The Vintage Chart
When becoming fairly interested in wines, we frequently rely upon the vintage of wine to build a cellar, especially when one wishes to age the wine and embark on the wine tasting adventure.
One may more simply be curious to know the ranking of a vintage which corresponds to a year of birth or to a wedding anniversary. One may also inherit a cellar and search to find out whether its wines can still provide intense pleasures or if they can be resold at an attractive price for those who decide to not keep this gift.
But what does this vintage mean?
It must correspond to the year the grapes were harvested and nothing else. If a wine is aged in barrels for 18 months and bottled two years after the grape harvest, the vintage remains that of the grape harvest and not of the bottling. It is not mandatory for a bottle to include this vintage reference. It is also authorized and widely practiced to make wine blends which combine two different vintages and more. But within the following limitation: in order to display the 2016 vintage, for example, at least 85% of the wine must come from the 2016 harvest. For the remaining 15%, all mixtures are allowed as long as the mixture only contains one and the same appellation. This freedom allows, amongst other things, to give a wine of a specific property a more regular profile which will make it fairly more homogeneous from one year to the next, so as not to disappoint too much during difficult years.
What is a good vintage?
The quality of a vintage mainly varies due to climate factors over the 4 seasons of a vinicultural year and the ripening of the berries.
Long vintages are often difficult: in fact, the longer the harvest is delayed, the higher the risk of climate issues at the end of the cycle altering the nature of the wine. Vintages of heat-wave years are also more complicated: the extreme heat induces the blocking of the ripening, producing wines which have low acidity and are warm and heavy. But the quality of a vintage may also vary from one micro-region to another, from one vineyard to another, from one grape variety to another, etc…
Apart from situations related to climate disasters (hail, violent thunderstorms, hurricanes…) which can decimate a vineyard in a few minutes and are unfortunately hard to predict and even harder to counter, the quality of a vintage also greatly depends on the know-how of each winemaker and each stage of the winemaking process. For this reason, the NICOLAS selection process aims to recognize the best wines even in a year that will not have the best factors.
In general, a "good year" is a year marked by a cold winter, a mild and moderately rainy spring to maintain good sanitary conditions and a sunny summer but cool enough at nights to limit the water stress. Adding one day to the 3 to 4 weeks before harvest is definitely a plus! The vineyard does not appreciate lacking water despite its hardiness nor hot and humid environments which favour grey mould.
Following everything aforementioned, one must therefore comprehend that vintage charts should be considered with hindsight. Small vintage charts offer very pleasant young drinks, which are easier to access. If they lose their aging capacity they are appreciated for other qualities, especially the price which is often also more moderate!
And what about the tasting of the first ones which are the standard measure for a vintage ranking? Indeed, this tasting is done on wines taken from barrels or from tanks which may still evolve during their aging. At NICOLAS, we store these wines after extraction in a sample library to review them throughout their development for 5 years. Although our initial tasting will be made using a “baby” wine which can still promise many things.