One of the most important aspects of wine is its vintage. Wine vintages are defined by the year in which they were produced, but there’s more to it than that! Wine aficionados know that a wine’s vintage has an effect on its flavor. Wine lovers can explore our guide to understanding wine vintages and what they mean for your taste buds!
What is a Wine Vintage?
A wine vintage is the year in which the grapes were harvested. It can greatly affect the taste and quality of the wine itself, particularly because the weather affects the vines throughout the growing season.
It is also possible for wine to not have a vintage date. Non-vintage wine is made by blending multiple years together. Non-vintage wines are known for their consistent style. A non-vintage wine is labeled as “N.V” rather than designated with a year.
What Makes a Good Vintage Vs Bad Vintage?
The defining feature of a vintage is essentially sunshine. Sunny days give grapes the best chance of reaching full maturity and optimum ripeness levels. In the case where a region receives too much rain and clouds, grapes won’t fully ripen. They’ll also be more prone to disease and rotting and will yield lower quality grapes and effectively lower quality wine.
On the other hand, if a region is too hot and sunny, grapes become “raisinated” before they fully ripen and the resulting wines may have bitter tannins.
It’s important to know that even if it was a good vintage in one region, does not necessarily mean it was a good vintage in another region. A great season for red wine may not necessarily be a good season for white wine in the same region.
Beyond sunshine, weather can also impact a vintage’s overall quality in several other ways. The type of weather experienced in a region can have an effect on the vines.
In the springtime, spring frosts are common and can destroy crops before they even have the chance to flower. Hail storms common in spring can also break off flowers and buds, reducing the vintage’s size. Frost and hail storms themselves won’t necessarily reduce the quality output of a wine, but they could reduce the length of the growing season which would have an impact on the quality.
During the summer, wet weather can cause fungal diseases which will ruin the grapes. On the other side, exceptionally hot and dry weather (especially droughts) will cause the vines to pause growth until cooler weather returns.
Harvest usually begins in late August and runs into late October in some years, depending on the grape variety and the winery’s geographic location. Heavy rain at harvest can swell the grapes, causing them to lose concentration or rot. Grapes could do incredible all season, but if there is foul weather at the time of harvest, the quality of a vintage can still be greatly impacted.
When Vintage Matters More
Vintage year plays the biggest role in regions with the most variable climates. For example, many of Europe’s more northern wine-growing regions (France, Germany, Northern Italy) have some of the least predictable weather and more variability in their vintages.
When Vintage Matters Less
If wine is coming from a region with more predictable, consistent weather, there is less vintage variation from year to year.
As much as the growing season can impact the quality of a vintage, the twenty-first century also offers a lot of knowledge and technology to help combat and compensate for less-than-stellar growing seasons. Skilled winemakers have the ability to introduce certain strains of yeast to help shake up wine aromatics or sculpt palate texture, or could use reverse osmosis to tame elevated alcohol levels and additives to adjust color components.
However, no matter how skilled a particular winemaker is, there is still a marked difference between a wine of near-ideal conditions and one from an average vintage that required more intervention. The reality of it is, exceptional vintages tend to only come along two or three times per decade. For the other vintages, it’s important to remember that wine is an expression of a single year in time. Embrace the heritage and wine’s true personality and the months of growth it took to get there!
Shop RayLen’s Vintages
If you’re looking to add some of our wines to your collection, check out our online shop. We have vintages from 2017 through 2020 and even a handful of N.V. wines. We have officially started harvesting 2021 grapes and look forward to sharing new vintages with you soon!