Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine Drinkers


Mo Wine Please! Wine Vintage

Does wine vintage matter?

While the reasons may be different depending on if you are a serious collector,  a wine dabbler, or someone who buys wine to drink right away,  the answer is “YES”.

Wine vintage matters.

The quality, quantity, and flavor profile of wine can vary greatly from year to year, vintage to vintage.

Some wine vintages are just better than others. And, for collectors, some wine vintages can be aged longer than others.

Why is one year different than another?

Remember that wineries are in the agriculture business. The vineyards are the farms and grapes are the crops. Magical, wonderful crops.

As farmers, wine growers are at the mercy of weather and climate. Too much rain – no good. Too little rain – no good. The same can be said for heat. And coolness and fog.

Each of these things – factors that only Mother Nature controls – can make or break a wine vintage.

Napa Vineyard

Throw in things like earthquakes, forest fires, fungus, parasites and disease and you have to imagine that winemakers and vineyard managers must do a whole lot of worrying. And praying.

Vineyard managers and winemakers are in the field every day checking on their crops and doing whatever they can to overcome the challenges thrown at them by Mother Nature.

And they do it all for us so that we can enjoy the delicious nectar of the vine.

Why do I care if I plan to drink my wine right away?

Studies show that 80 – 90% of wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours. And 90 – 95% is consumed within a week.

So why does wine vintage matter if you are not going to keep the bottle for very long?

Because some vintages are simply better than others. Going to the store armed with a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the wine you purchase.

Do yourself a favor and check out this super-helpful vintage chart from Wine Enthusiast.


Let’s take the example of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.

According to the Wine Enthusiast chart, the Napa Cabernet vintage of 2011 is rated 89 while the 2012 and 2013 vintages are rated 95. Quite the difference, eh?

When you are in the grocery store picking up a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner, you might look at the vast number of choices and have no idea where to start. Maybe you don’t recognize any of the wineries or you want to try something new.

First, you narrow down the choices based on price point. Next, perhaps you pick out a few based on the wine label (38% of wine buyers do).

But what next? How do you make the final selection?

Wine vintage, of course.

Again, let’s use Napa Cabernet as an example.You will likely see some 2011s, some 2012s and some 2013s on the shelf.

We know the 2011 is out. Both the 2012 and 2013 are rated the same and will be great. But, if presented with both, I’d go with the 2012 because it has had a chance to age a bit just relaxing there in the bottle on the shelf.

The same rule applies if you are out to dinner and ordering a glass or bottle of wine. Given the choice, pick the better vintage. And the older vintage as long as you know it is of equal quality.

But be absolutely certain that you are served the vintage you selected. Sometimes restaurants are slow to update their wine menu when they run out of a vintage.

Binny's Beverage Depot Lincolnwood

And, by the way, watch out for this when looking at “shelf talkers” at your wine store.

Shelf talkers are the little cards hanging from the shelf showing recommendations and noting high scores. If the shelf talker says that the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet is rated a 95, be sure that it is the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet you are buying.

Wine vintage matters.

And what about those who hold bottles longer?

If you are someone who wants to stock up on wine to save for a little bit of time or for serious aging, you will want to focus on the best vintages.

You are going to want to search out Napa Cabernet from 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013 rather than from 2011.

Sidenote: Even though it was a tougher wine vintage, that’s not to say that all 2011’s are inferior. We have some bottles from that vintage in our cellar. But, we only have wines from winemakers we know and trust. It was a challenging year, for sure, but not impossible.

wine cellar

In addition to affecting the quality, wine vintage can also affect the ageability.

The Wine Enthusiast chart has a nifty color-coded system that shows if a wine is past its prime or right in the sweet spot for drinking.

Wine vintages that show up as “Hold” can certainly be consumed now if you want. The “Hold” designation just means that the wine will get even better with age.

The ageablity information helps collectors keep track of when wines should be consumed. You certainly wouldn’t want to invest in a fabulous bottle of wine from an excellent vintage only to stash it away for too long and miss the peak flavor.

That’s what we call a wine collector’s/first world problem/gut-wrenching nightmare.

As with everything, knowledge is power. Bookmark this post and download the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart to help with your wine purchasing choices. You will be glad you did!


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  1. As mentioned in the past, I am a cheap wine girl…I have been known to drink from a box and a bottle with a twisty top. I also lean toward a sweeter version of wine, so the wine enthusiast in me is probably more the person who buys and drinks right away, that being said after reading your post I now feel I could have a reasonable conversation with a true wine enthusiast and actually sound like I know what I am talking about….I was aware that weather plays a very large role in the production of wine. Thanks for contributing to the conversationalist in me.
    Beemie recently posted…Multitasking…My Profile

  2. I’ve never really thought much about wine and vintage. I do love seeing movies or documentaries about vineyards, they’re so beautiful. Mostly, when it comes to wine, just open a bottle and give me a straw. LOL We had a bottle of a red, Spanish wine in 1988 and it was the best wine I’ve ever tasted. We have never found it again. We thought we had kept the bottle but we had not. No wine has tasted as good to me since.
    Pam recently posted…Put Your Damn Phone DownMy Profile

  3. You made this sound so simple! This is knowledge I need to learn more about. Going to I wine pairing dinner and tasting on Monday and I’m hoping for a new favorite to add to our wine shelf.
    Vicki recently posted…Tailgating and a Walk Through CampusMy Profile

  4. A useful chart; I took a few photos of the WE vintage chart to keep on my phone.
    If I have a bottle of red wine with a vintage labeled “hold” or “can drink, not yet at peak,” will opening the bottle and letting it breathe make it “ready, at peak maturity”??

    • Excellent idea about snapping a picture of the chart on your phone!
      Opening the bottle, letting it breathe and possibly using a decanter will help soften the wine a bit but won’t bring it all the way to its peak maturity. If you have a big red from a hold vintage, especially a more expensive one, you will definitely want to let it breathe before serving. Otherwise, you might actually think the wine is not tasty when the truth of the matter is that it needs to open up. We were at a tasting event where The Farm (our favorite Paso Robles producer) was pouring their BIG yummy red wines. The owner got up at 3am to open the wine and spent the day pouring it from one decanter to another so that it would be ready to taste at 5pm.
      Mo Lux recently posted…Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine DrinkersMy Profile

  5. I always forget to look at the year or just casually notice it, but often, I’m surprised when a wine I’ve always liked suddenly tastes different, and that’s when I remember I”m not drinking a coca-cola with a firm recipe, but really a living, breathing, ever-changing thing! Great points for us to consider – thanks!
    Leslie Anne Tarabella recently posted…The best halftime show everMy Profile

  6. This is fascinating information! I always look at the year AFTER I get it home, open it and love it or hate it. But I DO read the “shelf talkers” and will have to watch out to make sure there is not any “bait and switch” going on. I really wish I knew more about wine!!

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Mo! xoxo

  7. I want to bring you with me to Trader Joe’s or Aldi next time, to make sure I do the right thing, Mo. I’ll make you some cheese enchiladas in trade.

  8. OMG I feel like such a wine idiot, although I know what “flavors” I like (not fruity). Also I like learning that they can get “too old.” When my dad sold our childhood home, he was like here, “have a bottle of 1976 wine” and it was maybe rotten? I don’t know but it was awful and I didn’t even know that could happen. I thought the older the better~
    Kristi recently posted…Home.My Profile

    • Sometimes you get lucky with a really old bottle and it is great, sometimes it has peaked and now tastes like boring grape water and sometimes it REALLY goes south like the bottle you had. Still, it was probably worth the gamble to try it when presented with such an old vintage. Unfortunately, your bottle of wine was not a winning lottery ticket but you never know!
      Mo Lux recently posted…Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine DrinkersMy Profile

  9. Another excellent education for me in wine, Mo! Thanks.

    Where can I pick up Blah Blah Cabernet?
    Katy recently posted…10 Jobs I Could Never DoMy Profile

  10. I just saved this to Pinterest so I could find it again. These days I am nearly a wine out of the can drinker (though I won’t really try that because you said it was awful). But these days I’m rarely popping a cork on my reds. I’ve find that I’m happy with the taste of Barefoot’s Merlot and Cabernet in the individual serving bottles. I don’t have wine every day but I hate not having some when I want some and then I hate a bottle “going bad” because there’s a week between two glasses.

    My proposal story involves a bottle of wine my husband was saving for a special occasion. It was a white wine from Italy. Neither one of us were wine drinkers but I do recall that it was good so at least he hadn’t saved it too long. I have seen cloudy wine before and totally sounded like a snob when I said, “It’s not supposed to be cloudy. I’m not drinking that.”
    Kenya G. Johnson recently posted…Pray For A Cancer CureMy Profile

    • Stay away from the canned wine!! No matter how stressful a day you are having it is not bad enough to warrant canned wine! I love your proposal story and am glad that it had a happy ending: both that you said “yes” and that the wine was still yummy. PS you are smart to also stay away from cloudy wine. Likely there is something bad happening there…
      Mo Lux recently posted…Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine DrinkersMy Profile

  11. Good heavens – a whole week has gone by since you wrote this. Sorry, Mo, that I didn’t check in earlier. I am loving the idea of the Wine Enthusiast chart. But. When I went to investigate it, I was saddened to see it has no Canadian wines. None. Zip. So, I then googled Canadian wines and discovered there are over 700 licensed wineries in Canada. Surely someone has compiled a list such as the WEC one. Somewhere. If not, may I propose that as something for you to do in your spare time? As the Okanagan wine region of BC was good enough for Will and Kate to visit this week, might I be so bold as to suggest you start there? Count me in.
    Kelly L McKenzie recently posted…Sailing Into Milestone BirthdaysMy Profile

  12. I’m far from a wine expert, so I really appreciate your taking time to explain all the ins and outs here, Mo. Who knew??!
    Debbie recently posted…Not Fair, I SayMy Profile

  13. I’m hoping to get some wine for my husband for his 50th birthday, so your timing is perfect. I downloaded the chart so I can start quietly acquiring. SOOOOO helpful, [email protected]
    Seana Turner recently posted…Finding Common GroundMy Profile

  14. I did not know that wine has a peak drinking time – I just assumed the longer it sat around, the better! Your explanation makes perfect sense, though – thanks for the wineducation!

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