The Difference Between a Good Wine and a Great Wine – Part 4


Wine Wednesday: The Difference Between a Good Wine & a Great Wine…

In the past few weeks, we’ve been examining five reasons that differentiate a good wine from a great wine:

1) Terroir

2) Age of the Vines

3) Yield of the Vine

Today we are on #4:

The Vintage

A wine’s vintage is the year that the grapes were harvested. This is usually in the late summer or early fall, when the grapes are ripe. For this reason, wines produced from grapes harvested in the Southern Hemisphere are generally six months older than those harvested in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s a little bit of trivia for you today. You’re welcome.

Why does vintage matter? Well, while the grapes and the land of any particular vineyard rarely change, the weather conditions vary from year to year. And if the weather conditions vary, so will the quality of the wine! The amount of sun, rain, wind, fog, frost and other weather-related factors can alter how the grapes ripen on the vine. For this reason, top quality wines are often rated according to their vintage and these ratings are great indicators of both quality and price.

If we are talking mass-produced wines, vintage does not always matter. Producers of wines that you can find when you step into nearly any wine shop across the U.S. are not concerned with vintages. They are more concerned with producing a consistent product. You will often see “Vintner’s Blend” or something of the sort on the label. This means that the mix of grapes and locale where the grapes came from are not as important and may vary from year to year. In my opinion, while these wines can be enjoyable, they often lack character.

On the other hand, winemakers that strive to produce the best wine based on what that year’s conditions produced can be considered artists. It can be quite difficult if the weather conditions left you with a less than desirable crop.

So what vintages are best? That depends on the region.

The thing is, most people don’t know what vintages are best, unless they love wines from a particular region or are collecting. However, do you remember a wine that you thought was phenomenal and had a hard time finding when you went in search of it? When you finally found it, you got excited! You picked up or ordered a bottle online, but once uncorked: meh… It wasn’t as you remembered.

This happened to my friend Ceci and I. We went out for dinner at tapas restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. We were excited not only to enjoy each other’s company, but also because tapas aren’t exactly at the top of our husbands’ lists. We perused the wine list and asked the server for recommendations. One particular red wine she described as being bold with deep espresso and cocoa notes, along with other adjectives that had us drooling . We both looked at each other with eyes that said, “YES! That one!

It was one of the best wines I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

The next week, I spent hours in search of it. I finally found it online for about $30/bottle. I bought three bottles to make the most of the shipping cost and brought one over to Ceci’s place the next time we were over for dinner.

We were so excited!

We opened it.

We tasted it.


We let it breathe.

We tasted it again.

It was just not the same!

We were disappointed.

Maybe it was the ambiance that night that wooed us, not the wine? Could it have been the fact that we were pairing a Spanish wine so suggestively described by our server? Perhaps it was the fact that it was a giggly girls’ night out and we just got to enjoy ourselves and catch up over the one thing that brought us together in the first place – wine?

But I truly believe that wasn’t it. {My husband would argue this one though!} I called the restaurant to ask about the wine and found out… we had the wrong vintage. Unfortunately, I was never able to find that vintage again.

So we will never know for sure…

That being said, a few years back, I was into 2001 California Cabernets and pretty much anything from 2005 worldwide. However, a vintage is only good until it peaks. Just because X year was a good year, it doesn’t mean the wine will be good if you open it 2000 years from now. 😉 Did you know that MOST wines are not meant to age? But I digress…

For fun, here are some current Vintage Charts:

World Wide: 2000 – 2005

Great Older Vintages: Top Wines, Top Years

Robert Parker

Drink now or hold – love this one!

Yeah, these charts are for wines from well-known regions where terroir rules anyway. Some only collectors can afford. However, take a look at the charts and use them as general guide to help you find great values in lesser known, but nearby regions as well!

Champagne is a different story. Most Champagnes (bubbly that must come from the Champagne region of France and adhere to high standards) are non-vintage. Wineries will blend several vintages to make their “house style” for their brand. However, in a year with exceptional conditions, a vintage Champagne will be made. These Champagnes can often age and also carry heftier price tags than the rest.

So start paying attention to vintages now. And look for wines that are from smaller regions and appellations (i.e Dry Creek Valley vs. just California). You might find you favor one year over another. If you see a price difference, it just might have to do with the quality of the vintage.

Do you have any favorite vintages for any particular wines or wines from specific regions?

If so, please share!


“Over a bottle of wine, many a friend is made…” Unknown

One response »

  1. Pingback: The Difference Between a Good Wine and a Great Wine – Part 5 « Season It Already!

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