Interesting article in the weekend paper regarding whether the vintage of a wine really matters all that much. The answer has always been a no brainer to me – duh, yes! – but after further thought…
Now don’t get me wrong. I think vintage can be critical in wine areas with big variations in climate. Sun, rain, temperature – the right mix is critical. If the fruit isn’t ripe, you just can’t make a great wine (and sometimes not even a good one).
Here in BC, we are coming off a string of good weather vintages, but 2011 did not have good weather, and you can taste it in many of the red wines. They are thin, a bit green, too tannic for the fruit.
Interestingly, though, my favourite producers fared way better! La Frenz, Blue Mountain, Kettle Valley, Nichol – all of their best wines were still very good. Is the fruit a bit lighter than usual? In some of them, perhaps. But it is still ripe, a real credit to the winemakers. And for some – like the La Frenz Merlot and Grand Total Reserve – the wines were amazing, and hard to distinguish from other vintages.
I put it down to winemaking, style and quality of grapes. If you have those, I think you can overcome almost anything (short of no sun or all rain, of course!).
I do have a beef with vintage variation in these kinds of areas, however, and that is around price! Bordeaux is the perfect example. While I am not a fan – in general – with that style of wine, what I get more vexed about is how in ‘lesser’ vintages the prices don’t change very much! Surely a lower quality wine should cost less…but that rarely happens.
What I respect much more is when some producers actually don’t make a wine, or else ‘declassify’ it into a less prestigious (and expensive) version. Now that makes sense!
Another vintage question I thought about was the regions with much more constant weather. Australia? Southern California? Even the south of France? One would think that it shouldn’t matter from year to year, at least as much?
In general, my experience is “yes”. But, again, my favourite wineries seem to always make better wines regardless, although lesser producers — or perhaps more producers – make more better wines in better years (if that is grammatically correct).
So, in the end, does vintage matter?
My answer is still ‘yes’, but with a big caveat. The best winemakers can still make good wine (at least) in a so called ‘bad’ year. So look for that. But the rest? Buyer beware!