SOMI UNCOKED – Adventures In Wine With Sebastian Velez



You have probably heard people using the word ‘vintage’ when describing a wine, or a year. But what exactly is a ‘vintage’? It’s very simple; it is the year when the grapes were grown (and harvested) to make a wine. For example, if you see a bottle of Chateau Pétrus with a year of 1985 on the bottle, it means that the wine was made from grapes grown (and harvested) on that year. 

So, why are ‘vintages’ important? Well, making wine begins with growing grapes, with managing vineyards, and keeping track on how and when grapes ripen and are ready to make wine. There are many climatical and environmental factors that will change the end result of the wine being made. Was the year too warm? Too cold? Was it very rainy? Were there wild fires affecting the vineyards? Etc. The answer to these questions will be reflected on the wine. Wines made by the same vineyard and winemaker can taste dramatically different depending on the climate and environment in different years. (It not only affects taste, but the price of the wine if there was an incident that damaged parts of the vineyards, like fires, hail, frost, etc.)

The year 2018 had it somewhat easy as 2017 was pretty much disastrous in many parts of the world due to fires (in California), bad weather (spring frosts and hail) in France, and cooler than normal weather in Argentina. But now, let’s take a look at how the year 2018 took shape around the world, although it is still early to tell how the wines will taste, as most of them are in the process fermenting, maturing, and/or ageing.

Let’s start in our home base, the USA. For California, this year was great for grape growing. Most of the state had slightly lower temperatures, creating a slow and steady ripening of the grapes, providing a longer grape hanging time, and a later harvesting date, which will lead to more elegant and balanced wines, with velvety and smooth tannins. The Wine Institute says 2018 brought “excellent quality” grapes, while some winemaker’s define 2018 as a the perfect vintage and as the dream year for winemakers.

In France, there were mixed results. For Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace, 2018 was a fantastic year, with near perfect growing conditions. Winemakers in these regions are highly enthusiastic for the wines that are to come off this year’s grapes. The wines will be pure, focused, with rich concentration of flavors, and a bright, fresh acidity to balance them out.

In Bordeaux, results were mixed. In some areas, like Sauternes and Graves, there were some hailstorms that destroyed large portions of the vineyards. There was also a rainy beginning to the growing season, causing some mildew issues. On the other hand, for areas a little farther north, such as the Haut-Medoc, Pessac-Leognan, etc., 2018 was great, with a warm, dry, and consistent ripening season.

For Italy, the overall consensus is that 2018 was a far better year than 2017, providing better growing conditions and a larger crop output. Similarly, for Mendoza, Argentina, 2018 was described as “El Año Mendocino” or the ‘Year of Mendoza’, according to Bodega Catena Zapata, providing the ideal climatic conditions to make great-tasting Malbec true to Mendoza.

Not all regions had the same luck this year. For South Africa, extreme drought conditions caused one of the smallest grape crops in over a decade. Although this may lead to powerful, highly concentrated wines, the small crop size will cause prices to increase.

Although we can’t taste the 2018 wines yet, as most of them are still in the process of becoming wine, or ageing in stainless steel or oak casks, this year looks very promising for most regions around the world. This will not only make wine drinkers very happy, but it will most certainly bring joy back to winemakers, grape harvesters, and every single one of those who had a painstaking, difficult, 2017 vintage. Cheers!


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