What is ‘vintage wine’? It is the year written on the bottle; the year that the grapes were grown. The climatic conditions during that year will dictate whether the vintage is a good one or not.
One of last week’s wine experiences was short, but very sweet: I got do a little experiment to see the effect that different vintages had on what was otherwise exactly the same wine. Now, when I say the same wine, what I mean is the same vines, one single grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon), the same vineyard, the same winemaker and just about the same winemaking techniques.
In my recent video explaining what ‘vintage wine’ means, I mention briefly that vintage is considered to be more important in countries where the climate is marginal as there is more variation from year to year; places like Bordeaux and Burgundy, for example. While this is true, vintage variation in the New World cannot be ignored. The variations I found when tasting four wines from Santa Rita’s stunning flagship Casa Real range were really interesting.
Casa Real is all about one grape: Cabernet Sauvignon and the vineyard is situated in the gravelly Upper Maipo Valley which the locals describes as the ‘Haut Medoc’ of the Maipo Valley. Here, Cecilia Torres, the winemaker for the past 25 years, manages to coax out a cedary, elegant Cabernet from her vines that is much more like the left bank Bordeaux lovelies than the Ribena berry fruit bombs that much of Chile produces. Using the ‘ideal vintage’ of the 2010 as a benchmark which was elegant and mineral cool as if wearing a silky, cassis smoking jacket, I took a tour of three other, quite different vintages:
1998: Cold and wet vintage.
2008: Frost at first, then good, warm conditions.
2010: Ideal conditions all year.
2011: Cool, but not wet.
What is clear the world over is that cold, wet conditions make for light and very leafy, autumnal red wines and the 1998 was exactly that. The tertiary aromas that come from age were to be amplified to the max! At a lower 13.5% alcohol too, this had the most different personality to the other wines.
The 2008 showed what happens when yields are lowered because of the early frost, but then the sun comes out. This was a wine that was still very elegant for a Cabernet but had much more of a concentrated, blackcurrant kick thanks in part to the lower yields (less grapes) and a warmer, minty finish taking the alcohol up to 14.5%, thanks largely to the later addition of sunshine.
The 2011 was cool but not wet and the wine, while still young to taste, was concentrated and fine with more stringent tannin. Less voluptuous in fruit and slightly lower in alcohol (14%) as there has been less sun. Time will soften this big boy up!
There’s nothing like tasting wine together for the differences to really pop out, so thank you Caroline Park and Helen Chesshire for the tasting opportunity.