ELISE LANE IS SAVOUR’S WINE EXPERT AND CO-FOUNDER OF LANEBERG WINE – A UNIQUE URBAN WINERY FOCUSED ON PRODUCING FANTASTIC QUALITY WINES FROM ENGLISH GRAPES. HERE SHE CHATS vintage variations and brand consistency.
Wine is one of the few consumer products where the brand isn’t always the company name or the product’s name given by that company (Mars, Aero, Coca-Cola, Kleenex etc).
This depends on the type of wine, where it’s from, and the grapes it’s made from.
New Zealand or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is the country, region and grape but it’s also a brand – it’s what you might look for on a wine list and not actually worry about the name of the winery or vineyard it came from.
Same with Chianti or Bordeaux, regions in Tuscany, Italy, and Southwest France respectively. The actual name of the chateau or winery and even the grape variety might be secondary to you unless you have a deep interest or are a fine wine collector.
But what about Champagne? That’s the region in Northern France, but we all recognise the likes of Moët and Chandon, Verve Cliquot, Dom Perignon etc, these are the wineries that make the wines and therefore are the brands.
In the New World (Australia, NZ, North and South America and so on…) often we have a mix of these two branding techniques. Argentinian Malbec is a brand, but is the country and grape variety, too.
19 Crimes is an Australian brand name for a particular range of wine made by one company.
This is one of the reasons that makes understanding wine impenetrable for some people; there are just too many things to learn and even when you feel you’ve got a grip on it, when faced with a wine list you can still be at a loss and just plump for the one you do know – the Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc.
So, what about vintages, (or the year it was made)? This brings more complexity. In the old world such as France, Italy and Spain, this is the basis of their winemaking. The weather each growing season has an impact on the grapes and therefore makes the wines different each year. Newer wine making and viticultural techniques have made bad years much less likely to happen as we’re able to mitigate frosts, lack of sun and warmth or too much heat in some ways, but there is still a difference year on year.
But for some brands such as Champagne houses and new world wines, consistency in each release is more their bag.
That’s why we have non-vintage (NV) Champagne and English Sparkling wine. Both these wines are made as a still base wine which is a blend of up to three vintages (different years) of wine before the second fermentation in bottle to produce the bubbles.
This is done to create a consistency of flavour year on year, known as the house style. It may be more citrus in flavour, or more bready/briochy than rivals, but it’s always the same. Vintage Champagne is made in the best growing years, and they will taste different.
With new world wines, consistency of flavour year on year for a winery brand is much more driven by the expectations of the end consumer, and this is usually the supermarket shopper. They want their wine to taste the same whenever it was made, and vintage is unimportant to them. It simplifies wine and makes it more accessible to a wider audience.
Perhaps understanding this alone could make wine easier to understand for all?
In England, vintage variation is intrinsic to our winemaking. We have a marginal climate for grape growing, therefore some years when all falls into place such as 2018 (beast from the east delayed bud burst on the vines so they avoided frosts and it was a beautifully hot, sunny spring and summer for ripening the grapes) the wines are fabulous. Then you get 2021 (late frosts, wet summer) and good grapes are few and far between.
Many years ago, when the climate was more like this in Bordeaux, the French farmers decided to plant both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. These grapes prefer slightly different conditions and therefore it was certain that each year something good would grow, and vintage Bordeaux was born.
But what do we do in England? We are an industry dominated by winery led brands, much more like the New World, and consistency of flavour by vintage is often expected, even for still wines, largely driven by supermarkets and luxury food outlets.
It’s a head scratcher, something of interest, something for the industry to work out as we get larger.
For a bit of fun, I can suggest a way to understand vintage variation and wine region characteristics.
Get a few wine-loving friends over for an evening, and try this:
A Vertical Wine Tasting
This is where you buy two-three bottles of the same wine but from different vintages. The tricky part is finding a local shop that stocks different vintages – but it is possible, I suggest looking at our stockists page to find your local independent wine shop and going in to speak to them.
Then simply taste the wines together and think about the differences and similarities, often the website of the winery will have information about each wine and how it was made to help.
A Horizontal Wine Tasting
This is much easier to achieve, find two-three wines made with the same grapes in the same region in the same year but by different wineries.
Again, simply taste the wines together and think about the differences and similarities.
A horizontal tasting of three German Rieslings from 2020 – two from the Rheingau region and one from Nahe.
I’m sure it will stoke up good conversation between you! Remember no opinion about wine is wrong, everyone’s taste buds and noses are different.
This is why I think wine is for everyone, we should embrace all these different ways of marketing it, it suits all sorts!