The term ”vintage” refers to the year that grapes were grown for making a particular type of wine. The quality of wine produced in a certain region will vary from year to year depending on the climate and weather conditions to which the fruit is exposed before it is harvested.
Vintage wine charts help buyers find good years in a vineyard”s production by showing ratings for every year in a certain wine region. A spring frost or particularly wet season can damage a crop of grapes and affect the quality of wine produced; vintage wine charts reflect this information and can help to guide buyers toward favorable years.
Accuracy of Vintage Wine Charts
Although vintage charts can be a useful source of general information about wine quality, the charts are based on averages and thus there are always exceptions to the rule. In almost any vintage year from any region, there are likely to be both outstanding wines and also some poor quality wines included.
Furthermore, vintage charts are compiled by people who may have tastes and predilections that differ greatly from your own. While the charts can be helpful guidelines, in the end, it”s up to your own taste buds to decide whether a wine makes the A-list or gets corked.
The Making of a Good Vintage
A good vintage yields a crop of healthy grapes that are neither too sweet nor overly acidic. This flavorful balance, based on the ripeness of the grapes produced, is the main determining factor in whether a vintage is deemed worthy by connoisseurs.
But what factors produce a yield of healthy, balanced grapes? Climate and weather fluctuations are the primary determining forces. Specifically, weather conditions several weeks before the harvest and also during harvest time can make or break a vintage for a particular year. The last few weeks before harvest are a critical time during the grapes” ripening process, when dramatic shifts in weather can destroy or alter the character of the crop.
When it Rains, it”s Poor
If it is a particularly rainy season, the grapes will become bloated and lose their flavor, leading to a diluted, tasteless wine. A rainy season also adds to the threat of fungal diseases. Wines from cold, rainy years are likely to have higher levels of acidity. High acidity in wine will obscure the other flavors and create a lower quality vintage. When meteorologists predict rain during harvest season, wine producers are faced with the decision of whether to harvest their grapes early or risk a bloated, flavorless crop.
Heat, Frost and Profit Losses
On the other hand, a hot, dry year can yield grapes lower in acidity, producing higher quality wines. In most regions, a wine producer”s livelihood is very much tied to the seasons; fine weather will usually increase the market value of wines produced during a year and give them favorable ratings in vintage wine charts.
Another risk factor that can alter the success of a harvest is frost. In most Old World vineyards the cold season lasts through April and early May, and the danger of frost is still a very real concern for producers. In especially frost-prone regions like Chablis and Champagne, in France, wine producers often use heaters in the vineyards at night to protect their crops.
Old vs. New World Wines
Many New World wineries, located in temperate regions like California, Australia and Languedoc, lack the unpredictable weather conditions that can sour a year”s harvest.
Although New World producers may have the upper hand in climate conditions, making them more able to produce crops of steady quality, many wine connoisseurs and critics consider New World wines to be inferior to their Old World counterparts.
New World wines tend to use more industrialized methods and technologies, leading to a fruitier taste, higher alcohol content and less variation between vintages.
Using Vintage Charts
Because of climate fluctuations and regional variation in Old World grape crops, vintage wine charts are most useful for determining the quality of Old World wines, but may not hold as much value for those produced by New World vineyards.
Whether you are buying wines from France, or California, consulting vintage charts can still be useful. In addition to rating wines produced by particular vineyards each year, charts can provide information about the keeping properties of wine and when it is best to drink or hold each vintage.