Does the Vintage of a Wine Matter? The answer is… it depends.
One of the most widespread misconceptions about wine is that it improves with age. As a rule this is not so, most wines hold their quality for some time but then start to deteriorate.
Choosing wine can be complicated enough without have to remember the vintage. So bear in mind that the vast majority of wine made today is to be consumed between one and three years.
The year or vintage does matter when it comes to the classic wines of the world from France and Italy, which can takes many years if not decades to reach their peak. These are the exception not the rule.
Such fine wines are much more expensive because of low availability and demand is high. The year the grapes are grown is hugely important in determining the quality of the wine and its capacity for ageing. I recently published an article on a vertical tasting of the wines from Clos Rougeard and it was fascinating to see the differences in the wines from year to year.
Most wines will have the vintage printed on the label, indicating the year of the harvest. To ripen properly grapes need a combination of water, sunlight, warmth and cold in the right proportions at the right time. We think of a good year is a when a cold, wet winter is followed by a mild spring and a long dry summer with warm days and cool nights producing wines with a good balance of fruit and acidity. Whereas a bad year is when it is too cold during Springtime or too wet in summer for the grapes to ripen resulting in unbalanced wines.
Where the year on the label or vintage, does matter is for top wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, Rioja and northern Italy, whose wines are highly sought after and where no two years are the same making it very difficult to predict the harvest until the grapes are picked. Here in Spain there is more vintage variation in north west Spain than there is here in the region of Valencia.
When it comes to everyday wines nowadays winemakers aided by technology and the ability to blend wines from different vineyards can produced relatively consistent quality of wine year after year. Consequently there is less vintage variation and the wine should be drunk within the period indicated on the back label.
The quality of younger wines has improved greatly over the last decade. Consumers want the drink wines immediately not store them for many years.
When you pick up a bottle read the back label, normally it will tell you for how long the wine will be at its best.
If you are buying fine wines there will be help at hand from a knowledgable sommelier of person in a wine store.
Finally, whether it be in a restaurant or a shop ask for the latest vintage, particularly when it comes to white wines and rosés.