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!

Beaujolais affected by adverse weather

The weather woes continue for many vineyards across France and Spain, which have been hit by unseasonal weather. Ideal Wine Company discuss the weather conditions hitting Beaujolais.

While the late spring frosts are finally history, unexpected weather conditions are still taking their toll. For example, some of the 2017 Beaujolais harvest looks likely to have been lost following a brutal hailstorm in mid-July.

The summer hailstorm hammered the Beaujolais region, leading to damaged crops and uncertainty for the vineyards. It’s something that will feel familiar to the vineyard owners, who suffered a similar fat in 2016. However, this year’s storms have caused more damage on a wider scale.

Ideal Wine Company damaged vineyards
Adverse weather has hit vineyards across Europe.

Beaujolais Crus worst affected

Situated up in the north, the Beaujolais Crus vineyard looks to have been one of the worst affected. The storm also hit Chiroubles, Morgon, Chenas, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and the north of Régnié.

Fleurie is a picturesque village and was one of the worst hit, with the violence of the winds damaging not only the vineyards, but also many houses. The affect on the infrastructure throughout the villages and towns affected show the extent of the storm and the strength of the winds.

Rarely seen tornado

The president of InterBeaujolais, Dominique Piron, said: “It was a tornado. I have rarely seen this. The small hailstones and the wind have a sandblasting effect on the vines.”

The full extent of the damage is still being assessed, and it’s clear that many vineyards and people have been affected. Dominique added: “In our modern world, it is difficult to accept such a sudden event. But it is unfortunately the lot of those who work with nature.”

Run of bad weather

This year has seen a plethora of destructive weather conditions affecting vineyards across France, Spain and Italy.

Late frosts in May and early June, along with freak storms later on in the summer have led to many crops being affected. It is likely to affect both the price and the amount of wine available on shelves next year, although just how much remains to be seen.

Severe frost scuppers French crops

An almost unprecedented run of plunging temperatures and frosts have hit vineyards across central and northern France. In the worst run of weather in many growers’ memories, vineyards in Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy have reported extensively damaged crops. Ideal Wine Company reviews.

Temperatures took a hit across all three main wine making regions in France in the last week of April. Reports from across the board show extremes of cold ranging from -7C, hitting vines hard and causing untold damage.

Weather earlier this year was much milder, encouraging early growth of fresh vines. This means the vines had taken hold and were well developed by the time the late sharp spring frosts hit, and it may not be over yet. Growers are concerned for their income and fear that another cold snap will bite before the summer arrives.

Ideal Wine Company damaged vineyards
This year’s crops have been severely damaged.

Preventative measures by wine growers

Winemakers have been using heaters, candles and even the heat from helicopter down draughts to desperately try and save their crops. But it looks like the wine harvest from France in 2017 will be one of the smallest in three decades thanks to the poor timing of the coldest weather.

Experts are reporting that the frost damage is definitely already worse than the extensive problems caused by cold weather in 2016, when the total amount of wine produced in France fell by 10 per cent. Last year the wine region of Champagne suffered the most with a 20 per cent drop in wine output and it looks to be facing a larger loss in 2017.

More crops destroyed than last year

Last year the wine region of Champagne suffered the most with a 20 per cent drop in wine output and it looks to be facing a larger loss in 2017. However, this year in Champagne, around 25 per cent of vines have been completely destroyed already, compared with 14 per cent at this time last year. And that is a conservative estimate according to experts, meaning the damage could be even more extensive.

In Bordeaux it seems there’s even worse news, with estimates coming in of several thousand hectares of destroyed vineyards thanks to the frosts. Some have been damaged between 50 and 100 per cent. Patrick Vasseur from FNSEA, the largest farm union in France, said: “Today we are likely seeing the most important freeze since 1991. And there are more frosts forecast.”

The Cognac vineyard has been similarly damaged and some vineyards were simply completely wiped out in Bugey, near Lyon. In general, low lying vineyards have been the worst affected, as cold air settles low down and therefore they’re more open to frost damage.

It’s not possible to gauge the exact range of damage as it’s unclear until shoots blacken and die. Growers are continuing to take precautions as they wait to see whether the worst is over.

Bordeaux vs Burgundy: what you need to know

If you’re new to the French wine culture, fear not as Ideal Wine Company unravel the discussion that is Bordeaux vs Burgundy. Both Bordeaux and Burgundy are French wines, from two of the world’s most influential and distinct wine making regions.

Bordeaux and Burgundy are two of the greatest wine making traditions in alcoholic grape juice history. The ongoing battle over which is more superior to the other still influences many wine lover’s choices, but what is the true difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy?

Bordeaux

Wine bottles
What’s the best choice?

Bordeaux is a polished, righteous wine with blends of Cabernet and Merlot. Bordeaux, much like Burgundy, has an iconic bottle shape of high right-angled shoulders.

The Bordeaux wine region was founded by the Romans, as a port city it boasts access to trade and wine distribution. It has its famous left and right banks and five classifications, it is best known for its red wine (typically Cabernet-Merlot based wines). These red wines are then able to be blended with support from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec – white Bordeaux is made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Burgundy

Burgundy is a finicky, sublime Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine – along with Bordeaux wine it also has an iconic bottle shape of a sloping hunch. Burgundy is a land-locked area in France’s north-eastern region; Burgundy has 74,000 acres of vineyards to Bordeaux’s 300,000. Burgundy has Grand, Premier Cru and Villages designations which are smaller family-owned operations which make up a large proportion of the regions vineyards.

Burgundy also includes Chablis and Beaujolais; however, each region has a distinctive style that separates it. Burgundy is well known for both its white and red wine with the main grape varieties being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Wines of the Beaujolais are not typically held in high esteem however many of the Cru Beaujolais wines are considered of good quality.

So, which is better?

Neither wine is considered worse than the other, in fact it is simply down to personal preference and taste. Bordeaux is a formerly popular wine that is being challenged by Burgundy the new rising star of French wines. Bordeaux has been open to heavy foreign investments, whereas Burgundy is family owned.

Due to the increasing popularity of Bordeaux, the price of the wine became expensive due to popular demand; now it seems Burgundy is heading in the same direction – opening itself up to foreign investment.

If you’re inspired to try out a Bordeaux or Burgundy wine, visit Ideal Wine Company’s Bordeaux and Burgundy ranges on our website.

Who’s the Biggest Wine Producer in the World?

New data has told the Ideal Wine Company team that France has been displaced as the largest wine producer in the world. So who’s taken their crown?

Wine capital

France is regarded as the most important wine making region in the world. Our neighbours across the English Channel have developed a reputation for creating superior vintages, especially in the regions of Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. If you want to experience an outstanding Burgundy, you should purchase the Chambertin Potel 2005 from the Ideal Wine Company.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn, then, that France was the most prolific maker of wine in the world in 2014. Statistics from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) suggests that French wine production will increase by 1.2%, to 47.4 million hectolitres, in 2015.

New champion

This means, however, that France will no longer hold the title of the largest wine producer in the world. That honour will go to their neighbour to the South-East, Italy. Bloomberg reported that the OIV’s figures indicated that Italian wine production will increase 10%, to 48.9 hectolitres, this year.

The Organisation revealed that this impressive growth will be spurred by the rebounding fortunes of Prosecco and Chianti, two of the peninsula-nation’s most famous wine products. Carla di Paola, Italy’s representative with the OIV commented that “wine is part of our tradition, being number one is important.”

Rough numbers

The OIV’s numbers went on to show that the Northern Hemisphere is set to enjoy strong wine production figures this year. Their projections indicate that Spain will be the third largest wine produced in the world; the Iberian nation’s wine production, however, will drop 4.2% to 36.6 million hectolitres in 2015. Meanwhile the US’ wine production will rise 0.5%, to 22.1 million, by the end of the year.

Jean-Marie Aurand, director general at the OIV was quick to point out in a meeting with reporters, that these figures are only rough. Aurand said that “we’re only just finishing the harvests in the Northern Hemisphere, so these numbers are preliminary;” we won’t have access to more exact figures for a long while yet.

Buy Italian wine

The OIV’s numbers, rough as they are at this stage, have shown us that Italian wine is incredibly popular right now. If you want to learn why, you should buy the Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT 1990, a phenomenal Italian vintage, from the Ideal Wine Company, and try some for yourself!