I love vintage variation

Much of the wine I drink comes from the Pacific Northwest, which is characterized by considerable variation in annual temperatures and growing conditions. We probably all have favorite vintages but within that we get a chance to see some riper folks tone it back in cool years or some greener vintners make fleshier wines in warm years. It allows us to revisit wineries we didn’t like for stylistic reasons when the season plays them into our hands. What do you think of substantial seasonality?

When I started in this hobby, I tried to only buy from the best vintages as dictated by the critics. My one venture into off vintages, 1991 Bdx, was a disaster so I figured they knew better. This lasted a while, until the 98/99/00 vintages in Napa/Sonoma, when I found I liked many of these wines, especially the 99s. Still I did not really appreciate fully how the wines of the vintage reflected the conditions of the year. That did not happen until I started growing some grapes myself and making wine at home. Now I love vintage variation. I love opening a bottle and tasting the year of the drought or how a late season hurricane ruined what should have been a good vintage. I may not like my wines from challenging years as much as from other years but I really love the intellectual connection of wine to year.

Being able to connect my wine to the weather of the year has left me with more questions than answers however, when it comes to understanding others’s wine and the connection to place and time. So many factors can influence the impact of vintage variation that I fear the more I learn the less I understand. Part of me wants to connect what I notice in a wine to what I know about the general vintage conditions but my own experience tells me I can’t do that without more understanding of the specific site and the choices made in a given year.

As I love the intellectual aspect of wine I love vintage variation. It doesn’t hurt that often time the “bad” vintages have many great wines at lower prices and I often times prefer them to the wines of the “good” vintages.

I love it for the above and other reasons. I pay little mind to critics and broad generalizations, easy to do in regions where I’m competent, more complicated where I have little experience. I often avoid very warm vintages, especially from warm regions, but it’s important to taste with an open mind if I have a chance. Very local variations and above all individual producer’s work and dedication is more important than general characterizations.

That said, I often like “lesser”, under appreciated vintages, especially the cooler ones. I am a hound for freshness, structure and elegance in wine. Lushness, overt fruit, and particularly sweetness (with certain exceptions) are much less attractive, if not detrimental. In cool years the better producers can still manage physiological ripeness, acidity will be elevated, structure and minerality often more prominent, tension sometimes more interesting. Availability and lack of price increases, while many others chase points or “great” vintages, are added bonuses. Sometimes wines from such vintages age beautifully, better than from big vintages. Other times they provide pleasant early drinking.

I do as well. I love seeing how top-tier houses manage the differences and create wines that express the vintage variations. You get a fantastic snapshot of this in the 2009-2012 vintages in regions like Chinon, Northern Rhone and Beaujolais. I really like all four of these vintages, and each for different reasons. Love seeing how houses like Baudry, Gonon, Thivin, Roilette and others express these vintages.

That is the beauty of it,i always buy the pruducers i love in every vintage.It is fun to compare.and if you dont, you end up with a big cellar ,and nothing to drink.

It has to be a real train wreck of a vintage for me to skip the producers I love. The way the different vintage conditions come through in the wines is incredibly important to me. I could not imagine only buying in the “best” years. That’s way too close to cherry picking for my taste.

To me, this is one of the hallmarks of making wine at the small scale that I do - I want each bottle to reflect vintage, variety, specific vineyards used, and my level of knowledge / expertise at that time.

Based on this, there is no doubt that vintage variation will exist - and I personally dig it. A cooler year may lead to higher acid wines; a warmer one, the opposite. Some years may see higher tannin levels than others. That is truly what I am trying to achieve.

That said, consumers, including ‘wine geeks’,and even reviewers, seem to want this, but not so much. If a wine falls way out of ‘what is expected’, they may not be satisfied. I see this all of the time . . .


Agree about the importance of “transparency” (to the extent it can be proven). Regional vintages that are widely acclaimed as the “best” are often NOT to my taste. It doesn’t bother me to nibble at the edges while others plunge in headlong for the “cherries”. I really admire producers who can make lemonade from a lemon vintage (or worse). It’s an emotional bias, but I enjoy certain wines more knowing about the challenges that were faced and overcome.


… and rightly you’ve said “best” , as what the critics deem the best years, often don’t translate into the best experience for me. All too often these days “best” appears to mean:

  • Most appealing on release.
  • Warmest vintages with nice cuddly profile and none of those unpleasant tannins or firm acidity.

Whereas “best” for me often means it has a good balance for cellaring and enough interest to suggest that there is something worth waiting for. That’s not to say I don’t like to have a few wines that are immediately appealing, but I seem to like them a little leaner than the major critics.

Other than obscenely hot years (e.g. many 2003s from Europe), I am happy to surf the whole range of vintage styles. 2009 Burgundy appeals to me just as much as 2001 - it’s just different.

… and one reason to taste through all vintages, is that one’s views are based on genuine experience more than the views of those commenting on vintages!

I also will say that we spend too much time describing vintages as good or bad. Vintages have their own character, which may appeal more or less to each of us.

For example, three great vintages in Burgundy are 1999, 2005 and 2010. However, the character of each of these vintages is drastically different.

Also, sometime you get two vintages next to each other that are similar in quality but vastly different in taste - for example 2001 and 2002 in Burgundy.

Then, there are vintages like 2000 or 2007 in Burgundy that rank low on any vintage charge but are lovely to drink. Wines may not last forever or reach the scales of the great vintages. But, boy can they provide a lot of pleasure.

Obviously, I agree with the OP.

When I first started paying attention to better wine there was a common expressions “useful vintage”.
Snobs generally avoided those and bid up the top rated vintages. “Useful” really is an accurate word, though.
I don’t want a heavy duty wine for every meal and every occasion. Sometimes, like the 2007 in Oregon as a classic example, the less regarded vintages are more than just useful.
Pricing generally sorts out, too, if you wait for beyond the initial release.

P Hickner

As a grower/winemaker, I love vintage variation. It is fascinating! I recently tasted two of my wines, 2 vintages apart with nearly identical labs from the tank after crush, and they are quite different. Virtually the same oak treatment. What’s the difference? Quite a bit in the bouquet and on the palate. I can truly only attribute the difference to the vintage - to the growing conditions - from those years. The one thing you can’t do, of course, is assess the 2 against each other at the same age, because they are 2 years apart in their development.

Vintage variation is serious business, however. I mean from a business perspective. If I had to rely on the 2011 vintage sales alone to carry me, I probably would have had to close the doors. Fortunately, I had other vintages to sell throughout the 2011 release year, but the impact was huge. And the worst part of it was that no one had actually tasted the wine when they made their purchase decisions! The sales, or lack thereof, were generated by the critics’ published views (and numerous threads and posts on the wine boards) before the wines were even bottled, and in many cases, before they were even in barrel. And I am talking about the vintage reviews by the critics; I am talking about the wines from that vintage in general.

From a consumer/collector position, I’d rather have a cellar stocked with top wines that please my senses each time. I’d rather open an “A” rather than a “B,” and a “B” rather than a “C.” That’s the way it goes.

From a “wine geek” perspective - the perspective of people who are truly interested in learning about wine - I say have something from each vintage from a producer and then learn learn learn. If all you want is the same taste, the same experience, the same wine every time, then find one you like, back up the truck, and fill the cellar. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Vintage variation = fun and interesting
Bottle variation = frustrating and interesting

I would agree with your bottle variation comment, but have even stronger feelings about it. It is one of the most difficult things to understand and appreciate: I don’t get it and I don’t like it!

Exactly. Vintage variation isn’t a one-dimensional scale, and it’s incredibly rare nowadays that a vintage is so bad it doesn’t deserve some attention.

If there was no variation, what would be the point of vintage dating wine in the first place?

I comprehend vintages more and relate to them personally, now that I live in a place where the grapes are grown. I remember those heat waves in 2006 and 2010, and the frost and fires in 2008, the rain in 2011, the drought in 2013/2014, etc.

You know for me I see it this way. Take for example Pablo Picasso who we all can agree is arguably one of the greatest painters of our time. If you have studied Art or Art history we know that Picasso had gone through many stylistic “periods” in his work. Early period Picasso works certainly informs his later period work even if the style is drastically different. We are left with his “feel” his “touch”

What we see here is how an artist or creative mind has left his mark by what can be attributed to his handwriting if you will. Although Picasso moved through The Cubist to The Rose to the Blue Period you will always know it as a Picasso. True to himself. Original.

I think any winemaker worth his salt should be aiming for this exact “variation” from vintage to vintage just as any great artist has done in pushing his work to not repeat itself but to push through the desire to please and create cutting edge work.

What a wonderful analogy!
I reckon many good winemakers would take that analogy to heart.

Ok I will say that I struggle with that analogy. Painters start from a blank canvas. Vignerons (intentionally using the French term) start from the site where the grapes are grown. It’s not a blank canvas. Some might wish for their “handwriting” to be there, while others would seek to leave no trace so to speak.