If a certain winery makes the same kind of wine year in and year out, shouldn’t it taste the same each year? The answer is “not necessarily.” If the same type of grapes, grown in the same area, are used, and the same process to make the wine is used, perhaps even by the same wine maker, the end result should be pretty much the same from year to year—especially for larger producers. However, there are many factors which can influence a particular “vintage” (the harvest and resulting wine of a particular year). Such factors include, but are not limited to, amount of rainfall, when the rains occurred, heat and dryness, nighttime temperatures, plant diseases, pruning methods, harvesting, barreling, fermentation, alcohol content, aging in the bottle, etc.
One must marvel at the final product when one considers all that goes into putting wine in a bottle and onto your table. Likewise, it can be an economic mystery of sorts when you see a bottle of wine on the store shelves for even $8.99 (sometimes half as much) and think about the fact that the grapes had to be grown and harvested, the wine made, barreled and bottled, labels produced, the product shipped, and that a profit can still be made, especially when you think that wines come from all over the world, literally. Certainly, many wines are more expensive, likewise, for a lot of reasons. However, back to the question ‘du jour”—why will the same wine vary from year to year?
I have previously mentioned Pomum Cellars and listed the percentages of grape varieties in its Bordeaux-style blend called Shya Red for the 2004 vintage. To recap: it was 51% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 11% cabernet franc, 4% malbec and 2% petit verdot. The alcohol content was 13.7% and most, if not all, of the grapes came from the Columbia Valley AVA. 2280 bottles were produced. Let’s compare that with the 2006 and 2007 vintages, 2007 being the current vintage. 2006—45% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 22% cabernet franc, 2% malbec and 1% petit verdot; Yakima Valley AVA; 14.7% alcohol, 3720 bottles produced. 2007—47% cabernet sauvignon, 28 % merlot, 13% cabernet franc, 5% malbec and 7% petit verdot; Yakima Valley AVA; 14.7% alcohol and 5880 bottles produced. Notice that from 2004 through 2007, the grape varieties have remained the same, but the percentages used have varied slightly. There is some difference in alcohol content and grape growing location and production has gone up each year. The latter point tells us that this winery is becoming better known and its wines are growing in popularity. To get specific information about a particular winery, you should look for its website. Most wineries have websites and provide detailed information about their wines, including prices.
Along the same line, if you like a particular variety of wine, will all wines of that type taste the same? Absolutely not; sometimes not even close. Well, come on, man—a chardonnay is a chardonnay is a chardonnay. Not so. When talking with a new wine drinker, I always caution the person to be prepared to taste some wines which he or she may not like, but not to let that deter one from continuing with the tasting journey. Wines vary—from type to type, from winery to winery and from vintage to vintage. You have to find the ones that consistently please you more than others. Just because the same type of grapes are used, there may be great differences in the end products. Such factors include the items mentioned above, as well as the terroir (soil conditions), growing regions, barreling (oak-what kind?; stainless steel, how long), and differences in the wine-making technique. Several years ago, I found that I didn’t care for chardonnay as much as I used to because I found it too buttery and too oaky. Just about that time, a number of wine-makers were shifting to stainless steel barreling, causing the wine to be much less oaky, and, to me, more pleasing. If, on the other hand, you prefer the buttery and oaky flavor, there are still plenty of chardonnays made that way. It’s all about finding what suits your individual preferences. It’s a continuing process. Enjoy the journey!