Sooner or later any wine lover comes across the concept of ‘millesime’ or ‘millesime wine’. Let’s speak about what millesimes stand for, why many of them are appreciated so highly by the experts, and how millesime wines should be chosen for one’s enoteca. By the way, we have already looked at certain types of wines, including Beaujolais and Novello. Have you already bought this sort of wine for your enoteca? Let’s move on to another type!
The word ‘millesime’ originates from French ‘le millésime’, a number that indicates a year. Millesime wine or simply millesime is the wine (as well as cognac, armagnac and other alcoholic drinks) made from the grapes harvested in one certain year. This year is usually indicated on the wine label. However, if the vintage intended for, say, ice wine was harvested after the New Year, the label will refer not to the year of the harvest, but to the previous year, the one during which the grapes were ripening.
In some countries, the proportion of the grapes harvested in one year has to be 75 to 95% of the total bulk, so the wine produced from them could be recognised as ‘millesime’. In Europe, only those wines can be considered vintage that are 100% made from the grapes harvested in one year. By the way, in English-speaking countries it is more common to say ‘vintage’, and ‘vintage wine’ instead of ‘millesime’.
It is important to sort out the following: millesimes are made from grapes of one year, not from one variety of grapes. So you are quite likely to come across a millesime that is made from a mixture of grape varieties, for example, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Every millesime has its own unique bouquet, a set of organoleptic features. The quality of the grapes, their taste, flavour and other properties are to a great extent affected by the weather conditions. Wine produced from the grapes that ripened in the dry and warm weather will be different from one produced in a cooler and wetter year. It doesn’t, of course, mean that the wine made in an unfavourable year is bound to be low in quality; experienced winemakers know how to alleviate the drawbacks and create a dignified drink from practically any raw material. However, the most luxurious wines are produced from the grapes that ripened in close to ideal conditions: with no frosts or heat waves, droughts or incessant showers.
Apart from these basic conditions, there are a lot of other climatic factors that have their impact on the grapes and hence on the wine produced from them. That is why it is impossible to say decisively that since this or that year, say, was too dry, no good quality wine could be produced. The wine-making history has known periods when certain regions managed to produce excellent vintages year after year, and yet others when the produced wine failed to hit the mark. In either of these cases, the weather wasn’t at all always particularly favorable or unfavorable.
Specialists work hard to make it easier for collectors and connoisseurs of wine to select their favorite drink; they create the so-called vintage or millesime charts. Not only do they create such charts, but they also update the data every year. The thing is, it is only by the fifth year of ageing that specialists can distinguish a good vintage from an outstanding one. Wine maturation doesn’t always develop the way one would expect, hence an apparently average vintage can after a while stun with a luxurious bouquet, whereas the one that was initially considered outstanding may, alas, lose all its beauty.
Unsuccessful vintages may have a pleasant taste but they can’t usually boast great potential for long-term storage; that is why they should preferably be consumed within 5 years from the time they were made. Average and excellent vintages can be stored for about 10 years, whereas the outstanding ones are capable of preserving their incredible quality and even become better after having been kept for 50 years and longer.
A curious fact: the great Bordeaux wines are so expensive and so much appreciated partly because unsuccessful vintages are a rarity.
The best way is to use one of the charts. The most famous and popular one is by a well-known wine advocate, Robert Parker; another chart that may be used is developed by the authoritative magazine Wine Spectator.
Be aware of the fact that these charts do not list specific wines, but rather wine-making regions. The charts help to decide whether certain wines produced in this or that region and in this or that year are worth our attention. For example, according to Robert Parker’s chart, the Alsace wines of 2010 are characterised as average, whereas those of 2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the North Coast of California are exceptional.
As you can see, aged wine is not always better than young wine, and the brand name is not yet a guarantee of its quality. That is why wine lovers pay attention to the vintage year, too.
Finally, here are some of the excellent vintages that you can purchase for your collection:
As a bit of a bonus and for convenience, here are the two charts. They will make it easier for you to make a better choice.
Robert Parker Vintage Chart: https://www.robertparker.com/resources/vintage-chart
Wine Spectator Table: http://assets.winespectator.com/wso/pdf/022912VintCard2.pdf