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millésime (F)
vintage (GB)
cosecha (ES)
annata (I)
ano (PO)

Besides soil type, grape varieties and the art of the winemaker, the climate has a decisive influence on the quality of the wine. Wines sometimes reflect to a considerable extent and over a wide area the often very specific characteristics of a year's weather. In this context one speaks of vintage-related typicality, for example wines can have a "vintage-typical botrytis note" or a "toasted note" due to heat periods. In warm growing regions, the fluctuations are generally not as strong, and the deviations are therefore smaller. By contrast, in cooler growing regions, the differences in weather can be considerable. This is the case, for example, in the Italian regions of Piedmont and Tuscany, in Austria in the Wachau wine-growing region and the wine-growing regions in the province of Styria, the German Moselle wine-growing region, and the French regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace and Loire.

Kriterien für einen Wein: Topographie, Bodentyp, Klima, Rebsorte, Vinifikation und Jahrgang

Influences on quality

From Bordeaux comes the statement that the Châteaux do not produce good wine, but only good vintages or even only good bottles. Although climate and weather conditions are often similar for very large areas and even countries within a year (although of course the climate does not respect national borders), the quality can vary greatly from area to area, from place to place and even from site to site within the year. It is therefore only possible to speak of a specific vintage quality in very general terms, and this should be understood as a relatively rough guide rather than a general guide for all producers.

In a "low vintage", the wines usually have less total extract (especially of aromatic substances) and alcohol content. As a rule, such wines mature more quickly and reach their peak or drinking maturity earlier. The type of vinification also has a great influence. Wines matured in barrels or barriques generally have a longer shelf life than those in steel tanks. Special vintages were already mentioned in antiquity, among the oldest wines is the famous Falernian "Opimianer" from 121 BC. However, mostly only the very bad (due to weather, wars, pests or other disasters) and the particularly good years were documented. In addition, it used to be customary to simply add the new vintage in a barrel.

Chronicle of the year

The best wines of very special years are poetically called century wines. A vintage that was also significant from a historical point of view was the legendary 1811 (for further crescences see under oldest wines). The following chronicle is partly taken from the documentation "Jahrgangs Chronik, Wein in den letzten 2000 Jahren" by Peter H. Jordan This is also a short historical outline of viticulture. The remarks are often related to specific wine-growing areas and are of course not in principle valid for whole countries and all wines. If not stated otherwise, they mainly refer to Germany and Austria:

  • 121 B.C. - first documented vintage in the history of wine, from this year comes the famous Falernian wine "Opimianer
  • 306, 312, 411, 545, 585, 604 - failed harvests
  • 765 - blessed wine year, thanksgiving service of King Pippin III (714-768) - father of Charlemagne
  • 900 to 1350 - this long period is called the Medieval Warm Period, which was followed by a very long cold period from 1450 to 1850, the so-called Little Ice Age
  • 987 - very hot and dry year, complete crop failure
  • 1150 - years of crisis on the Moselle and Rhine, probably due to overproduction because of the enormous expansion of vineyards caused by the warm climate, led to a large wave of emigration of winegrowers, mainly to the Carpathian region
  • 1185 - wonderful wine in large quantities, start of harvest August 1st
  • 1293, 1295, 1297 - excellent wine in abundance
  • 1343 - a wine from Lindenfels-Pfalz was still served in Heidelberg Castle in the 17th century
  • 1346 - catastrophic year, extreme frost in mid-September
  • 1407 - Severe winter frost, Rhine frozen over, many vineyards destroyed
  • 1437 - Severe frosts, extreme winter destroys the vineyards along the Vistula
  • 1443 - extremely sour and inedible wine, therefore it was used for mortar during the construction of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna; see also Reifbeißer
  • 1450 - After a warm phase from about 900 to 1350, the so-called Little Ice Age began, which lasted with different phases until about 1850
  • 1484 - very good vintage with huge quantities, more than one million litres of old wine was dumped into Lake Constance to make room in the barrels
  • 1485 to 1488 - four-year period of bad harvests and bad, acidic wines
  • 1525 - a good vintage, the wine was demonstrably still served in the Strasbourg hospital cellar in 1730
  • 1526 - in the Burgenland parish of Donnerskirchen (Austria) a Trockenbeerenauslese was pressed, which was still edible after 326 years and became famous as Luther wine
  • 1529 - bad vintage with acidic wines - see also under Turkish wine
  • 1530 - bad vintage, grapes very sour, wine almost inedible
  • 1540 - a millennium vintage; it was so hot that the Rhine dried up; a Würzburg stone was drunk 421 years later and was edible
  • 1606 - very good vintage, hot summer, great Tokaj
  • 1628 - not as bad as it had been for 100 years, even the vinegar was spoiled
  • 1632 - very bad year, unusual heat and drought from mid-July to mid-September, destruction of many vineyards by the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)
  • 1645 - Bad vintage; in the "Heilbronner Chronik" it is reported that the "sour wine can even be called 'the French'"
  • 1659 - first vintage in South Africa produced by the viticulture pioneer Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677) with 15 litres of Muscatel wine
  • 1679 - a Madeira of this vintage with intact original cork was tasted by Michael Broadbent in 1999 and found to be very good
  • 1703 - very bad year, the cooper Hans Jakob Erni was executed because he "improved" the bad wines of 1701 and 1703 and some people died of it
  • 1709 - extreme frost in the French region of Pays Nantais on the Loire, which froze many vines (see Muscadet)
  • 1726 - exquisite wines in the richest abundance
  • 1727 - in terms of quantity and quality a great vintage in Germany; the so-called "Rüdesheimer Apostelwein" (Rheingau) from this year is stored in the "Bremer Ratskeller
  • 1735 - a Rheingau wine of this vintage from the Schloss Schönborn winery was auctioned in 1987 for around € 27,000
  • 1748 - a castle Johannisberg was served to Johann W. von Goethe (1749-1832) on his 66th birthday (one copy was still edible in 1985 at the age of 237), Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) was given a 1748 Rhine wine as a gift in Cologne
  • 1766 - excellent vintage, was demonstrably still drunk in 1780
  • 1775 - very good vintage with splendid wine, first Botrytis late vintage in Johannisberg Castle with the famous story of the late vintner
  • 1776 - very good year, wines from the years 1748, 1775 and 1776 were still offered in Hochheim in 1830 as "fine, old vintages
  • 1786 and 1787 - bad wine, "to be used only for servants, maids and day labourers"
  • 1794 - allegedly first ice wine in Germany (Franconia)
  • 1804 - exceptionally good, mature vintage
  • 1811 - a legendary vintage in many European wine growing regions, known as Comet, Napoleon and Century wine; noteworthy are Château d'Yquem and the famous "1811er", a Riesling from Bassermann-Jordan, mentioned by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • 1816 and 1817 - blatant absentee years; the grapes froze before ripening, 1816 went down in history as the "year without summer" in the northeast of America and in the west and south of Europe, in Germany as the miserable year "Achtzehunderfroren" (probably caused by the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in April 1815)
  • 1821 - year of absence, almost nothing was harvested
  • 1830 - frost year (the end of a very long frost period from 1799 to 1830), this also forced the cultivation of frost-hardy Riesling, there was the first documented ice wine in Germany from the 1829 harvest near Bingen (Rheinhessen)
  • 1840 and 1841 - the 1840 vintage is described by George Saintsbury (1845-1933) in his famous "Notes of a Cellarbook" as very good, but 1841 as bad
  • 1845 - powdery mildew appears for the first time in Europe in England
  • 1846 - documentary evidence of ice wine in Germany
  • 1857 - very good vintage, extremely hot summer, the wines are characterized as "summer delightful well drink, as a mild, wild barrel drink", for one fuder (1.000 liters) Scharzhofberger (Mosel) were paid up to 13.000 Taler, for best Mosel wine up to 15.000 Taler
  • 1858 - very good vintage (see also under comet wine), documentary documented ice wine at Johannisberg Castle in Germany
  • 1861 - very good vintage (see also under comet wine)
  • 1863 (in other sources already 1858) inexplicable death of vines in the French Provence - the reason was the phylloxera, which appeared for the first time on the European continent
  • 1864, 1865, 1867 and 1870 - some exceptionally good years with wines of the century; this period went down in history as the so-called "golden Bordeaux era" (when the wine cellar of the famous restaurant La Tour d'Argent in Paris was looted by the German occupying forces in June 1940, these vintages in particular were saved by being walled up in a niche in the cellar shortly before)
  • 1867 - Phylloxera reaches Klosterneuburg in Austria with American vine material
  • 1870 - above average vintage, the average yield of the years 1870 to 1879 in Germany was 17 hectolitres per hectare
  • 1874 - Phylloxera first appears in Germany near Bonn in the Annaberg garden
  • 1877 to 1883 - consistently poor vintages with mostly cold, wet summers
  • 1878 - downy mildew appears for the first time in Europe in Southern France
  • 1880 - documentary evidence of ice wine in Germany
  • 1886 - for the first time in many years a very good vintage with small harvest quantities
  • 1888 - miserable year, the vintage is described in the poem "Der 88er Wein
  • 1890 - documentary evidence of ice wine in Germany
  • 1893 - outstanding year with many wines of the century, competitor to 1811, excellent noble rot, the best Fuder Scharzhofberger (Mosel) cost 10,500 Marks (10.50 Marks per litre), German wines of this vintage were awarded as the world's best at the world exhibition
  • 1900 - very good and sought-after vintage, a so-called "picture book summer
  • 1911 - very good vintage (see also under comet wine), glowing hot summer(year of drought), a Riesling selection from the Rheingau was tasted in 1996
  • 1921 - long and very hot summer, some fruit trees blossomed a second time, outstanding wines in Germany (here the term widow's wine was used) and France-Bordeaux
  • 1926 - very good vintage, especially France (Bordeaux)
  • 1928 - very good vintage, especially France (Bordeaux)
  • 1929 - very good vintage, in many parts of Europe hot, long summer, especially many top wines from Bordeaux (a "glorious year")
  • 1937 - some century wines in France-Burgundy and Germany; in Germany with outstanding, extremely long-lasting Rieslings from the Rhine and Moselle, excellent Prädikat wines (Spätlese, Trockenbeerenauslesen - see Steinberg), at the baptism of wine in Neustadt (Palatinate) the wine received the designation "Bomber" (two years later they fell); in Burgundy there were top qualities from Pinot Noir, for example from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
  • 1945 - very good vintage, many extraordinary wines - the "Friedensjahr-Weines"; see examples under "Jahrhundertwein
  • 1947 - very good vintage, especially France (Bordeaux), also in Austria
  • 1949 - very good vintage, especially in France (Bordeaux, Burgundy), also partly in Austria and Germany
  • 1951 - very bad vintage due to heavy rainfall in May and early summer, extremely bad in Bordeaux (Michael Broadbent in the "New Great Vintage Wine Book": "Terrible, the worst post-war vintage and one of the most disastrous ever")
  • 1953 - very good vintage, in France (Bordeaux) and in Germany for noble sweet wines
  • 1956 - a poor vintage in many countries; extremely low temperatures down to minus 30 °Celsius and frost in many European countries (e.g. France, Germany, Austria), which also led to the destruction of many vineyards
  • 1959 - Century vintage, many extraordinary wines in Germany and France
  • 1961 - a worldwide great vintage with long-lasting wines, especially in Bordeaux but also in Spain, Italy and overseas (Australia, California)
  • 1966 - a century vintage especially France-Burgundy and also Germany
  • 1968 - large harvests of moderate quality in Austria, poor vintage with low must levels in Germany
  • 1970 - Record harvest in Austria with acid accentuated wines, great ice wine year in Germany
  • 1976 - long heat wave and drought period in Europe, partly century wines, in Germany excellent vintage with Botrytis wines (the wines were called "Sonneschlucker" or "Bikini wines" - because the harvest was also done by "lightly dressed" personnel)
  • 1976 to 1984 - A wine scandal was uncovered in Austria in 1985, some producers added diethylene glycol to wines, the first vintage affected was 1976, and the vintages 1980 to 1984 were strengthened
  • 1979 - in Germany above average vintage, in Austria long-lasting wines - special qualities in Burgenland and Styria
  • 1982 - very good vintage, especially France (a "miracle year" in Bordeaux), in Germany largest wine harvest of all times, also in Austria record harvest
  • 1983 - Germany's second largest wine harvest of all times, the 1983 Grange from the Australian winery Penfolds became famous
  • 1984 - in spring cold weather, bad vintage in Germany and Austria with very few good wines
  • 1985 - very good vintage, especially France (Bordeaux, Rhône), some century wines, in Austria severe frost damage, had a negative effect on 1986
  • 1986 - The Chernobyl year (accident in the nuclear reactor), very good vintage, especially France (Bordeaux) and wines from the appellations Montrachet in Burgundy
  • 1987 - in spring late frost damage, late flowers, nevertheless good vintage
  • 1988 - large harvest quantities with different qualities
  • 1989 - very good vintage, especially in France (Bordeaux) with wines rich in alcohol and tannin
  • 1990 - outstanding vintage, applies to many wines in Europe and overseas

Volume tables

It was only after bottling that the distinction between vintages began. From around the beginning of the 19th century, monasteries began to keep records of precise information about each year. Today, attempts are being made to present the quality of a vintage divided into countries, regions and areas. This is intended to provide clues for tasting, wine evaluation or purchasing wines. However, vintage tables are of course not static and are by no means valid for all eternity, but must correctly be updated annually to take into account the development of the wines through aging or bottle aging. The International Wine & Food Society published one of the first vintage tables ever in 1935. Since then, an updated table has been published annually. The wine evaluation is the responsibility of a committee specially commissioned for this purpose, on which three Masters-of-Wine members are represented.

A vintage table can only be a rough guide. Even within a small area, wines are rarely of uniform quality. A good example is 1964, where a generalisation for the quality of all wines of a country (specifically Bordeaux-France) would be wrong. That year there was heavy rainfall during the main harvest season. Those wineries that harvested before the rain achieved excellent results, such as Château Latour. Many others, however, such as Château Beychevelle, Château Calon-Ségur, Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton-Rothschild, harvested (too) late and produced rather thin wines with a weak body, the peak of which was already passed after only a few years.


For some producers or sectors, special vintages are mentioned. These are Barbaresco, Bardolino, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Château Haut-Brion, Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Le Pin, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Palmer, Château Pétrus, Château d'Yquem, Chianti-Classico, Côte Rôtie, Opus One, Penfolds Grange, Sassicaia and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano These regularly rank among the best and most expensive wines in the world, for which the highest prices are achieved at auctions. See also under oldest wines and century wine as well as under records.

Picture: © Norbert Tischelmayer

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