Among the events that winemaker Roman Roth (winemaker of Roanoke Vineyards as well as Wolffer Estates) had to deal with in 2013 were: A hot summer, an earthquake and Hurricane Irene in August, Tropical Storm Lee in September and a Halloween Nor’Easter that brought 2” of snow. The grape harvest at many Long Island Vineyards that year was greatly reduced and a few wineries had certain varieties of grapes totally wiped out. As Queen Elizabeth II famously said in 1992, it was an “Annus horribilis”.
Which leads to the question, is it possible to have a great wine in a bad year? That was the theme of a recent blind tasting at Roanoke Vineyards. In this tasting, we compared three wines from the difficult year of 2011 with two wines from 2013, a year considered by many to be one of the best on Long Island.
For me, most blind tastings are a mix of satisfaction, revelation, embarrassment and enjoyment. And this tasting was no exception. The first order of business was to decide my personal preferences and I gave each wine a score from 0–10. Next, I attempted to determine which were the wines from the challenging year, which is an entirely different objective than just rating my favorite wines. And lastly, I made a guess at the grape variety.
How did I do? Satisfaction: I successfully predicted 3 out of the 5 wines in the 2011 vs 2013 comparison. Revelation: My two favorite wines of the evening were the two Cab Francs and my least favorites were the two Merlots. (Which in retrospect makes perfect sense, as I personally prefer drinking Cab Franc over Merlot.) Embarrassment: I guessed wrong on 5 out of the 6 grape varieties. And of course tasting wine with a group of fellow connoisseurs on a cold winter day was great fun.
And as for the question “Can you have a great wine in a bad year? “, the answer is a resounding yes. Good winemakers cope the best they can when presented with difficult circumstances. But great winemakers are able to produce consistently great wine year after year regardless of the circumstances. While it’s not a bad idea to buy/drink wines from a year that is considered to be a great year, the reality is that great wines can be produced in any given year. If you stick with the Great Years Only strategy, you’ll likely miss out on some hidden gems. Like the Roanoke Vineyards’ Time and Place (a mostly Cabernet Sauvignon red blend) and Gabby’s Cab Franc, both of which are outstanding wines from 2011.