Thinking About the Importance of Vintages

By John ~ March 19th, 2010.

Recently, I’ve read posts from wine writers whose opinions I respect (Paul Gregutt and 1WineDude) discussing and mostly panning the importance of “vintage” in today’s wine world. Those posts got me thinking more about the issue and whether or not I find “vintage” as important as I used to.

What causes vintage variation? I believe the main cause is the weather: temperature, water, and sunshine. Can we control any of those any more today than we used to? Certainly we cannot control temperature, but to some extent good vineyard management can minimize the effects of sunshine variation, and with irrigation we can control water in some places such as here in the state of Washington. Today we also have tools in the winemaking process that can reduce vintage variation, but this presupposes that you have great winemaking skills, which is certainly not always the case.

So I’d have to say that I believe that “vintage” is still important, but maybe not as important as it was 50 years ago. Almost anyone can make good wine in a perfect weather year. However, in a challenging weather year, grapes from the well-managed vineyards that are going to producers with great winemaking skills can still result in great wine. But grapes from marginally managed vineyards going to mediocre winemakers aren’t likely to result in even good, much less great, wine.

Here’s how I would recommend that consumers use vintage ratings:

  1. What is generally regarded as a mediocre or poor vintage year is the year that you can use to identify the truly great winemakers, the ones whose wine you want to buy every year.
  2. In a great weather year, the wine consumer is in the catbird seat, because virtually everyone is making good wine, and you can find great values (more wines with good QPR) from more producers.

Two final points on the subject: I generally ignore vintage information from winery PR folks, because according to them everything is great at their winery all the time, every vintage. However, I have found vintage information from the major wine review publications helpful, and use them as I described previously.

As far as I’m concerned, “vintage” is still important.

Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. John Camacho | March 19th, 2010 at 7:26 am

    can you recommend a good website where i can look up vintages and what the weather was like for that particular year.

    Thank you

  2. John | March 19th, 2010 at 9:33 am

    John, Virtually all of the major wine publications have vintage charts, but most are accessible online only by subscription. One exception is Wine Enthusiast (, which I believe is still free.

  3. Mike Veseth | March 20th, 2010 at 6:56 am

    I don’t disagree with you about the relevance of vintages, John, but I would like to make a pitch for non-vintage wines. We can all appreciate why a winemaker would blend wines from different vineyards, seeking just the right balance, etc. It seems to me that blending from different vintages offers the same opportunities. Most Champagnes are NV, for example, which allows for a consistent house style over many years.

    Bookwalter has made a fine NV red for years and Brick House in Oregon produced a fine NV Pinot Noir. I can think of a number of others from the PNW. Maybe Wine Peeps will compare vintage and NV wines at some point. Just a thought. Keep up the good work.

  4. John | March 20th, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for the comment, Mike. Good suggestion.

  5. 1WineDude | March 22nd, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks! I wouldn’t say tat vintages aren’t important, I’d say that they’re not AS important as most make them out to be.

    What’s fascinating is that vintages were likely first used to indicate a wine’s freshness, since younger, lighter wines were the rule of the day in the 1600s when the vintages first started appearing on bottles / barrels – no preservatives meant quick spoilage, and older wines sold at a discount!


  6. John | March 22nd, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for the interesting info on the history of vintages on labels. See you in Walla Walla?