A wine vintage explained: it doesn’t guarantee quality

I’M a woman of a certain vintage. Which means I still have a soft spot for David Cassidy, despite the fact he’s gone a bit off the rails lately.

I can sing all the words to Barbados by Typically Tropical and I know the correct dance moves to Come On Eileen. I pogoed to Going Underground by The Jam and then spent two weeks off work with a sprained ankle.

I even own K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits record. (I asked workpals if they recalled K-Tel. One asked who she was; another asked what a record was.)

K-Tel 20 Power Hits
K-Tel 20 Power Hits. Yes I am ashamed.

You may say this is nothing to be proud of. I can’t deny it. Good or bad, I’m a certain vintage.

But that’s just it. A vintage isn’t always perfect. In fact, in the wine world, don’t get carried away that a wine will be really good just because it declares itself a vintage.

What exactly is a vintage? It indicates the year that the grapes were grown and harvested. You’ll see the year on the label.

If you see NV on a label, it means simply that a wine is non-vintage, that it is blended from grapes harvested in different years.

Don’t underestimate a non-vintage wine. Winemakers can blend “reserve wines” from previous years with the latest harvest to maintain house style. The proportion of the blending may vary from year to year, depending on the quality of any particular harvest.

This is common in Old World wines – especially Champagne – where the weather patterns of our dear old European summers can seriously affect the quality of the grapes.

Hail-damaged grapes in Entre deux Mers in 2013
Hail-damaged grapes in Entre deux Mers in 2013

Hail, rain, winds, cool or overhot seasons all make a difference. So a vintage one year may not be as good as another purely because of the weather conditions. If you read “XYZ Year is a good vintage” it means that all conditions must have swung in the favour of the winemakers … but another XYZ Year will still be a vintage by default, but not a good wine. Follow?

Vintage Champagnes are made when there’s a good year, but even then winemakers can only use 80% of that year’s grapes in a blend to make sure there’s enough wine in reserve. Confused? Open some wine.

New World wine vintages, where grapes grow in fairly consistent conditions from one year to the next, maintain the same standard. So if you buy a wine from Chile for example, no matter what the year, you can be pretty sure it will be there or thereabouts the same quality wine as in previous years.

A quick word though, if you buy a 2010 something, or a 2012 something else, check on the label when it should be drunk. You might be proud of the bottle bearing a certain year in your wine rack, but it’s no good if it’s gone past its best. It’s there to enjoy.


Beronia Crianza Rioja wine review
Beronia Crianza Rioja

Smooth is the adjective trotted out most when it comes to Beronia Crianza. Though sometimes smooth is just a kind word wine critics use instead of bland.

Bland though, this Rioja, definitely isn’t. It was choc-full of fruit and, well, choc. It was a great slump-on-couch-thank-goodness-it’s-Friday glass, but was equally satisfying with a piece of beef on Sunday lunchtime.

Bodegas Beronia has launched the Beronia Txoko Club to celebrate its love of combining food and wines. For recipes and more, visit the Facebook page Beronia Txoko UK or follow on Twitter @BeroniaTxoko.

This wine is now available at Waitrose for £10.69 and can be kept for two years.

As if.

Published in the saturday extra magazine July 12   2014