Ask any wine consumer about the importance of vintage and you will get a very clear signal that the growing year for the grapes used in any given bottle is a big deal. With the small exception of the most mass-produced wines that come in a box or a half gallon with a twist cap and contain plenty of additives to provide a uniformity of flavor, vintage differences will show when you taste a wine every time. We currently have wines in the market — both imports and domestics — from 2010 all the way up to 2017. Even some white wines from 2018 are starting to peek into the market. Here is our assessment of these current years.
2010 was known for being the coldest year in 50 years in California. The growing year was similarly cool across the appellations of the Northwest. While the year was met with much hand-wringing at harvest, as the wines started to be released some real bright spots showed up. Most of the wines produced in the west from 2010 were good to very good, although it was a small crop. Especially now with some age to smooth out any rough edges, the wines can be bought with confidence.
In Europe, 2010 was the first of two back-to-back great years. Although there is much discussion among wine professionals about the comparison of ’10 and ’11, with one being the more classic year and the other a riper, fruit-forward “American palate” year, they are both great vintages for the continent.
2011 for the Western U.S. was a very tough vintage. Early fall rains destroyed many crops and the wines produced in ’11 were at best, average. The good news is that it was a tiny crop, so the wines were quickly out of the market. If you encounter 2011 wines they should be approached with caution.
2012 in California and the Northwest was a blockbuster year of outstanding quality and ample tonnage, with the exception of Oregon, which struggled. It was the first in a string of great to very good vintages. So the saying goes, if you didn’t make good wine in 2012, then you might want to brush up the resume. If you can still find 2012s, buy them!
Much of Europe struggled in 2012 with the exception of Tuscany, which had a fabulous year with near-ideal growing conditions. While there are bright spots from 2012 outside of Tuscany, the guidance of your favorite wine professional will be important.
2013 was another outstanding year for domestic wine producers. While the year didn’t receive quite the praise that ’12 did, I found the wines to be every bit the measure. 2013, however, was a much smaller crop with growers dropping more fruit since the ’12 production was so huge. It is another year that can be bought with confidence.
2013 in Europe was challenging across the board and it showed in the wines and in the scores awarded. Approach with caution and try before you buy.
2014 in the West is a bifurcated year. You will find some wines that are really great and others that are thin and astringent. 2014 was a drought year in many areas, stressing out the grapes, and it showed. It is another year where your favorite wine professional can provide valuable guidance.
Similarly, in Europe, 2014 was very challenging and yielded a small crop due to many springtime storms during the bud break. While you won’t find many European 2014s around, you should take some care before purchasing.
2015 was one of the rare great years for both our domestic producers and our European friends. For them, 2015 was nothing short of spectacular. For domestic 2015s you can feel confident buying them. For European wines, you should snap them up every time you see them. Everyone knows the quality and the wines are going fast.
2016 here in the US was a strikingly similar year to 2015, with good quality and good crop size. We are still seeing many 2016s coming to market and we have found a few bad wines; we expect the trend to continue.
We are early for the release of European reds from 2016 but based on white wines we have had, it should be a reliable year. Similarly, there are few 2017s from Europe that have been released; check back for updates.
2017 for Northern California needs to be approached with much caution. With the devastating fires, there is the chance for smoke taint and much care should be exercised. Specifically, Oregon also had fire troubles that year. While most prominent producers simply won’t release wines that have smoke taint, they will bulk them out, so an extra dose of caution should be used in private label wines sold at big box and grocery stores from 2017.
Hot and cold spikes, rain and drought and the severity of the fire season affect each and every year. Knowing a bit about the growing year, coupled with the guidance of a good wine professional, makes all the difference in getting a great bottle of wine and avoiding disappointment. Call or stop by the shop with your questions and we will help any way we can.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.