A VINTAGE WINE PRIMER
Every vintage of every wine comes with its own type, its individual evolution, its price-point, and the reputation that accompanies these bottles. For these reasons, vintage plays a primarily role in the development of a wine’s personality. This notion is so strong that it can even prevail over the concept of a wine’s “cru.” How did this happen? Wine experts note that similarities abound amongst wines of different crus produced in the same year, whereas wines of the same cru yet produced in different vintages show greater differences.
Local climatic conditions are what determines a wines’s final result, so there are never going to be two different vintages with identical characteristics. Thus, a winemaker will never be able to produce “twin” variations of the same wine.
This concept is a testament to the magic of nature that has such a decisive effect on the maturation and ripening of grapes, much more so than on other types of fruit. This could also be possibly thanks to the relatively brief maturation process of grapes, which lasts only about 1.5 months.
During the harvest season, currently taking place in Piedmont at this time of this publication, everything in a vineyard can be compromised by bad weather (as has happened in the past, with sudden hailstorms or unseasonal cold weather). Alternatively, warm conditions with a lot of sun exposure can produce beneficial over-ripening of the grapes.
A stunning vintage can be followed by a terrible vintage, without rhyme or reason, and without any predictability on this issue. While studies abound trying to identify signals, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that today’s climatic changes and conditions will have an effect on the current cycle of vintage production.
Ready to explore a new vintage release? Bolgheri’s got the 2019 ready to review, Bolgheri Wines Back for Previews: Kicking off with 2019.
EXTREME DIFFICULTY IN JUDGING VINTAGES
There’s no question that judiciously evaluating the quality and hierarchy of wine vintages remains a subjective and abstract concept.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental instructions is the need to judge wines retrospectively, trying to imagine them from the beginning of their lives. Possibly even more difficult is the attempt to imagine how a wine will be in the future, as it completes its projected role in more recent vintages.
Following the notion that “there are no more bad vintages, only difficult vintages,” it’s clear that modern wine-making techniques allow wine-makers greater flexibility and coverage to their image as professionals.
Improvements of a technical vantage-point mean that wine-makers can extract the very best elements from an insufficient raw material, allowing an end result that while it might not be the best from that specific wine maker, the end result is typically acceptable.
Common belief however, irregardless of modern wine making techniques, is that the true talent of a wine-maker lies in a difficult raw material: if the wine-maker can create a memorable wine in a notoriously difficult vintage, true talent is irrefutable.
Making a terrific wine in the midst of an alleged great vintage is something that can happen to anyone, by chance, fortuitously. It’s another story to make a great wine when the vintage is reportably terrible.
Part of this wine-making process is the need to change and challenge many people’s (including wine critics and experts) prejudices and preconceptions. If you’re drinking a wine because of its label, and because of the chatter focusing on that wine, you might be one of the people who need to vacillate from your preconceptions of what makes a wine great.
Can a great wine be made from and with a bad vintage? It’s not easy, but it can happen. The occurrence of great wines from bad vintages is frequent enough to lead this taster to believe the matter should be subdivided into distinct chapters.
Focusing on another side of great Italian wines, we’ve got the 2018 Alto Adige vintage to check out, Südtirol 2018 Tasting and Chat with Consorzio Alto-Adige Head.
THE HYPE AROUND GREAT ITALIAN RED WINES
Let’s focus on the great red wines from the equally impressive areas of Tuscany (where we find the Chianti Classico and the Montalcino wines), Piedmont (for its Langhe area), and the Veneto region (home to the Valpolicella area).
Selections such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Amarone (some more and some less, relative to the wines), cannot and must not fear time. These are wines capable of evolving in their bottles, growing in intensity and complexity.
A great vintage accentuates this characteristic, making them even more long-lived. Over the last 20 years, there have been many vintages considered high and very-high level, quality-wise.
The past has not always guaranteed the same success rates. So, which ones we can count on?
2000: great vintage for Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone; excellent for Chianti Classico; good for Brunello
2001: excellent for Chianti Classico, Barolo and Barbaresco; excellent for Brunello; good for Amarone
2002: mediocre for all wines; fair for Chianti Classico; however, very difficult for all wines
2003: excellent for all wines; good for Chianti Classico
2004: excellent for Brunello and Barolo; great for Barbaresco and Chianti Classico; very good for Amarone
2005: excellent for Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello; good for Amarone and Chianti Classico
2006: excellent for all
2007: excellent for all; very good for Brunello
2008: excellent for Amarone, Barolo and Barbaresco; very good for Chianti Classico and Brunello
2009: excellent for Brunello, Amarone and Chianti Classico; good for Barolo and Barbaresco
2010: excellent for Amarone, Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco; excellent for Chianti Classico
2011: excellent for Amarone; good for all the others
2012: excellent for Amarone and Brunello; good for Chianti Classico, Barolo and Barbaresco
2013: excellent for Chianti Classico; excellent for Amarone and Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco
2014: good for Amarone; fair-to-difficult for Brunello and Chianti Classico, Barolo and Barbaresco
2015: excellent for Amarone, Chianti Classico and Brunello; very good for Barolo and Barbaresco
2016: excellent for all; excellent for Amarone
2017: fair and difficult for Chianti Classico and Amarone
2018: excellent for Chianti Classico
2019: excellent for Chianti Classico
Last but not least, how about a foreshadowing of the Brunello 2016 vintage, with a sneak-peak at the Brunello OFF 2021 event, Chats, Sensations and Recollections at the Benvenuto Brunello OFF 2021?
We’ve got a recurring joke about the overuse of the “vintage of the century,” implying there should be only one vintage per generation. But there you have it - more than one as you can see.
My personal favorites include 2010’s Barolo and Barbaresco. I also admire 2006 for Brunello, which allows the wines to reflect velvet-like tannins with a perfect acid-tannic harmony. The vintage also allows for ample aromas, temperament and grace.
2015 I can get behind for Amarone, with the excellent ripeness of its fruit, with a perfect persistence and palatal balance.
2019 instead I admire for Chianti Classico, as the vintage is fresh, with taut acidity and very intense aromas.
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