Vintage French wine
Getting to know a wine involves an appreciation of many aspects of this complex beverage. It helps to understand a little of the 'terroir', as the French call it. This is best understood as the environment that the grapes are grown in and it includes areas of the same type of soil, the same geography in terms of position, elevation and aspect and the same climate. While most of these factors will remain stable, the climate will change from year to year, both in terms of the average rainfall and temperatures and also in the timing of these factors. It is these subtle differences that result in different characteristics of the wine and create the diversity that makes vintage French wine so enjoyable.
Understanding vintage French wine years
Not every year produces the same quality of wine. Indeed, in some years, if the quality is not so good, many vineyards will decline to declare a vintage at all and simple use their production for non-vintage wine. When a vintage is declared, the wine will be bottled with the year on the label. It should be remembered that this year refers to the year the wine was harvested, not the year it was bottled, as many wines will be aged for many years in oak barrels. The vintage of a wine is one of the fundamental aspects that defines it and any serious purchaser of wines needs to understand about the vintage of the wine they are buying. It is also important to realise that great vintage French wine in one region in a certain year doesn't mean that vintage French wines from other regions will be equally as good.
Ranking vintage French wine years
Most wine guides will rank vintage French wine years from each region on some kind of scale. This may be a simple numeric scale or 'Excellent' to 'poor'. It is not uncommon for one wine region to receive a very high score, while an adjacent region scores poorly in the same year. Even within the same region, for example in Bordeaux, you may find that the vintage is rated good for red wine but poor or average for white wine.
Choosing vintage French wine
As you might expect, the vintage of a wine greatly affects its quality and therefore its price. It is vital then to understand this when buying a wine and not just to depend upon the region and winemaker. The Gilbert & Gaillard wine guide can steer you through the complex world of vintage French wine and make sure you make an informed purchase.