What’s in a Vintage? Vintage this, vintage that. We’ve all endured countless wine critics ranting and raving about the utter success of this vintage versus the unfortunate downfall of that vintage. After a while it all just seems like numbers, right? Actually, those critics are dead on. Vintage variation is hands down one of the most crucial components of the wine industry as we know it. And while several other factors also contribute to the finished product, it all comes down to what kind of curveballs Mother Nature decided to throw in a particular year. Each vintage is like a grand recipe composed of many ingredients: the four seasons, temperature, sunlight, precipitation and all the risk factors that come with them. Each year presents a true test of cosmic forces that ultimately decides who will succeed and who will be forced to salvage a less fortunate vintage with skillful winemaking. And although it’s true that some areas are more susceptible than others, no region is spared from vintage variations. To prove this concept, Jacques Devauges of Burgundy’s Domaine de l’Arlot recently paid a visit to the SF Wine Center and presented members with an incredibly rare and exclusive vertical tasting of the domaine’s Nuit-Saint-Georges Clos des Forets 1er Cru; a line-up that included vintages 2000-2002 and 2005-2009. Here’s a taste of what we learned.
Just for a bit of background info, Clos des Forets Saint-Georges is a Premier Cru climat of Nuits-Saint-Georges and all 17.5 hectares of it are exclusively owned by Domaine de l’Arlot. Moving onto the wines, in order to illustrate just how pivotal each and every year is here are all of the vintages we tasted described in a sentence each. 2000-Rustic and smoky with feather-like tannin that should be enjoyed now. 2001-Savory earthiness with aromas of meat, white truffle, and violets held together with powdery tannin. 2002-Barnyard characteristics paired with hints of dried tarragon, licorice, and distinct minerality. 2005-Tart red fruits and tobacco with muscular yet graceful tannin. 2006-Succulent berries, all spice, fennel, and youthfully tight with grainy tannin. 2007-Young yet approachable with talc-like tannin and hints of leather, black raspberry, and plum. 2008-Closed off yet slowly unwinding with velvety tannin, floral notes, and savory spices like cumin, paprika, cardamom, and turmeric. 2009-Vivacious with red cherry, sweet spices, and bold yet incredibly silky tannin. And there you have it. Notice just how different the same wine can taste year after year? Some vintages are ready to drink at a younger stage while others stay wound up for much longer. Some vintages stay youthful and fruit-driven while others fast-forward straight down the rustic savory path. Each recipe of climatic influences creates its own special batch of wine that is unique to that year and only that year. So how will we know what to expect? Annual vintage reports written up by the experts are a valuable tool to help you when making purchasing decisions. So unless you find yourself scouring the planet’s wine regions and tasting everything straight from the barrel, take the critics’ word for it. When it comes to vintages, it pays to do your homework.