With the growing concern of an ‘international wine style’ looming over enthusiastic imbibers everywhere, I’d like to ask the question: What does the vintage on a bottle mean to you? Perhaps nothing – which is fine; realistically, the year on the label has little in the way of effect or influence on much of the wine sold at the LCBO.
Many wineries target a reliable and recognizable style from one year to the next, a wine which offers casual enjoyment and a refreshingly familiar taste with each vintage. In essence, that is also the marketing strategy behind non-vintage Champagne and sparkling wine. The consistency in still wine, while somewhat more understated, is equally effective nonetheless, i.e. Fuzion, Two Oceans, the stuff in tetra-packs… etc.
The other side of the coin (and we’re talking about the ‘cork dork’ crowd ~ like me…) is that regional climate patterns have a profound effect on the resultant wines in a given year (at a certain level of quality), which evokes a degree of fascination and awareness. Vintage variation is also the subject of endless debate, the source of unimaginable profit which unfortunately introduces temptation and scandal among the most prestigious labels and collectors. Just this week, a French négociant firm was exposed for pouring cheap plonk wine into Burgundy bottles only to pawn it to the tune of millions under counterfeit expensive labels.
The vintage on a label literally indicates the year in which the fruit was harvested (ice-wine being the only exception, in some cases). It is also worth noting that the vintage does not identify the date which the contents was bottled; that may be several years later depending on the style and region. The importance of the vintage derives from the fact that environmental conditions in many growing areas vary dramatically from one year to the next. Variable weather patterns directly affect the ripeness and quality of the fruit; better fruit equals finer wine – sort of. Keep in mind that no matter how well Mother Nature blesses (or curses) a vineyard, the resultant wine is a product of its environment which includes the activity within the walls of the winery as well. Indeed, the technology exists to manipulate wine and stretch its boundaries in every conceivable direction, but such artificial influence also strips a wine of its individuality, resulting in examples that are strangely out of place, obtuse, or shockingly similar in the glass. I prefer something slightly more unique.
Having said all that, I am sure that the folks attending your backyard summer bash are unlikely to care if the wine is labelled 2008 or 2009. Nor will it matter if the vino underwent cold stabilization prior to bottling – sometimes these things are better left unaddressed. Invite a few wine-savvy friends over for a fancy dinner on the other hand, and serve them a discounted bottle from a poor vintage, and you might just find yourself on the receiving end of a few sarcastic jabs.
Should you wish to explore vintage variation in further detail, I have linked the North of 9 Fine Wine Vintage Chart for your convenience: northof9finewine.blogspot.ca
[Image: Flickr user arrScott]