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Vintage to Vintage – Why It Matters

Vintage to Vintage is a 3½-minute read.

First, let’s make it clear what vintage is.  It is the year that the grapes were grown and crushed to make wine. If there is not a vintage date on your bottle, that means that the winemaker blended grape juice from multiple years together to make that bottling of wine.  This is common practice with Champagne to create a consistent flavor profile from year to year. These wines are called Non-Vintage. This practice is less common with still wine unless you drink some of the low-end, industrially made mass-produced wines.

For most folks, the vintage date probably does not matter. You buy wine to drink relatively soon and you either like a wine, or you don’t, and you explore no further. But every once in a blue moon, you may buy your favorite bottle of small-batch wine, and when you taste it, you think, “Ugh! What happened? This does not taste like (insert favorite wine here)! But for the wine enthusiast, this is exciting. This is an opportunity. This is fun!!

There can be several more obvious reasons for a change so let’s rule them out.

    • First, let’s assume the wine is “not spoiled or gone bad.”
    • We will also assume that there is not a new winemaker.
    • Nor is there is a significant alteration to said winemaker’s winemaking process.
    • Lastly, the fruit used in the wine has not been sourced from a different vineyard. It still comes from the same vineyards as before and, if irrigated, received a similar amount of water year over year.

So what else changed?  The Weather!

And by the weather, we include – temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, wind, cloud formation, and sunlight. Of course, the weather is different every year to some degree.  But if there is a significant change (i.e., a freeze or a lack of or too much rain at a critical time in the growing season, it can alter the resulting wine.

Vintage Side Note

Of course, the longer a wine spends in a bottle, the more it will also change, or “age.” For this post, I am only looking at vintage variation related to the terrior (terr-WAH)*.

Vintage to Vintage – A Case in Point Acquiesce Wines 2019 versus 2020

We are big fans of Acquiesce wines. They are all deliciously straightforward expressions of the variety.  We have consumed the fall-released 2018 vintage wines and all of the 2019 vintage wines. Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Grenache Rosé are what we mostly drink.  So when the 2020 vintage arrived, I also ensured that we also had some of the 2019 vintages to compare the two. Although I have to admit, I did not expect the difference to be so pleasantly significant.Vintage

If I were to describe the 2019 vintage as a whole, the overall words I would use are lean or austere.  Which to me means lightly flavored and light-bodied.  Some wines can be too lean or austere, but that is not the case for me in this situation. Like I have said, I love the 2019 vintage.

Describing the 2020 vintage while varietally accurate is the complete opposite. Lush mouthfeel, medium-bodied, and a more bountiful flavor profile.  The acidity profile from all varieties in both vintages is very similar to the other( 2019 versus 2020).

When visiting the Acquiesce Winery last May…

from left to right, Rick and Gary from Strong Coffee to Red Wine, Allison from Please the Palate, Sue from Acquiesce Vineyards, Amber and David from Wine Travel Eats.

… a member of my posse posed this question.

“… the 2020 vintage wines that we are tasting today are rounder, fuller, and have more fruit on them.  This difference between the 2019 vintage and the 2020 vintage is staggering. Both are delicious, but 2020 seems ‘more complete.’ Did you change your processes? Or, more to the point,  what caused this difference?

And Sue’s response is EVER-Y-THING!  And it’s one of the many things that makes me love learning about wine and winemaking.

“…the only different variable is the weather. We had no rain in February 2020, which is a critical time for grapevines to prepare for the spring bud break. As a result, California had a 25% reduction in crop load last year. Additionally, berry size was also much smaller, right. So with this smaller berry, we are getting more concentration in the juice. Greater concentration resulted in more robust flavors and texture. So in this situation, the greater concentration seems to be a good thing.”

“The true test will be six months from now because historically, it takes about that amount of time for the bottled wine to come into its own. So that is when the wine will fully show itself.”

This is just one example of the impact of the change from one vintage to another.

Given the differences between these two vintages, if you would like to do a comparison yourself, this is a great opportunity to do so. Head to the Acquiesce Vineyards website and purchase both 2019 and 2020 vintages of the Picpoul Blanc and/or the Grenache Blanc.

I hope that you found this as interesting as we have. Wine is so much fun!

That is all for now.


Rick & Gary

* Definition of terrior is included on the glossary page of this site.

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