As winegrowers across the Yarra Valley are busy picking the grapes that will produce a selection of mouth-watering 2017 vintages, we thought we’d take some time to reflect on what a vintage is, and most importantly, what makes a good vintage?
If you’re holding a bottle of wine that has 2016 written on the label, the wine is a 2016 vintage. Essentially, vintage in the wine world refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. In Australia, the growing season ranges from October to April (and the vintage will be dated with the later year).
There are a number of factors that can affect the taste and quality of a wine, with the biggest one being the weather conditions. If you’ve ever purchased multiple vintages of the same wine, you may have noticed discrepancies in the way the wine tastes; this is because conditions have varied from year to year while the grapes were growing. For instance, 2015’s growing season may have been hot and dry, while in 2016 the vineyard might have been exposed to wetter conditions – these differences in weather can be attributed to the varying tastes between each vintage.
What if a bottle doesn’t have a year on the label? A bottle with no date is known as a non-vintage wine, which was made by blending grapes from multiple years together.
If a vintage is largely reflective of a region’s weather conditions, how do you know if it will be good or bad?
If the region has experienced plenty of sunshine during the growing season, chances are the grapes would have reached full maturity and optimum ripeness levels, which will be reflected in the finished product. However, if it’s too hot and sunny, with a lot of days above 33°C, then the grapes can become raisinated before they’ve had a chance to ripen properly. If this is the case, the wine can become flabby with bitter tannins. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the growing season is filled with lots of cloudy days and the region receives too much rain, the grapes may not ripen properly and will be more susceptible to rot and disease – these conditions often deliver poor quality grapes.
A great way to find out which vintage of your favourite wine is of the highest quality is to consult James Halliday’s vintage charts, where you’ll find expert notes and year on year comparisons of the grapes, and overall taste and quality of each wine produced in the Yarra Valley, and across Australia.
Harvest time in the Yarra Valley is typically an exciting time, for winegrowers/makers and visitors alike. All of your favourite wineries will be a hub of activity, as winemakers get stuck into making their latest vintages, and picking has commenced. During this time, there’s more to see and do in this beautiful Victorian region.