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.  

Which lesser known wines are worth investing in?

Are lesser known wines worth exploring for investment purposes? We certainly think so. Classic wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy dominate the fine wine investment market, for good reason. These regions have a long and storied history of winemaking that investors trust.

But as investors buy up the best wines, they become rarer and prices rise. It means that it can be harder to find wine investments that offer good value.

One way to find value in this crowded fine wine market is by investing in a vintage from lesser known wine regions.

Which lesser known wines are worth investing in?

Winemaking is now a global phenomenon. Producers are springing up in plenty of new markets, particularly in Asia. But too often, investors overlook other traditional wine producing countries. Greece, Austria, Croatia and even Hungary are all well worth exploring for opportunities.

Here our guide to some of the best wines from these lesser known wine regions.

China – Ao Yun, 2013

In recent years China has fully embraced wine making. One of the most popular producers is Ao Yun. They produce their wines in the foothills of the Himalayas. Their wines use both local grapes as well wines based on as old classics like Cabernet Sauvignon. Our choice is the first vintage from Ao Yun, the 2013 red. The wine shows off its producer’s attention to detail, and it’s fine on the palate. A great advert for Chinese wines, and a maker worth watching for investors.

Greece – Douloufakis Dafnios, 2016

The wonderfully varied landscape of Greece is full of unique producers, but Eastern Mediterranean wines can be ignored by investors. And increasingly, many of them make high quality wines that are worth considering from an investment perspective. 

If you’re looking for an interesting white wine to invest in, consider one from Crete. Our pick is this white wine from the Douloufakis Winery, which has been making wines on the island since the 1930s. That expertise shines through in this mellow, citrusy white with a flavour hints of jasmine.

Austria – Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler, 2016

Austria has a rich winemaking tradition and it is worth hunting down some of their more unusual grape varieties. For example, local winemakers harvest the rare Rotgipfler grape from a tiny area south of Vienna.

One of our favourite producers from this region is the excellent Johanneshof Reinisch winery south of Vienna. They produce a wonderful Rotgipfler, full of zesty freshness and a real depth. Our pick is their 2016 Satzing Rotgipfler, which is a high quality white wine and an excellent vintage that investors should look up.

Hungary – Tokaji Furmint, 2015

Tokaji is a Hungarian institution but is sometimes overlooked by fine wine investors. Producers make Tokaji from ‘botrytized’ grapes, which creates a sweet, intense white wine with a refreshing acidity.

Vines used to make Tokaji are prone to rot, which makes it harder to grow than other varieties. As a result, some Tokaji producers now use the grapes to make dry white wines. There are some interesting opportunities here for investors. Any wine from the Szepsy winery is worth investigating, and our pick is the earthy 2015 Tokaji Furmint.

Croatia – Miloš Stagnum, 2007

If you’re looking for a wine that will just get better and better with age, then look no further than Croatia’s plavac mali wines. This is the most famous red wine variety in the country, produced on the Dalmatian coast in ideal wine making conditions. Aged in barrels, the wines have a bold, fruity flavour profile. Our pick is the Miloš Stagnum 2007. It’s wonderfully well-balanced, with a rich, complex mix of fruit and figs.

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.

Looking for the best barbecue wines? We’ve got you covered

This year has been a strange one so far thanks to COVID-19, but the sun is finally out. Lockdown is easing and people are gearing up for a hot few months in the UK. Which means it’s barbecue time!

Barbecues are never complete without the ideal drink to go with the food. Ideal Wine Company have come up with wines for just about every barbecue food, from sausages to salads. So, whether you are looking for a red wine to go with your burger or a white wine for your chicken, there’s something ideal for you.

Best barbecue wines for meat dishes

When it comes to matching wines with sausages, you’re looking for the little extras. Look at the spices and herbs in the sausage mix and match your barbecue wine to that.

A shiraz or sauvignon blanc goes well with sage flavoured sausages and pinot noir is ideal for a Cumberland sausage. If your sausage is pork based with leeks or herbs, go for something like a carmenere. And if you are planning to enjoy a rustic Toulouse sausage, a rueda from Spain or pinotage from South Africa will liven up the al fresco treat.

If you include pork chops or steaks in your barbecue menu, then you’re in luck when it comes to wine matching. Pork goes with lots of wines, so choose from syrah, pinot noir, shiraz or Beaujolais. If you want a white wine, then a Chablis is a good bet but if you’re garnishing with apple sauce a Riesling from Germany would work well too.

Steaks are probably the easiest to pair with the ideal barbecue wine. You don’t have to choose a super heavy red wine if you want to keep it lighter due to the weather. Try a Malbec, red zinfandel or primitivo from Southern Italy. Lamb chops also love red grapes like tempranillo or garnacha. Take your pick form merlot, cabernet sauvignon or your favourite rioja.

Best Barbecue wines for fish and chicken dishes

While you might immediately head for white wine with tuna steaks, it works really well with reds too. Go for something that isn’t too oak aged and consider a shiraz, Malbec or carmenere. If you prefer white wine, try an Australian Semillon or vernaccia from Italy. Chicken breasts or kebabs will go with plenty of wines, but particularly well with merlot, Frascati or sangiovese. Take your pick!

Best barbecue wines for salad and vegetable dishes

Any vegetables with a hint of natural sweetness, such as root vegetable or carrots go well with slightly sweet wines. Try a Riesling or vinho verde, for example. Usually, you’ll find white wines work better than reds to go with a big summer salad or light vegetable dish.

If you like to char sweet peppers with your barbecue meat, then they go well with both red and white wines. Match the wine colour with the pepper, so red peppers work best with beaujolais or shiraz. Yellow and green peppers go well with albarino, dry muscat and gewürztraminer whites.

Is Madeira one of the best Portuguese wines?

For many, Madeira wine is used primarily for its versatility in cooking. But it can also be delicious to drink on its own. Here’s a quick history of one of the most underpraised Portuguese wines, and a few of the fortified wines to try.

Madeira’s history as one of the best Portuguese wines

The Portuguese Madeira Islands are just off the coast of Africa, and the famous wine comes in a number of styles. From dry versions that are nice to drink on their own, to sweeter Madeira wines that go perfectly with dessert, there are plenty of varieties. Some of the cheaper versions used primarily for cooking are flavoured with pepper and salt.

Madeira’s winemaking history goes way back to the end of the 15th century. At that time Madeira was a stop in port for ships heading out to the East Indies or the New World. The local winemaking industry made wine for the ships, and to preserve it on long sea journeys, mixed in neutral grape spirits. When a consignment of unused wine returned to the island after a long round trip, the winemakers discovered that the heat and movement of the journey transformed the wine’s flavour.

They then began storing the wine in special rooms exposed to the hot sun, so that the wine would replicate these changes. Into the 18th century, Madeira became more and more popular. All the way around the world, from Brazil in the New World to the colonies in America, people developed a taste for it.

Fall and rise of Madeira wine

The Madeira boom ended somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, after various mildews and moulds began to blight the wine. By the start of the 20th century, sales had risen again, until American Prohibition in the 1930s and the Russian Civil War after the revolution destroyed two major markets for the fortified wine.

During the rest of the 20th century, Madeira continued to lose some of its popularity as a drinking wine. It became known as a lower quality cooking wine. In 1988, a Portuguese family invested in the owner of many Madeira brand names – the Madeira Wine Company. They relaunched it and marketed specifically towards America, which was the start of the wine’s rebirth.

Producers began to focus on higher quality Madeira again by replanting the noble grape varieties of Malvasia, Bual and Sercial. Today, the major markets for Madeira are France, Germany and Benelux, with growing markets in the US, Japan and the UK.

Madeira is one of the great Portuguese wines – here are three to try

  1. Barbeito Rainwater Reserve Madeira

This Madeira is really delicious as a cooking ingredient, but it’s too good not to enjoy on its own. It has a combination of nuttiness and dried citrus flavours with an acidity overtone. This Rainwater blend is medium-dry and relatively light.

  1. H&H 10-Year-Old Sercial Madeira

Madeira has the added advantage of staying fresh for ages, no matter how long it’s been open it will retain its character. And while it’s often assumed this is the same with other fortified wines, Madeira holds up better than Sherry or Port after being open for a while. This longevity is down to the production process that uses heat to age the wine.

  1. Blandy’s Alvada Madeira

This Madeira is rich and sweet and ideal to drink with dessert, showing just how many varieties there are. The high alcohol content of Madeira puts some people off considering it a wine to drink rather than cook with. It goes up to about 19%, but for a sipping dessert wine it’s absolutely perfect. Maybe it’s time Madeira came out of the pantry and went back on the table where it belongs.