Wine Tips & Tricks

What You Need To Know About Vintage Variation

What is Vintage Variation and Why Does it Matter?

Did you know wine can vary greatly from one year to another? This is called vintage variation and it affects certain wines and growing regions more than others. Cooler climates and regions with higher variable weather tend to have greater variation between vintages. So how do you know what the ‘best vintages’ are?

An industry hinges on inclement weather

 

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Vintaged Goods

Imagine buying vintage dated canola oil or hearing someone refer to the great clover honey of 2002. No other food seems to be as helpless to inclement weather than the wine industry. It is bizarre that the potential of a wine hinges on the growing conditions for that year. It’s time to learn what vintage variation means and how to find the best vintages.


 

Vintage Variation Definition

Vintage variation is simply the difference in how a wine tastes from year to year based on the weather’s influence on the grapes during a growing season. Wine regions throughout the world with higher variable climates tend to have more extreme vintage variation. Poorly timed bad weather can have a devastating effect on the wine for that year.

Climate Indicators of a Bad Vintage
  • Rain at the end of a growing season can lead to watery grapes with less flavor.
  • Frost at the beginning of the season can kill the precious flowering buds that grow into grapes.
  • A damp early season affects young vines that don’t photosynthesize properly and can cause shatter (in French it’s called Coulore) which reduces the grape crop.
Blatantly Oversimplified Vintage Chart

It’s important to remember that some producers, vineyards, and varietals are better equipped to handle climate change than others. This handy little vintage chart covers the vintage variation based on the climate conditions for Northern Italy, France, Oregon, Washington, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina for the following vintages: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011

Vintage Variation Chart - pretty much says it all..

 

The Most Volatile Climate Conditions


It’s a little ironic that the birthplace of modern fine wine (France) also tends to have the hightest vintage variation.
  • Northern Italy
  • France
  • New Zealand
  • Chile
  • Oregon & Washington State


 

Vintage Variation Pro-Tips

  • Since the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere are 6 months apart, it is not uncommon to see a bad vintage in France and a great vintage in Australia.
  • A bad vintage for red wines sometimes means a good vintage for white wines. A cooler vintage develops white wines with crisp acidity.
  • If you’ve always liked bigger and more jammy wines but want to try something new from a cooler climate such as France or Oregon, try a hotter vintage.
  • Sometimes it takes a vintage a lot longer to come around. If you’re sitting on a good wine from a less-than-stellar vintage, try waiting. Check out the post on what makes a wine age-worthy for more details.

About Madeline Puckette

I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly