For a term that’s thrown around constantly when wine is discussed, it sure does cause a lot of confusion. What does vintage really mean in terms of wine, and why does it matter? We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about vintage wine. The first step is to define the term itself. It’s simple – vintage is the year the grapes were grown and picked to make the wine, not when it was bottled. See, it isn’t as complicated as people make out to be.
Vintage Or Blend
The majority of the wines you see are from one vintage, and you’ll find that information on the label. There are some exceptions to this, of course, typically they are the branded wines or the ones that are incredibly cheap or just barely drinkable. Typically, your sparking and fortified wines are non-vintage. The reason for this is they are created using a blend of vintages to create a consistent house flavor. Though, there are some exceptions to this rule as well.
Why Vintage Matters
Why are certain vintages better than others? Generally, it all comes down to the weather. The weather can change dramatically from year to year and every grape responds differently to those conditions. The Syrah favors sunny and dry conditions that Southern Australia has been so successful in its production of these types of wines. Yet, France’s Loire Valley and the South Island in New Zealand have become incredibly popular with Sauvignon Blanc due to the damp, cool conditions.
Weather that is contrary to the grape being grown is a test of experience, a test of knowledge and separate the good producers from the bad. Even in bad weather, a good producer can improve the flavors and still release a delicious wine from bad grapes. Whereas, a so-so producer will probably take perfect grapes and offer you a barely average wine. Even the best winemaker can be undone by the weather though.
El Nino had a major effect on Australia’s offerings during the 1990s. In particular, the unpredictable weather destroyed 1993s light wines, thanks to heavy rains. Then again, there were drought conditions in 1995 which produced ripe grapes, but low yields. It can also work in winemakers favor, 1998 was a great year for Australian wine because they had a particularly long, warm summer.
- Vintage does not denote quality – there isn’t a specific year that is vintage for every Only products like port are highly regulated when it comes to declaring a vintage.
- While we explained how typically a vintage is based on the year the grapes were picked, it does differ from country to country. The majority of the grapes will be from that year, but in the US 15% of your wine can come from other years. It’s the same in the EU and Oceania. Whereas, in South America, it can be up to a 25% blend. There are stricter areas where only 5% of the wine can from grapes of a different year.
- Your bottle of wine isn’t going to age well. If you spend under $20 on a bottle of wine, you should just go ahead and drink it. Generally, whites should be consumed within three years and reds within two.