|Miguel Torres 2009 Sangre de Toro Penedès, Spain (Supplied)
One of the knocks against wine appreciation is there’s too much information. Wine drinkers need to keep tabs on a blizzard of grapes, regions and wineries to be savvy shoppers. Worse, every year they need to refresh that knowledge based on the quality of the vintage.
The vintage date on a bottle identifies that the wine contained was made in a particular year. In truth, it means the majority of it was produced in that year. Depending on the country of origin, producers may use 15 to 25% of wine from another year. The practice is a safety net that allows wineries to, say, add more oomph to red wines grown in a cooler year or brighten up a white wine with the addition of a younger, more vibrant wine just before bottling.
A bottle of Louis Latour 2008 Bourgogne Chardonnay might curl your toes, but the follow-up vintage could leave you cold. The grape’s the same, the region’s the same, the winery’s the same. But something changed from one year to the next.
When a wine region talks about a good or great year, they’re typically saying that the weather was good — the vines and grapes weren’t stressed by inclement weather and the fruit was able to ripen effectively. Ripe fruit makes better wine.
Too much rain, which causes grapes to rot, or too much heat, which causes vines to shut down the ripening process and grapes to become overripe raisins, can cause poor or bad vintages. Frost in the spring or fall can do damage, too, affecting the yield of the grape vines or the quality of the fruit. Pests, humidity and hail can also wreak havoc in the vineyard.
As long as wine is an agricultural product, the weather conditions that shape it are important. That’s why vintage dates matter, especially considering that so many of the world’s best-known wine regions have marginal climates. The quality of wines produced from year-to-year can be variable in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne in France and Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy.
Warmer growing regions, like most of Australia and California, were long considered immune to vintage variations, as it was seemingly always perfectly sunny and warm. But as winemakers there have concerned themselves with producing wines from distinct areas, the style of wine produced is showing slight changes from year to year.
Thankfully, of late, there have been more good vintages than bad from most wine regions. More sophisticated farming practices and winemaking savvy has helped winemakers cope with the challenges that arise over the course of the year. But keep in mind that the vintage on the label helps you unlock a greater understanding of the liquid inside the bottle. It’s a big part of the aromas and flavours that you taste in your glass.
Wines of the Week:
Kim Crawford Wines 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
BC $21.99 (469411) | AB $23 | MB $22 | ON $18.95 (XXXXXX)
Kim Crawford has made a name for itself with its assertive Sauvignon Blanc that delivers a mix of sweet tropical fruit, tart citrus and bold grassy/herbal notes. It’s a style that remains consistent from vintage to vintage, but is best enjoyed young and fresh.
Miguel Torres 2009 Sangre de Toro, Penedès, Spain
BC $13.99 (006585) | AB $16 | MB $13 | ON $11.95 (XXXXXX)
This affordable Spanish red is one of the most reliable in the Torres staple. A traditional-style Grenache-blend, it is a gutsy wine that offers a flavourful and complex blend of bold, jammy fruit and smoky, savoury notes. Decant for best enjoyment and serve with hearty meat dishes or stews.