By: George Balling
Vintage has always mattered and it still does. The very best winemakers are able to adapt to the sometimes wild swings in growing conditions year to year, but a good year like a tide will “rise all boats”. Vintage is a great way to choose a good wine when the producers you find in a shop or on a wine list are unfamiliar. While we all have our favorite winemakers, it helps to know the great vintages, if you are faced with the option of multiple years from your favorite winery picking the best year will never be the wrong choice.
Europe has been in an amazing run of vintages from 2015 through 2020. Virtually every wine producing region in the “Old World” has turned out amazing wine year after year during this stretch. The real challenge is to come though as the 2021 growing year across Europe has been pretty much a disaster. From spring frost and hail storms to ill timed rains through out the summer and into harvest it will be tough to find really great wines from Europe made in 2021. The perhaps ironic good news is due to the grape crop damage it will be a small crop so the wines when released will not be around for long.
There are two really great years recently that are important to keep in mind as they weren’t just great here or there. They were fabulous across most every appellation of the Northern Hemisphere! 2015 and 2018 are vintages you can buy with confidence with just about any wine. While 2015s are becoming rare to find on the market we are just beginning to see the release of the 2018s and as we taste them, I have to say I haven’t tasted a bad wine yet.
We heard this week of the first “adjustment” in winery behavior from the disastrous 2020 vintage in Northern California. 2020 is the year that the devastating fires destroyed virtually the entire grape crop in Napa and Sonoma Counties. We received word this week from one of our favorite high-end producers that they were releasing limited quantities of their 2018 and 2019 wines to ensure they would have enough from those two years to keep a presence in the market until their 2021 wines are ready to go. While we expect many different approaches for wineries to stay relevant with no 2020 wine to work with this is the first time, we heard of how a winery was adapting to a tough situation.
While we are on the subject of fire altered years, we have started to see more and more red wine from Northern California from the 2017 vintage. In 2017 the fires started near the end of September and burned into October. While much of the harvest was completed by the time the fires started in 2017 there was still fruit hanging as the fires burned. For the first time this week we were sampled on a wine that was showing a bit of smoke taint. We suspect it won’t be the last. We continue to urge consumers to exercise caution when it comes to wines from all over the Western US as they purchase wines from years that experienced wide spread fire.
On a bright note, most of the west has been getting hammered with rain and snow this winter which bodes well for water levels in all growing regions. While winemakers know how to adapt to dry years better than most any profession it is good to see reservoirs filling as we approach the 2022 growing year.
We have recently heard and read about new appellations being developed where they did not previously exist. So, the story goes that they are now viable for grape growing due to global warming. We are a bit skeptical that any of the wonderful grape growing regions will soon be replaced by some of the areas being bantered about as the next great source for wine. Places like France, Italy and Spain and other Mediterranean countries in Europe make some of the best wine in the world for a reason. Similarly, Napa and Sonoma, Walla Walla, Yakima and the Willamette Valley have the reputation for delicious wine that is well earned and enduring. All of these places and others like them will continue to sit atop the hill in wine producing regardless of year-to-year swings in climate. We urge caution when it comes to the new great wine region where wine was never made before. It wasn’t and won’t be made there for a reason.
Stop by the shop with all of your vintage related questions and we will give you the latest scoop on the good and not so good years.