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Do Vintages Matter?

A severe hailstorm struck Napa's Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill, but the damage likely won't impact the vintage
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 15, 2017 2:45pm ET

A freak June hailstorm swept through Napa Valley on Sunday. It knocked a few blossoms off a few vines here and there, but aside from a few growers who may have had their crop crimped, it's of little consequence, and certainly nothing on the scale of the frost that hit Bordeaux in April.

France's devastating spring frosts will cut into the crop size; Napa's hailstorm won't.

Most weather stories are of little or no consequence to consumers in terms of wine quality and production. By the time the grapes are picked and wines made, all will be forgotten.

What you should consider is how little variation there is in most vintages, especially in California. Gone for the most part are years of total busts, and you can find exceptional wines in even the weakest vintages, such as 2011 in California. I've met plenty of people who are thrilled by the 2011s.

As I taste the 2014 Pinot Noirs and Cabernets, quality is high for both years, and there are noteworthy achievements. But vintages hardly matter anymore. With most wine consumed within hours or days of purchase, it's more important to keep an eye on prices.

As I've suggested before, dropping vintage dates might be a good idea for many wines. The NV (non-vintage) associated with Champagne allows for blending years, and that's an idea worth exploring—it allows better quality wines to be sold in off years and helps maintain a more consistent house style. 

Vintage dates may add cachet and appeal to those who want to compare years. But after decades of tasting wines (and conducting retrospective tastings of those wines with age), my conclusion is that while there are standouts, predicting which ones will endure and rise is more dependent on the producer than the vintage.

Jeff Ames
Napa, Ca —  June 15, 2017 7:34pm ET
I have always loved the idea of non vintage wines. Some fantastic examples are the great non vintage wines from Martini and Heitz in the 60's and '70s. Those can be amazing wines. I am just not sure how modern consumers would respond.
Eric Campos
Canada —  June 25, 2017 3:20am ET
great idea! Having enjoyed 'difficult vintage' wines from the Loire and Germany in recent years has only underscored for me that the producer is the more definitive factor in quality. Also, why do we so readily accept vintage prestige Champagne cuvées amassed from an entire region but not dare explore non-vintage bottlings of still wine from specific vineyards? Surely NV options provide more comprehensive expressions of these vineyards or plots for the vast majority of consumers who are unlikely to invest in discerning between vintage variations.

And when you add cellaring time to the equation, you can really get something special: anyone interested in Nebbiolo, for instance, would do well to seek out Borgogno's Selezione, a multi-vintage bottling whose component Baroli span a decade, the oldest being more than 20 years old now. The character of each vintage is irrelevant by now; this wine is so layered, it captures in one bottle what this producer does in this appellation in a way no vintage Barolo can.
Jamie Sherman
Sacramento —  July 11, 2017 1:40pm ET
Vintage or not, a good wine is a good wine. I just won't look quite so smart when I explain the nuances of the vintage with my guests...

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