What’s In a Vintage?

You know the feeling; you’re in the wine shop, grocery store, or restaurant and you have to make a choice. Staring at you from the label or list is a year. Um, what do I do? How do I know what is good and what isn’t? Plus, what the heck does that year mean anyway? Do I ask the shop clerk or restaurant server and potentially embarrass myself?

The year on the label, or vintage as it is referred to in the world of wine, is the year the grapes grew and were harvested for the wine in the bottle. It is not the year the wine released from the winery and showed up on the shelf in the store. Typically in a wine shop they are going to have the most current vintages from a winery on their shelf. Larger wine shops can sometimes have a section of “library” wines, which are wines that are older vintages and considered collectable. Fine dining restaurants also generally have a library selection. Did I just confuse you more? Can all wines taste good after it ages? How the heck do I know what older wine I should buy?

If you’re not the serious wine collector or the type of enthusiast who regularly reads about vintages, you may not know where to look for this information. As a rule of thumb and what I always say, a great winemaker is going to know how to adapt to the conditions Mother Nature throws at him or her. But not all wines are created equal and I think it’s important to have some basic knowledge of a vintage before pulling out your wallet.

So who dishes out this information? You’ve likely seen or heard of publications like the Wine Spectator. Although I am not a fan at all of this publication, I do find their phone app to be extremely helpful for a quick vintage reference. Download it and you’ll see how easy it is to search a particular region.

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My other go-to and trusted source is Jancis Robinson. Jancis is one of the most respected wine reviewers in the world. She is a Master of Wine and has written numerous books on the subject. You can join her website page to gain wine reviews, however if you are just looking for info about a specific vintage, I simply google her name along with the vintage and region (i.e., “Jancis Robinson vintage report 2015 Burgundy). Vinous is another source I find myself utilizing for general information, especially when it comes to Italian wines. Wine Enthusiast puts out a vintage chart every year that I find helpful for generally speaking how that year was based on their scores.

In regards to seeking info on a specific wine, there are tons of critics out there and even more so these days with bloggers. So keep in mind that they are writing based on their palate (and sometimes getting paid to give a wine a high rating). Just because Robert Parker gave a wine 95 points doesn’t mean you will like that wine, so a word to the wise, don’t follow scores to do your buying.

So go have fun and remember, grapes are food grown on a vine in nature. Nature is susceptible to having good and bad days that will influence a wine’s structure. Just because hail ravished vineyards in Burgundy in a particular vintage doesn’t mean the wines should be avoided. A great winemaker is going to adapt to the conditions and do their best to make a beautiful wine for you to enjoy.

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