Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 30th 2014 Contents |WINE|
MY DECISION to write on wine vintage is a result of
the many questions asked over the years in this busi-
ness, and more so since I began writing here. I would
like to give some perspective for our wine drinkers this
week. Every year Wine Spectator and other wine mag-
azines publish reports on vintages, but most con-
sumers do not pay much attention to them. If they like
a wine, some wine drinkers will drink it year after year
not noticing any difference, except maybe that the year
on the label has changed. And what's wrong with that?
I am always of the view that wine is to be drunk and
enjoyed; once that has happened, what is the point of
WHAT IS VINTAGE?
Vintage in the world of wine refers to the year that the
grape was harvested, and is a critical clue in determining
if a wine meets expectations or not. The vintage year is
one of the key pieces of information that you can expect
to find on a wine label. Every year a wine producer can
make a wine with the same grape from the same vine-
yard with the same production techniques, and then one
year... boom!... the wine is completely different from all
the other years. This has to do with weather, the main
factor for vintages. Wine magazine, Wine Spectator ear-
lier this year spoke about America's West Coast wine-
makers reporting a great year for 2013 --- as promising
as 2012. However, in many parts of Europe, it's quite an-
other story --- another year of challenging climate con-
ditions and low yields.
Should vintage be so troubling? Consider the reason
behind giving wines vintage dates in the first place.
Part of the premise of vintage dating is that, as a rule,
and especially in the Old World, weather is not on a
grapevine's side. Historically, listing the vintage was a
way of alerting consumers to certain years when bad
weather led to wines that were disappointingly thin.
Such wines would generally be priced cheaply People
would drink the poor vintages until a better vintage
came along, but no one would buy up cases of the wine
Winemakers played a very small role in this yearly
drama. No matter how talented they were, Nature al-
ways had the upper hand and final say. From both the
winemakers' and the wine drinkers' standpoints, vin-
tages had to be accepted for what they were. However,
in the last 25-plus years, the picture has changed. Both
winemaking technology and viticulture science have
advanced to such a degree that talented winemakers
can sometime turn out fairly delicious wines even
when Nature is working against them. The fact is, cli-
mate can now have a less detrimental impact on the
final wine than it once did.
This is not to say vintages do not matter; they do. Or
that wines taste the same every year; clearly they do
not. But given the extraordinary knowledge, skill and
access to advanced technology that wine makers now
have, vintage differences are often differences in char-
acter. For example, in a hot year many wines will be
packed with big jammy fruit flavours. In a cool year the
wines will tend to be more austere, lighter in body and
possibly more elegant.
Are any of these qualities terrible? Isn't it at least the-
oretically possible to like both kinds of wines? Unfor-
tunately, vintage assessments assume that for all wine
and wine drinkers everywhere, greatness comes in one
form: bigness. But that is simply not true.
There is another problem: Vintages are categorised by
the media once, when the new wine is tasted in the
spring following harvest. Wine, however, changes over
time. There are many examples of vintages deemed
magnificent at first, only to be later declared not as
good as originally thought, as well as there is the op-
posite: vintages proclaimed average at first and then
latter awarded praise. From a wine drinker's standpoint,
what is the point of memorising the pluses and mi-
nuses of vintages if the pluses and minuses change?
Take the vintage chart with the proverbial grain of salt,
Remember that wines evolve and that one-shot vin-
tage proclamations are entirely too superficial. Re-
member also, that talented winemakers can surprise
us, even when Nature has worked against them.
WHAT ARE "NON-VINTAGE WINES?
Most sparkling wines and fortified wines are classified
as non-vintage wines, because they are typically a
blend of various vintages. This blending is a technique
used by winemakers to try and get very consistent
wine styles from year to year. In exceptional years, a
vintage Champagne or Port will debut due to ideal
growing conditions; this is what the French refer to so
lovingly as terrior.
Now that you are armed with basic wine knowledge,
some wine shopping tips, go forth and shop, you can
now stop in the aisles and ponder about vintages, too.
Now, we are naturally progressing, classroom style, into
the best part --- actual tasting. In the coming weeks we
will go through some basic wine tasting techniques
that should assist you in maximizing your love affair
with the world's most captivating drink. However, be-
fore we get there, I will be exploring Canada's wine
country, and sharing with you experiences from my
visit late last year, and yes --- Canada is much more
than Ice wines.
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