climate of the region is hot during the day and cool at night, there’s a good chance the grapes will thrive. This results in a particularly ‘good’ vintage.

Sunshine is a good indicator of a favourable condition for a wine’s vintage, as it helps the grapes achieve optimum ripeness. If a region is too rainy, this could result in the grapes not fully ripening, and could even encourage rot. Too sunny, and the grapes could shrivel into raisins. There are years in any wine region where the climate will be better or worse.

Winemakers only choose to make vintage wine when they know the quality of their grapes is high. The winemaking process doesn’t end there – vintage champagne, for instance, needs to be aged for three years before being released for sale (though many houses leave them longer than that). The longer maturing period means vintage wines typically have greater flavour and depth.

Looking for an exceptional vintage champagne? We’d recommend the 2007 Charles de Cazanove Tradition Brut Vintage. Made from premium chardonnay grapes with an incredible nine years spent on lees, this champagne was crafted by Christophe Rapeneau, winner of the 2017 Wine Challenge Sparkling Winemaker of the Year. With notes of almond croissant and candied fruit, this is a special wine for lovers of a vintage champagne.

Want to learn more about a specific vintage? Visit your local Vintage Cellars and our Team Members will find a wine to suit your tastes.