Wine 101: What’s the Deal with Vintage?

“Vintage” means one thing when you’re talking about dresses from the forties or that cool thrift shop you’ve always meant to visit, but it means something entirely different when it comes to wine. I’ve always been vaguely aware of this, but unsure of how what exactly it means or, more importantly, how significant it is to making and choosing the perfect wine.

What makes a wine a vintage?

“Vintage” comes from the French “vin,” meaning simply wine. A wine’s vintage refers to the year its grapes were harvested. In France, the USA, and Canada, to be labeled as a vintage, a wine must be made from 95% of grapes harvested that year. Wines from other parts of the world sometimes have up to 15-25% of grapes from other years in their “vintages.”

Why does the vintage change the quality of the wine so much?

“Vintage variation” is the difference in taste between same wines from different years. Sometimes it is barely noticeable and others it can be very striking! This variation all depends on the way the weather influences the grapes during a given growing season.

A good vintage means the weather was well-balanced throughout the entire year. Not too much rain, not too cold or too hot, no unexpectedly harsh hailstorms… This type of balance allows the grapes to ripen evenly and slowly. Too much rain can cause the grapes to rot, while too much intense heat makes them overripe and increases the taste of alcohol in the wine. Lots of rain right around the harvest can leave grapes flavorless and watery. Even the smallest imbalance of weather, be it “too much” or “too little” of any factor, changes the wine.

Interestingly, a bad year for reds could be a good year for whites. A “cooler vintage,” meaning a year growing season with colder temperatures and perhaps more precipitation, can be a death wish for full, spicy red wines but create whites that are pleasantly crisp and acidic.

a quick look at vintages in the last ten years from www.winefolly.com

A quick look at vintages in the last ten years, from www.winefolly.com

Likewise, as this “overly simplified” vintage chart from Wine Folly illustrates, a bad year in France could be a good year in Washington, since weather varies so much between regions.

Does the vintage always matter?

To some extent, yes—wine is an agricultural, not an industrial product, and thus the climate and weather will always influence the way grapes turn out.

However, very decent wines can be made from not-so-decent vintage years, which is often where the skill and craftsmanship of winemakers comes in.

Wines that aren’t from the best vintage years often benefit from aging and can turn out great if they are cellared and stored for a few more years!

Further, some regions have less volatile climates than others. California, for example, is one of the biggest producers of wine in the world, but the weather is so dependably, consistently good that the vintages do not change much from year to year. For California wines, the vintage is not always important.

On the other hand, the famous Bordeaux and Burgundy regions in France are places where the vintage matters very much—and their good vintages are so well known that wine merchants often find it difficult to sell Bordeaux wine from an “off” year, even if it is quite good!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, vintage also matters. While the weather is a little easier to count on in the Walla Walla Valley than in the western part of the state, Washington in a place with lots of variation in our weather. Sometimes it snows in the winter and sometimes it doesn’t, and spring doesn’t have an arrival date—it pretty much comes whenever it feels like it!

While it is definitely not the only factor that makes a wine “good,” vintage is a great thing to know about when tasting or buying wine in Walla Walla!

Five Ways to Have a Wine-Infused Thanksgiving

Last year, we wrote about our favorite Thanksgiving day wine pairings. After all, a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner needs a great wine to make it truly ideal. However, there’s another great way to kick up your Thanksgiving meal a notch: infuse your food with its perfect pairing. Here are our favorite ways to incorporate wine into your Thanksgiving Day dinner!

1. Make that turkey meat even more luscious with a bottle of Walla Faces Cabernet. Place the turkey breast-side-up in a shallow roasting pan. Make a hole in the skin at the top of the breast. Fill a turkey baster with half a cup of Cabernet Sauvignon and drench your beautiful bird with wine. After that, cook as you normally would.

A Thanksgiving meal and a bottle of wine

Make a place for Walla Faces wine in your Thanksgiving meal!

2. When making stuffing, substitute a cup of chicken broth for a cup of Walla Faces Fusion Red. The smooth cherry flavors will add a layer of depth and sophistication to your final product.

3. Poached pears are a great way to add a bit of light fruitiness to a heavy Thanksgiving meal. Poach them in a medium sized saucepan filled with a bottle of Walla Faces Riesling, a cup of sugar, and a split vanilla bean for an extra treat.

4. In addition to gravy, whip up a red wine sauce with a bottle of Walla Faces Syrah to serve over your mashed potatoes. We love this one by by FineCooking.com. Even better? The sauce can be made a few days in advance so it won’t take up any extra precious minutes on Thanksgiving Day.

5. The Walla Faces 2008 Riesling Ice Wine is the perfect pairing for pumpkin pie. Help them mesh even better by adding a few tablespoons of ice wine your homemade whipped cream after whipping it up!

Feeling inspired? Head over to our store to grab all the Faces wine you need for a scrumptious meal.

May your Thanksgiving be delicious, merry, and full of wine!

Why start a tasting with red wines?

If you’ve dropped by the Walla Faces tasting room, you may have noticed something a little unconventional about our tasting order: we start with our red wines and move to our whites. Usually, when you do a wine tasting, it’s the other way around entirely! So, what is the benefit of moving from red to white wines?

Although the order may seem unusual, the reason we, at Walla Faces, go from red to white comes from traditional wine tasting sequences. There are two classic orders for wine tasting. Firstly, people move from light wines to heavy wines. Because tannins can build up in your mouth, ending a tasting on richer, heavier wines prevents any residual tannins from tainting your impression of a lighter, more playful wine. The second classic tasting order involves starting with dry wines and ending with sweet wines. Moving from a sweet wine to a dry wine can cause the drier wine to taste comparatively sour. Thus, it’s usually best to “end on dessert”.

For many wineries, these two orders are the same. For example, a winery might start a tasting with a dry Chardonnay and end on a sweet, heavy Port. For us, they are not the same! We have a sweet, light dessert wine: our 2008 Ice Wine.

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

We’ve adjusted the traditional wine tasting order to really showcase the wines that we make, moving through the wines the same way you might move through a meal. We start with our ‘appetizers’, which are our lighter, smoother reds: the 2008 Fusion Red and the 2009 Syrah. We move to our ‘entrees’, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet. Finally, we end on our ‘desserts’, the 2010 Riesling and 2008 Riesling Ice Wine. Within the red wines, we stick to the classic ‘light to heavy’ order. However, by moving from red to white, we don’t affect our palettes by putting sweet wines ahead of their dry counterparts.

The “whites to reds” order is usually a good rule of thumb. However, it is sometimes necessary to adjust a rule to fit wines you want to highlight!

What’s In A Color?

When doing a wine tasting, the first characteristic that we examine is the color of the wine. Although mere appearances can only tell you so much about a wine’s flavor, these visual cues can hold important and interesting information.

Here are some things to look for on three of our favorite reds: the 2008 Fusion, the 2008 Syrah, and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Can you spot the differences between these three gorgeous wines?

Is Hyperdecanting All Hype?

 
Traditionally, decanting wine involves pouring the wine into a larger receptacle and allowing it to sit and “breathe”. This helps to reduce the taste of tannins and the astringency. Additionally, it will help bring out the natural aromas and flavors. Decanters made of metal or earthenware have been traced back to the Roman Empire.

Although most Walla Faces red wines do not need to be decanted, our bold 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the Janice, benefits from sitting in a decanter for about an hour at cellar temperature. Unfortunately, many of us are impatient creatures. Waiting an hour for a glass of wine can be a slow torture. That’s where hyperdecanting comes in.

Master Chef Nathan Myhrvold, author of the colossal (an expensive!) cooking volume Modernist Cuisine proposed hyperdecanting as a quicker method for decanting your favorite wine.

Myhrvold outlines his technique, stating “I just pour the wine in, frappé away at the highest power setting for 30 to 60 seconds, and then allow the froth to subside (which happens quickly) before serving. I call it ‘hyperdecanting.’ Although torturing an expensive wine in this way may cause sensitive oenophiles to avert their eyes, it almost invariably improves red wines—particularly younger ones, but even a 1982 Château Margaux. Don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself.”

So we did!

I wanted to test which method of wine would yield the most delicious results for the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: undecanted wine, traditionally decanted wine, or hyperdecanted wine.

To ensure that our preconceptions about decanting and hyperdecanting didn’t play a role, the tastings were done blind. Everyone tried all three wines, but they tried them in different orders and they didn’t know what version they were trying.

20 participants tried the wines, ranked them in order from least favorite to favorite, and offered their tasting notes. I then assigned each ‘favorite’ three points, each ‘second favorite’ two points and each ‘least favorite’ one point.
The hyperdecanted wine and the decanted wine were the best liked, receiving almost identical scores. However, they got very different comments from the tasters.

Although the hyperdecanted wine had the mildest tannins, participants reported a bitter, unpleasant taste. The traditionally decanted wine still displayed very strong tannins, but had a richer bouquet and fuller, more flavorful body and a more appealing mouthfeel.

Given these comments, it is clear that hyperdecanting does change the flavor of the wine significantly. However, it is NOT the equivalent of traditional decanting.

For individuals who appreciate bold red wines, traditional decanting will offer a much better product with more flexibility, since you can choose how long you decant the wine. Still, if you are very sensitive to tannins, you might want to give hyperdecanting a try on an inexpensive bottle of wine.