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March 23, 2015 | Matt Mills

The Three Slam Dunk Vintages of the World

 

A common discussion in premium wine production is the vintage, or growing season, of the grapes. If you live in or have visited California you know how spoiled we are for tremendous farming weather as evident not only by our wine production but all the fresh produce the state grows. But what are the hands down, elite, slam dunk wine vintages? For this post I will discuss three vintages that rocked the world, and the best part is that if you're fortunate to find them all three are in their drinking window this year.

Michael Jordan 

1978 Piemonte (Runner-Up: 2010 Peimonte)

Argued by wine critic Antonio Galloni to be the greatest vintage ever of Piemonte, 1978 wines are still aging beautifully in the bottle. Piemonte is located at the Northern end of Italy with the Alps as their backdrop. Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the standout DOCG regions in Piemonte, focus on growing Nebbiolo, a highly tannic complex and age worthy grape.

Starting off as a colder spring season, lighter blossoming led to lighter yields. 1978 saw very consistent and nearly perfect growing conditions throughout the summer devoid of heat spikes or rain. As a result the grapes had slowly matured preserving the ideal balance of sugar and acid and harvest occurred later in the season. Already a region known for incredible long lasting wines, the wines of this vintage continue to deliver and evolve nearly 40 years later. 

 

Vince Carter

1982 Bordeaux, Left Bank (Runner-Up: 2009 Bordeaux)

Not only was an important vintage for the French in terms of the growing season, 1982 was also important for the wine business of Bordeaux. The region which is usually dominated by a maritime influence saw a long, hot and dry summer creating these lush and rich wines which has been referred to as the "California Vintage." On most vintages a later harvest for red wines isn't possible as moisture is a problem in the morning hours creating rot (which greatly benefits the wines of Sauternes that we discussed last month). Instead the vineyards saw an extended growing season allowing their fruit to fully ripen and develop.

Noted enologist Emile Peynaud helped champion the practice of leaving the grapes on the vine a little longer (creating higher sugar content, which translates to higher alcohol and a fuller body), and also promote tiered production. Peynaud argued that wineries should divide their fruit into two quality levels and only allow the top quality into their wines. The second tier could be bottled under a second, less expensive label. The immediate impact were wines of higher quality and an increased production level. The critical and monetary success of '82 provided a large cash injection for many wineries in the region to improve their facility and vineyards thus cementing BDX as a global leader in modern premium wine production. 

 

Dominique Wilkins 

2007 Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon (Runner-Up: 2001 Napa Valley)

Using Robert Parker's vintage guide, since 1970 Napa Valley has experienced four "Average" growing seasons, eight "Above Average to Excellent," twenty-three rated "Outstanding" and three named "Extraordinary". It is worth noting that our region has not seen anything lower than "average," which has afflicted nearly every other major grape growing region in the world. 2007 was one of those "Extraordinary" years and was a wildly popular vintage for wine reviewers and consumers alike. 

What we saw in 2007 was a dry and warm spring leading to a modestly early bud break starting mid-March, followed a really consistent warm summer with only one heat spike in early September. Harvest season was unrushed by a milder and cooler season allowing the grapes opportunity to relax and slowly mature on the vine. The harvest was not rushed as the Valley didn't see rainstorms so vineyards saw picking through the end of October. We saw less yield than in 2005 and 2006, but also saw a slightly lower finished alcohol level in the bottle. Tannin was seen as more supple and juicy than past vintages. Less fuit perhaps but of higher quality, specifically with Cabernet Sauvignon, created a banner vintage for hte Valley. 

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