Understanding Wine Vintages and Why They Matter to You

Wine can be dramatically affected by its vintage. The same grapes from the same vineyard take on distinctively different characteristics depending on the year they were harvested. We all know we should try good vintages to maximise our tasting experience, but first, we need to know what we’re looking for. Ideal Wine Company is this week breaking down how vintages can change wine and what to seek to get the best out of the experience.

Ideal Wine Company wine vintage
We’re breaking down how vintages can change wine and what to seek to get the best out of the experience.

What is a wine vintage?

First of all, the vintage of wine is the year it was produced in. When the grape was grown and harvested leads to many changes in flavours. The taste and quality can be affected, primarily because of the different weather. These conditions alter the vines and how they are growing throughout the year. The vintage date is found on the bottle, label or even cork.

The defining feature of a vintage is sunshine. If the year has seen plenty of sunny weather, the grapes are given the best chance to reach full maturity and optimum ripeness levels. However, too much heat, defined as too many days above 33 ºC, and the grapes will dry out which can lead to bitter tannins in your wine. If the year is particularly rainy or cloudy, the grapes do not fully ripen. This makes them prone to rot and disease, delivering lower quality grapes.

Wines without a vintage date are usually made by blending multiple years together. If you opt for a non-vintage wine, you’ll usually find more consistency. They are typically a house style wine that is good value but does not offer unique distinctions from year to year.

Signs to look out for

You can determine how good the vintage will be by looking out for signs in the weather. Each season has key features that can change how your wine tastes.

  • Spring: Look out for early snow and hail-storms, as these can break off flowers and buds. This could potentially reduce the crops by 100%. A sunny spring is perfect for growing wine -and drinking it!
  • Summer: For both us and grapes, rain in summer can put a dampener on things! Wet weather during the simmer can cause disease which ruin grapes. In addition, droughts and exceptionally hot weather can cause vines to pause their growth. A mild but sunny summer are the ideal conditions for a good vintage.
  • Autumn: Harvest time is the most important season for grapes. Bad weather in this period can greatly reduce the quality of the vintage. Rain can cause grapes to swell, which means they can either lose concentration or even rot. Cold weather will stop the grapes from ripening.

When vintage should matter

The wine vintage will play the biggest role in regions where the climate is very variable. If you’re buying a bottle from northern Europe, such as France, Germany or Northern Italy, you should be paying attention to the vintage.

If your wine is from a predictable climate, such as Portugal, Argentina, Australia, California and Southern Italy, you’ll see more consistency year-on-year. This makes vintage less important.

Knowing the vintage of your wine can be important, but may not be your biggest concern. If you’re buying a wine from a region where there is a lot of difference between vintages, however, it is one of the most crucial factors you should know before you buy. A little bit of research here can go a long way!

The Best Wines for Italian Food

Wine and Italian food is a famous pairing. The rich notes of red wine or the light notes of white often work to enhance the flavours of your meal. But what should you look out for when pairing wine with a dish? Ideal Wine Company has plenty of recommendations to perfectly match your wine to your meal. It is best to focus on the sauce, to get the best pairing and so we’ve kept this in mind in our list of the best reds and whites for every occasion.

Ideal Wine Company Wine and Italian Food
We review which wines work best with Italian food.

Cabernet Sauvignon – hearty and rich

The primary taste of Cabernet Sauvignon is blackcurrant, but other overtones include blackberry and mint. This hearty and rich red wine pairs best with tomato-based red sauces, complimenting the richness of the sauce. This pairs well with lasagna as it balances the richness of the dish.  Try a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon to really balance your dish.

Sauvignon Blanc – crisp and acidic

Sauvignon Blanc is typically very light, with notes of grass and apple and a soft, smoky flavour. This acidic white wine tends to be crisp, making it a nice match for a cream based sauce, balancing the richness of the dish. This would work well with a Pasta Alfredo, as it would cut through the creaminess of the sauce.

Pinot Noir – light and versatile

This delicious and earthy French wine is one of the most well-known red wines to pair with Italian food. It is a light red wine, with flavours that include earth, vanilla and jam. Its versatility makes it work best with a tomato-based red sauce and it also pairs well with a variety of Italian food. Try this with a pesto dish.

Chardonnay – an adaptable white wine

Chardonnay can taste semi-sweet or sour, heady or light, depending where the grapes are grown and how it’s processed. Typically, the flavours include apple, tangerine, lemon, lime, melon and oak. Like most white wines, it is best paired with cream or oil-based sauces, such as a Carbonara. However, a Chardonnay can also work well with a light tomato-based red sauce.

Italian Chianti – strong and bold

Chianti is a red wine from Tuscany and is one of the most popular wines among Italians, as it perfectly complements a wide range of Italian food. It is perfectly suited for flavourful, well-seasoned sauces, such as Bolognese, due to the strong and bold flavours. It pairs best with tomato-based red sauces but also works well with cream or oil-based sauces.

Riesling – ideal for light sauces

Riesling is usually made to be a sweet wine, but can also create a dry wine. The taste of this wine is usually affected by where it is grown, as Californian Rieslings tend to be dry and have a melon taste, while German Rieslings are tarter and have a grapefruit flavour. Dry Riesling is an ideal wine for vegetarian dishes or light sauces, in addition to seafood and chicken. Often, it is best to pair a dry Riesling with simple fish, chicken or pasta dishes that have some acid to them. Particularly, this pairs well with a risotto, complimenting the delicate flavours without overpowering them. It is best to avoid pairing this wine with any strong sauces, especially those that are tomato-based.

Can the shape of your wine glass affect the taste?

It is commonly agreed that the shape of a wine glass affects the taste of the wine. Many generations of wine connoisseurs and wine experts, along with wine lovers, have debated over which wine glass shapes are best suited to a particular wine. Ideal Wine Company review how the shape of a wine glass can impact the taste of your wine.

The basic shape of a wine glass is designed for optimum wine drinking. The sides usually bow inwards towards the rim, which means that we point our noses towards the centre of a glass. This reduces the harshness of the gaseous ethanol, or alcohol, making wine aromas more distinct.

This shape is key to how we drink. When you drink, you tilt your head differently, depending on the shape of your glass. With wide rimmed glasses, you lower your head, but when drinking from a narrow rim you tilt your head back. These different positions change the speed of the wine hitting your tongue, as well as the intensity of the aroma while drinking. The intensity of wine aromas also strongly correlates with the ratio between the diameter of the glass cup, at its widest point, to the diameter of the opening.

Ideal Wine Company wine glass shape
Can the shape of wine glasses affect the taste of the wine?

Taste Test

This theory was put to the test, to see to what extent the shape of a glass changed the taste of a wine. Using a Cabernet Sauvignon as an example, the same wine was sampled from two different glasses. Both Riedel, one glass was a traditional Bordeaux glass while the other was designed for Cabernet/Merlot.

The Bordeaux glass

This glass had a larger and less round opening. The large opening caused the wine to hit the palate all at once, softening the acidity of the wine and causing it to taste more monolithic. This caused the wine to taste smoother and less fruity, with the taste not persisting as long on the palate. The less round bowl caused the aroma to be less intense. This wine was kept smooth yet resulted in more muted aromas. This glass would be a good choice for bold, European reds.

The Cabernet/Merlot glass

In comparison, this glass had a much smaller rim and a rounder bowl. Due to the smaller opening, the wine hit the palate in one centralised place and expanded outwards as you tasted it. This caused the wine to taste more acidic and made the taste persist longer in the mouth. The round bowl did a lot to collect the aromas in the glass and funnel them into your nose. The wine smells more intense as a result.

What to Look For

As the test shows, the taste of wine changes with the glass that is used. Make sure to match your wine glass to both what you are drinking and to highlight the notes you want to make dominant. While taste is personal, it is traditionally advised to stick to smaller bowls for white wines and larger bowls for red wines.

The Perfect Wines for Autumn

Autumn is now well and truly upon us. While you may find yourself lamenting the loss of summer whites and rosés, Ideal Wine Company has plenty of recommendations to carry you through these shorter days and longer nights. This week, we bring to you five of our favourite wines for the autumn season.

Ideal Wine Company autumn wine
We’ve picked the best wines for the upcoming autumn months.

Primitivo/ Zinfandel – autumn in a bottle

These Italian and California red wines are the perfect start to your autumn collection. Both originating from the same grape, these two wines share many similarities. In their richer styles, with ABVs over 15%, the predominant flavours are jam and smoke. With notes of cinnamon, raisin, chocolate and tobacco, this wine is autumn in a bottle. With California producing an array of delicious primitivo and zinfandel wines, regions to look out for include Lodi, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and the Sierra Foothills.

Grenache – delicious no matter what

Arguably one of the most autumn-ready wines, Grenache is the obvious choice for this season. Character varies from region to region, with dried strawberry and herbs prominent notes in France and Italy and raspberry and clove being key in Spanish, Australian and American varieties. While there are changes between regions, the wine itself remains delicious no matter what. It’s hard to go wrong with this wine, but regions to particularly look at are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cannonau, Paso Robles, Columbia Valley, South Australia and Aragon.

Rhône/GSM Blends – perfect for colder nights

Following on from Grenache, Rhône and GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blends provide a more robust take on those berry and clove notes. With additional flavours of lavender, baking spice, and green herbs, this wine is perfect for the colder nights. Great regions to look out for are Côtes du Rhône, Priorat, Central Coast California and Columbia Valley.

Carignan – perfect food pairing

As many producers are reinvigorating old vineyards, Carignan is finally starting to shed its low-quality reputation. This affordable medium-bodied red is perfect for the autumn season. It is known for its cranberry, cured meats, and baking spice flavours. As this wine pairs so well with foods synonymous with autumn, such as turkey and root vegetables, it has been called its own ingredient in seasonal dishes.  Regions to look out for include Languedoc-Roussillon, Central Chile, and Carignano del Sulcis-Sardinia. In addition, as Carignan vines are productive, try to seek out old vines where you can.

Sémillon – full-bodied flavour

Autumn isn’t just the season for red wines, this is also the time to enjoy a full-bodied white wine too. With notes of honey and almond, this Bordeaux grape is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. In doing this, an otherwise lush and mouth-filling wine welcomes a new invigorating hint. This makes a perfect choice as a pour for the autumnal dark green vegetables, as well as pairing well with root vegetables. When looking to buy this wine, find one with some age or oak on it, and look out for wines made in the regions of Pessac-Léognan, Napa, Sonoma, South Africa, and Columbia Valley.

Foreign Office shifts to English wine

Around 52 per cent of wine served at high-end events at the British Foreign Office is now English. The government is increasing the number of wines made in England that they buy every year, as well as those served at official events. Ideal Wine Company take a look at why the shift to English wine has occurred.

Figures show that 3,052 bottles of wine were bought during the last 12 months. Of these, 1,500 are English (equivalent to 50 per cent). Ten years ago, English wines in the government’s cellar consisted of only 20 per cent.

Ideal Wine Company english wine
How is the Government shifting to English wine?

Serve British for Brexit

Miles Beale of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association is happy with this increase. He says: “We have urged government departments to ‘serve British’ and it’s great to hear that the FCO is stocking, serving and therefore supporting English wine.

“Consumers worldwide have woken up to the fact that English wine is a product of supreme quality.”

Government wine cellar
The government has had its very own wine cellar for many years. It’s looked after by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and is meant to be self-sustaining in financial terms.

Wines are generally bought young and left to mature. The annual statement for 2015 to 2016 shows that the cellar boasted 33,669 bottles of wine and spirits. The total value for the cellar’s inventory was £800,000 as at March 2016.

Selecting wine for events

Wines are selected for use at each event, depending on what kind of event it is and who is invited. The more senior the invited guests, the better the quality of wine they are served.

A private member’s bill was introduced in March by MP Nusrat Ghani to make sure that British consulates and embassies serve English wine at events. She said: “In a post-Brexit world, we must do all we can to get behind industries that show the sort of potential of our wine industry.”

Wine producer Jonica Fox, who is based in East Sussex, is also pleased with the figures. She said: “The Foreign Office is now flying the flag for us all.” As the UK is now home to more than 500 vineyards and produces millions of bottles of wine every year, it looks like this is one industry that could thrive post Brexit.