The Happy Seasons Of Wine Releases

Professional sport is big-business and fans get all amped up in anticipation of a new season. I just saw a headline online that the NFL has just released its annual schedule for the upcoming pro football season. I’m sure each team’s support system is gearing up for all the games they are going to attend, the tail-gates they are going to plan and everything else that goes along with the season.

A similar phenomenon happens to wine fanatics as well. Every year we wait with anticipation for the release to a new vintage of wines. Not surprisingly there are certain times of the year when one can expect a particular wine to be released to the public. In France, Bordeaux has what they call the en primeur tasting. Wine merchants and wine lovers from around the world gather in and around Bordeaux to taste the most recently finished fermenting wine. This is quite exciting for Bordeaux lovers but the wine is not actually released to the public until the summer two years following the tasting. So there is quite a long lag time between the tasting and the first opportunity that one gets to taste the actually “finished” wine in bottle.

But certainly Bordeaux is not the only wine for which wine lovers wait with bated palates. Let us start with the major white wines of the Northern Hemisphere.

Sauvignon Blancs are some of the earliest wines to reach the market, as most of these wines do not spend a whole lot of time being “made.” They are typically brought to press, fermented in stainless steel vats, bottled, rested and then shipped to market. These can hit the store shelf as soon as spring of the following year only about five months after they were harvested. Light, white, aromatic wines such as Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Albarino and the like follow a similar pattern.

Chardonnay spends a little more time in the cellar soaking up oak flavors from the barrels mostly prior to being bottled. There are some occasional Chardonnays that go “unoaked,” which can be found as early as March following the vintage, but most of them will be released at minimum late summer and into fall. Those that producers deem to need more time in the cellar (read barrel) are usually released in second spring following the harvest. It would be rare to find that a producer will hold the whites in the cellar for longer than 18 months, but there are always exceptions.

Now let us move to the reds. Pinot Noirs have a very similar release pattern to Chardonnay, interestingly enough. Although they tend to be released in the fall the year after harvest at the earliest, with most of them being released in the second spring. Zinfandel is also a second spring after harvest release not seeing as much age time as some other reds. Merlot can be released at almost any time depending on the producer. If soft and juicy is the goal, then they will come out in spring. If they want to make them thicker and bigger, those will wait until winter.

Rhone varietals such as Shiraz and Grenache span the same months.

Speaking of winter, that is when all the “Big Boy” juice is released – Cabernet Sauvignon. Every winter is when you see those new releases (from harvest two years prior) brought to the shelf. These wines definitely need the time in the cellar.

And for the wines of the Southern Hemisphere, just move all the dates up by half a year.

At any rate, I doubt I would find a wine fanatic who has painted his/her face to match the colors of the label of his/her favorite wine and pounding the cellar door to be the first one in. But I do know that there are many who wait with great anticipation for releases.