Grapes are an agricultural product—world’s most planted fruit crop. As every farmer and backyard gardener knows, weather affects quality.
Rain just before harvest can bloat grapes, diluting flavor. Hot years lower acidity, facilitating flabby wines. Cool, rainy years encourage acidity, shaping sharp, harsh wines.
Some years everything is right. Not too hot. Not too cool. Right-time rain. Wonderful harvests, perfect grapes, epic wines.
That’s why wineries traditionally put the harvest year—“vintage”—on the label.
Vintage was key quality indicator when winemakers toiled under weather’s tyranny. Bordeaux one year could be sublime; same vine next year—plonk. Happily, not so much today.
In the New World and Australia, weather is less erratic than in Europe. Irrigation delivers dependable water. Wine science outwits wine’s despoilers. Voila! We enjoy more quality wine than ever before.
Frank J. Prial, respected New York Times wine columnist: “…in the cellar and the vineyard, the winemakers of the world have rendered the vintage chart obsolete.”
Today, vintage often is more important as measure of wine’s age. Many reds benefit from bottle aging. Many whites are best young. Vintage helps you know when to pull cork or twist screwcap. That is why this column’s recommendations typically do not note vintage.
While less important than before, vintage is not meaningless—as we explore next week.
• Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red Wine. Easygoing Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Barbera and other grapes, huge value. Washington. $8
• Marietta Old Vine Red. Zin dances with Carigane and Petite Sirah. Dense, lush, jammy. California. $13
• Tamarack Firehouse Red. Raspberry, currant, mocha, pepper, eight different grapes; wow. Washington. $19