Collectors gobbled up bottles of the much talked-about vintage — via a speculative process called wine futures or en primeur — even before they hit our shores. Futures buyers invest while a vintage is still in the barrel, paying up to 18 months before it’s bottled.
And if buyers are willing to pay for it up front, then vintage — which refers to the year the grapes were picked and is reflected on the label — matters.
Like the rest of the label information, the vintage can be an indicator of quality. Some wines, such as Port and Champagne, only carry a vintage date in excellent years.
So just what makes a vintage good or bad? In a word: kismet.
If Mother Nature provides a moderate spring followed by a sunny summer and dry fall, the grapes ripen at a steady pace, picking up flavor while maintaining balance to age gracefully in your cellar. Marked changes in weather patterns, such as a heat wave or drought, directly affect the ripening process, which ultimately changes the quality of the wine in the bottle.
While some regions, including Napa Valley, are blessed with consistent weather patterns, others are prone to “vintage variation.” Bordeaux, one of the finest classic wine regions in the world, is located near the coast in southwest France. Its maritime climate fluctuates year to year. So in Bordeaux, vintage is a big deal.
The reds are crafted by blending several grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, into a balanced wine. Since each grape ripens at a different speed, the ratio of grapes may change depending on vintage conditions.
In 2005, the weather of Bordeaux was dry and warm, resulting in ripe fruit with high tannins, high alcohol content and moderate acidity. A brilliant vintage, the wines from the top châteaus are selling for record high prices. Lucky for us, vintage success is not just for the priciest châteaus; a good year at the top is a good year all over. Great values can be found by buying wines from lesser known estates as well. Designed to age 10 to 15 years in your cellar, these wines offer the high quality of the 2005 vintage at reasonable prices — so grab them while you can.
2005 Château de Candale, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, France ($39): Deep color with concentrated aromas of ripe strawberry, cherry, cinnamon and nutmeg. Medium acidity and velvety tannins are ripe, resulting in a long finish. Enjoy with grilled lamb or beef.