Being fairly new to the world of wine, we are still working on learning about different vintages of wine--meaning, the year the grapes were harvested. While a basic knowledge of regions and varietals provides a baseline to understand a particular wine, knowing the differences in vintages gives you an even better understanding--even if it requires a very specific knowledge base. You need to know the details of the weather in the wine region for the year in question, as well as what that means for the wines.
While we get a chance to sample Finger Lakes wines year over year (they tell us 2007 was a great year, as was 2009, and one year we traveled through and all the new Rieslings had a hint of peach in them), we don't often get to compare different vintages of the same wine from other regions. So when we get the chance, we jump on it.
We recently sampled the newest release of Gewurztraminer from Castello di Amorosa. We looked back at our notes because we knew we had tried an earlier vintage, as well. In both cases, the characteristics of Gewurztraminer shone through: bright, aromatic, crisp and floral. In the newest vintage, it seemed like there were more tropical flavors, with hints of lychee on the nose that we didn't notice last year. Why? We don't know. The vintage has an effect on the wine, we know that much, as sun and rain inform how the grapes ripen. But there are so many variables, and its difficult to follow the weather patterns from year to year.
Of course, comparing two vintages is imprecise unless you have the training and experience required. After all, this is the stuff that actual sommeliers do for a living. We can look back, however, see what our thoughts were at the time, but we can never directly compare two vintages because even in a vertical tasting, you have to account for the aging process that changes wines a little each day as they sit waiting to be enjoyed. Yet, knowing that a particular year was a "good year" in a region can help you direct your wine choices in the meantime. How do you find that out? You ask. Good luck!