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!

What Happens To Wine As It Ages

We’ve all heard that old saying, “wine gets better with age.” Have you ever wondered why over time, the aromas, flavours and colours of wine undergoes complex changes, turning into something entirely new? To provide some insight, Ideal Wine Company explains what happens to wine as it ages?

Constantly changing

Industry expert Anne Krebiehl MW recently explained the wine aging process to Decanter. She described wine as a kaleidoscope, where the same components continually form new images. At varying speeds and combinations, the different elements of wine connect, disband, break down, hydrolyse and then reconnect again, creating constant changes in our favourite tipple over time.

Developing tastes

With this process, no wine will taste the same at any two points. When it comes to how different tastes develop, we know that they emerge due to the above described process, but little else. We still don’t understand, for instance, why hints of herb, petals, mushrooms honey, stone or earth may suddenly appear in a wine, or how fresh flavours can evolve to evoke dried or even candied fruits.

Aging reds

But we do know something about how age can alter a wine’s character. Take red wines like the Chateau Haut Brion 1996, a beautiful Bordeaux you can buy from Ideal Wine Company, for example. Over time in the “phenolic compounds” in these wines de-nature, creating long chains. This reduces the wine’s surface area, decreasing its astringency, allowing reds to become smoother over time. Sometimes, these chains also become so large, that they create sediment in wine.

Changing colours

The passage of time can also have a dramatic impact on the shade of wine. New whites typically possess a straw hue but as the days roll by, they become increasingly golden, before turning amber. Meanwhile, red wines are often crimson or purple at first. However, as they age, these products transition into fantastic shades of garnet and vermillion, reflecting their changing flavour profiles.

Going off

Does this mean that wine always tastes better with age?  Not necessarily. The higher quality the wine, the more likely its taste is to improve with age, so it’s always wise to buy fine wines. But wines can go off  when they’re exposed air, breeding bacteria that kick-start oxidisation. This is a big problem for wines with corks, which have little holes that let air inside the bottle, facilitating oxidisation.

Wine storage

So basically, it is key that as a wine collector, you learn how to store wine, so that it can benefit from, rather than suffer under, the aging process. It is wise to create your own wine cellar, with the appropriate temperature and ideal humidity for wine storage. Also remember to store wines with corks in them on their side, so the liquid can block these little holes, ensuring air cannot seep inside.

Taste the age of your wine with this device

Rapidly advancing technology is increasingly allowing wine-makers to improve the quality of their products. New reports show that recently, an ‘electronic tongue’ was created which can determine the age and quality of wine on an industrial scale, ensuring customers receive high quality bottles.

Electronic tongue

This ‘electronic tongue’ was invented by researchers from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute, with the team being led by Research Associate Dr Xavier Ceto Alseda. The team claim that this device, which is made from gold, platinum and carbon electrodes, can accurately determine the age and quality of wine, even showing the type of barrel it was aged in.

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