Beware the hyped vintages, seek out neighbouring vintages and learn what you need to know about how weather affects the grapes and the winesby Barry Smith / April 24, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Do vintages still matter, or is it reasonable to suppose that modern techniques of wine-making, in the field and in the cellar, will smooth out the difficulties of each season? Large-scale industrial wineries try to achieve a constant flavour for each bottle, often to please supermarkets who aim to provide a consistent product. But handmade wines of quality continue to show differences from year to year.
Vintages lock in the characteristics of weather in a given season. The carefully-documented records of harvests going back to the medieval period in Burgundy provide a wonderful resource for those studying climate change. The vines have seen it all. They store up their secrets and release their bounty, in different measure, year after year.
It’s hard to generalise about any given vintage, though. Individual producers from the same region will handle the vagaries of the weather differently. Nevertheless, there are some key factors that mark out a vintage as being lean, or ripe, or even extreme.
The 2003 vintage in France, for instance, was highly unusual. That was the year when temperatures soared to 40 degrees in Paris and stayed there for weeks on end. The exposed grapes were often burned by the sun, and although there was ripeness, there was a marked decrease in acidity. The need to harvest the grapes quickly caused panic in France as all regions needed pickers at the same time, in contrast to the usual pattern where casual workers begin in the south and work their way north. Producers in Burgundy were seen hiring refrigerated icecream trucks to transport the freshly picked grapes safely from the vineyards to the wineries.
Results were mixed. Some fared well, while others failed to guard any freshness in their wines. Several critics declared it an outstanding vintage in Bordeaux, but only time will tell if these wines will develop well with age. What we can say with certainty is that any bottle from the 2003 vintage will differ markedly from other vi…