What makes one year’s wine vintage better than another?

If you’re serious about collecting wine for investment, it’s critical to understand what goes into making a great wine vintage. The Ideal Wine Company Collector’s Guide is the perfect place to get an overview of where to start in wine investment. 

But how do collectors and investors choose one vintage over another from the same vineyard? What sets one year apart from another? Why is one year’s production highly sought after, while another is much lower in value? Here are some answers.

What is a wine vintage?

We’ll start with the basics first. What exactly is a wine vintage? Simply put, it is the year that winemakers picked the grapes for a particular bottle. It may sound straightforward, but there are a number of important factors that go into making a particular year’s crop of grapes better than another.

The quality of the process and the ability of the winemakers themselves is crucial, of course. The timing of the harvest, when the vines are pruned and how well they manage pests are all significant. One poor decision can easily lead to wine of a lower quality.

But the winemaker’s broader vision for their wines also contributes to a great vintage. A winemaker who thinks longer term is more likely to make the right growing, harvesting and making decisions year-on-year. It’s why it pays to get to know the winemakers you respect, and to follow their careers closely.

We talked about an example of this recently in terms of champagne production. The top champagne makers only release premier cuvées when the conditions are exactly right. They maintain their good name with investors as a result.

How does the climate affect the making a great wine vintage?

Most of the growing and harvesting decisions that the winemaker takes are usually in response to the weather. An experienced grower will know how to respond to everything from hard spring frosts to wet summers and damp harvests. All of these factors and the quality of a maker’s response to them impact the investment value of a particular vintage. The wrong weather can even badly impact an entire year’s production.

To create a vintage wine harvest, the most critical factor is the amount of sunshine during that growing season. This directly impacts the rate and amount that the grapes ripen on the vine. Too much sunshine and the grapes raisinate. Too little sun (or too much wet, cloudy weather), and the grapes are less likely to ripen and more likely to rot.

Crucially, it’s worth remembering that not all grape varieties respond in the same way. So, if you have a favourite producer, understand how the weather in that region impacts the wine variety they use. And before choosing a particular vintage, research the specific weather that year. Finally, in regions where the weather is more consistent, vintage is less important. Unpredictable weather is unlikely to impact growers in Australia, California or even South Africa. It’s why they produce wines of a similar quality year on year.  

The five fine wines to invest in now

More and more investors are looking for fine wines to invest in. They see them as a stable, profitable option, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And it is no surprise. In times of economic and social turmoil, the fine wine industry feels like a sound investment, at least compared to other asset classes. To find out why, read Ideal Wine Company’s recent blog post here.

The fine wines to invest in now

However, it has been a difficult year so far for many producers. With Covid-19 hitting an industry that relies on exports, global trade and face-to-face marketing events such as tastings.

With that in mind, if we were asked to select five wines to invest in today, where would we start? Here is our guide to fine wines worth investing in now.

1. Bordeaux wines

Bordeaux and Burgundy are both suffering under US tariffs, but remain hugely influential within the global wine investment markets. And with a long history of winemaking, Bordeaux is particularly well regarded. This region alone accounts for around eight in every 10 bottles traded globally. Where do you find value in such a crowded market?

Our pick: Chateau Angélus is one of the most prestigious winemakers in the region, with a number of great vintages (notably 1990, 1995 and 2001) behind it. Our choice is a bottle of Château Angélus 2015 Saint-Émilion, a wine that will age beautifully over time.

2. Champagne

Champagne has long been a safe bet for investors, and 2019 was yet another good year. According to the experts at Liv-X, their Champagne 50 index grew by a steady 2.2% last year. Sales have remained pretty stable through 2020 too, accounting for around 10% of overall market share. The region has also avoided US tariffs, unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Our pick: A fine champagne such as the Louis Roederer Cristal 2012 has done well over the last few years and we see no reason for that not to continue – it’s a vintage that is well worth adding to your collection if you can.

3. Burgundy wines

Like Bordeaux, Burgundy remains one of the most popular regions for those of us who want to invest in the very best wines. It is an area with a rich tradition of winemaking, with makers such as Chateau Rosseau Chambertin creating wines for collectors of the highest quality. Their 2013 Grand Cru wines in particular have done well in the last couple of years, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Our pick: Our investment choice is the 2006 Chambertin-Clos De Bèze – created not far from the Chateau Rosseau Chambertin – a powerful red wine that is well worth picking up.

4. Italian wines

Over the last six months of 2020 Italian wines have performed brilliantly on various. For example, Liv-ex offered a one-year return of 3.9% up to March. We see no reason for that not to continue, and wines from Piedmont in particular remain active among traders.

Our pick: There are many great Italian wines to choose from. For growth potential the 2013 vintage of the Barolo Reserva Monfortino is a good pick. It’s a special wine, with real fruity intensity and a big personality.

5. Natural wines

We’ve posted elsewhere  about the current trend in natural wines. They’re hugely popular at the moment – but does that mean they are a good investment?

Our pick: Whether we should add a bottle of Lalalu Cabernet Franc 2018 to our cellar just yet is debatable. But we’re including natural wines as it’s a growing section of the wine market worth watching for investment purposes.

Try orange wine for a different drink this summer

It’s likely that the uptick in enthusiasm for orange wine is linked to the growing trend of natural and organic wines. Whether rosé wine has had its day is debatable but for some people at the forefront of wine trends, switching to orange wine is the thing to do.

Tastes do shift over time and wines tend to come in and out of favour, but rosé will probably stay pretty popular this summer. If you are looking for something a bit different though, consider trying one of these orange wines.

Could orange wine replace rosé wine as the ideal summer drink

There are, of course, some great quality rosé wines on the market, and particularly if you are looking at fine wines for summer. Unfortunately, many of the easily available rosés are mass produced and tend to be on the sweet side. If you’re looking for a wine made with natural principles and is between red and white, then orange wine could be for you.

Orange wine is basically white wine with a different production process. During winemaking, there is an extra step where grape juice is left to rest on the grape skins. How long this process goes on for determines the final product. Winemakers maintain that this extra step adds complexity, depth and body as well as the colour. You can expect honey stone fruit flavours as well as spicy and sour notes.

Natural and biodynamic winemaking practices always include additional production principles. For example, many natural winemakers will use traditional methods such as using terracotta pots called amphorae to ferment the wine in the same way Romans and Greeks used to. These ancient methods allow the wine to spontaneously ferment, rather than our modern-day practice of adding stabilisers and commercial yeasts.

This also means that making good quality orange wine and other natural wines takes a high degree of skill. There is a fine line between leaving the skin in contact with the juice for just long enough and too long. One will give you a refined, high-quality wine and the other a sharp, vinegary flavour.

Look out for different shades of orange wine

The longer the wine rests with the skin, the deeper in colour the orange wine will be. It’s a bit like steeping tea, so the more time on skin leads to a more complex wine with properties that could remind you of sherry, for example. Deeper coloured orange wines will have more acid, and this can be useful if you are serving a rich meal. If you’re drinking it unaccompanied, a lighter colour would suit better.

Look out for orange wines made in regions like Georgia and Slovenia. They have a long history of making natural wines, but you can find loads of varieties from all over. Don’t avoid sediment either as this indicates an unfiltered wine that will be packed with flavour.

Check out these 3 orange wines this summer

  1. Under £15 – Ciello Baglio Antico Orange Wine 2019

From Sicily in Italy, Baglio Antico Bianco is one of the best value orange wines made by experts in natural wines – Ciello. The wine is made by macerating white catarratto grapes with their skins during fermentation. And the end result is a nicely balanced, easy drinking orange wine that works with and without food. Expect citrus peel, ginger and herby flavours, with a rich texture.

  1. To look like an expert – Pheasant’s Tears Buera-Grdzelmtevana W, 2018

Georgia is well known for celebrating its traditional past and growing popularity as a tourist city. This wine is made by John Wurdeman who is an American who decided to live in Georgia and produce wines made with the ancient techniques of the country. This is a blend of Grdzelmtevana and Buera grapes that are aged in qvervis (traditional wine amphorae) for six months. The resulting wine is deep amber in colour and has a deep yet exotic fruity flavour.

  1. Most Instagrammable orange wine – Vino Bianco IGT Slatnik Radikon 2018

While Serragghia Bianco by Italian wine expert Gabrio Bini is a popular choice for the ‘Gram, this Radikon Slatnik is great too. This is partly thanks to its distinctive graphic label and long, narrow shape. It’s also delicious and made by the Radikon family, who are leaders in natural wine making.

How the European wine industry is working towards its sustainability goals

Climate change is affecting every industry around the world, as we collectively work out ways to combat the worst effects. For the wine industry, the escalation of the effects of climate change have had a direct effect on the product. From unstable weather patterns throughout Europe to new wine regions springing up in the UK thanks to hotter temperatures, there’s no doubt that environmental factors are key for the world’s wine industry.

European wine industry joins movement to increase glass recycling

To further the goal of reducing emissions and waste, the Comité Européen des Enterprises Vins (CEEV) recently announced it has opted to join other European bodies that have the aim of increasing glass recycling to 90% by 2030.

The group of European organisations was set up by the European glass packaging federation (FEVE) and is called the Circular Economy Platform for Glass Collection & Recycling. Other members of the group include Municipal Waste Europe (MWE), Spirits Europe, the European Federation of Glass Recyclers (FERVER) and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe.

All group members collaborate to achieve its overall goal of achieving a 90% bottle-to-bottle closed loop of glass bottle recycling by the end of the next decade. Currently, the glass packaging recycling rate across Europe is at 76%.

Sustainability is a key priority for global wine industry

And, despite the challenges the industry faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEEV is clear that recycling and the promotion of a circular economy “remains a key priority for the wine sector.”

As most (more than 90%) of the wine made in Europe is packaged in glass bottles, there is a specific focus on the wine industry’s sustainability goals. Ignacio Sanchez Recarte is the secretary general of the CEEV. He says that by contributing to the wider goal of improving the glass packaging chain’s sustainability score, the wine industry’s score is also automatically improved. He goes on to say: “While there are so many kinds of wines… glass is one of the few common and universal values we can use to transmit to our consumers our sector’s engagement to preserve the planet.”

There are, of course, a number of alternative packaging options for wine producers, ranging from boxes and cans to tubes and kegs. However, consumer platform Friends of Glass conducted a survey that shows 80% of European consumers still want to buy wine in glass bottles. Furthermore, consumer spending on glass packaged products has risen by 51% since 2017.

Working together to achieve common goals

The wine sector is one of the glass packaging industry’s leading market segments, and it is growing every year. For this reason, says Adeline Farrelly, FEVE secretary general it’s vital that collaborations like this go ahead so that both industries can support each other’s sustainability efforts. She says: “The Close the Glass Loop platform is one way to achieve our shared goals. The more recycled glass that goes back into our production loop, the lower the negative environmental impact of the bottles.”

Another part of the Close the Glass Loop initiative includes improving the quality of the recycled glass they produce. This will ensure a greater amount of recycled glass goes into the newly formed production loop. For example, at the moment 76% of glass is collected for recycling, but just 52% actually makes it back into the production loop.

Perfect wine picks to go with store cupboard meals during lockdown

Most of us are shopping far less than usual due to the coronavirus outbreak. Which can mean making meals from store cupboard ingredients rather than fresh produce. While this could make mealtimes less exciting than normal, the good news is it’s simple to pair wines with store cupboard meals and get more flavour from your dinner.

Classics like baked beans on toast, simple pasta and pesto or tomato sauce can be refined with a good glass of wine. And while many of the things we like to do are off limits for the time being, what could be better than taking the time to enjoy a well-matched wine with your meal.

Perfect wine picks to go with simple store cupboard meals

We’ve done wine pairing articles before, but mostly focusing on dinner party food. Here we’ve picked some wines to go with simple meals you can rustle up from ingredients in your store cupboard.

  1. Baked beans on toast

Pair this family favourite with red wines hailing from warm climates. Baked beans have long been a favourite in the UK, thanks to their combination of a reduction of vinegar and sugar to form the sauce. Reds with plenty of fruit from warm wine regions go really well with baked beans. For example, you could choose an Australian shiraz or a merlot from Chile. A great choice of the latter is Lorosco Reserva Maipo merlot 2017. It has an intensely enjoyable flavour with fruity aromas of plum and blackberry combining with hints of toast and vanilla. The soft tannins in this wine make it the perfect pairing with the comforting flavours of beans on toast.

  1. Instant noodles – chicken and mushroom flavour

We’ve all got a Pot Noodle or two hiding in the cupboard, or ideally one of the more refined versions. And while it can be difficult to match wines with broth or soup, the chicken and mushroom flavours are easier to match. Try your noodles with a Chardonnay with a lightly oaked finish, such as La Reverence 2018. Its golden straw colour combines with summery fruit flavours of melon and peach, all perfectly balanced with a crisp finish. It’s made from a combination of grapes: Minervois and Roussillon, and this is what gives it the fresh, minerally flavour profile. It goes very well with meaty and vegetable flavours.

  1. Tuna pasta in a tomato sauce

Another meal easy to whip up in minutes from store cupboard ingredients, this dish calls out for lightly tannined red wines. Beaujolais is an ideal match with all kinds of oily fish, including tuna, and as it’s a medium bodied wine it goes well with the rich sweetness of a tomato sauce. Try Oedoria Beaujolais Rouge 2017, which has an intense colour, fruity aromas and pleasantly smooth tannins.

  1. Pasta and pesto

When you want a bit more oomph to your pasta, pesto is always a good bet. It’s a simple but tasty dish thanks to the pesto’s ingredients of oil, herbs and cheese, and it needs a wine that’s also simple but delicious. Match it with something like Eschehof Holzer, Wagran, Gruner Veltliner 2018 from Austria, for its uncomplicated fruit and acidity balance. Expect hints of pepper, apple and peach in this organic white wine.

  1. Instant ramen

Turn to a Japanese vibe for your store cupboard meal with a spiced up instant ramen for dinner. And if you don’t have any Sake to go with it, you could choose a white wine packed with body to complement the broth and noodle dish. Tatsuuma-Honke Brewery, Isake Classic Junmai Ginjo is a wine resulting from a fascinating partnership between a Japanese expert in sake and a French sommelier. It has a distinctive and unique lend of melon, walnut, peach and Sake rices, with a long, refreshing finish.