Weekly wine defined: Vintage

Mary writes:

Simply put, vintage is the year the grapes were picked.

When a label lists a year that signals the year the grapes were picked. If a label does not have a year on it that means it’s a blend of several years, or noncontiguous states of harvests.

One thing to remember, wines that are made on the other side of the equator will have more time under their belt than wines harvested in the northern hemisphere because of the different seasons.

For example, an Australian Shiraz harvested in 2010 will be six months older than a Washington Syrah harvested in the same year.

Vintage Champagne

Dom Perignon is always a vintage. Always.

And here’s the reason why: In Champagne, vintage champagnes only happen in the best years. For a Tete du Cuvee like Moet’s Dom Perignon or Roederer’s Cristal, this means every bottle will contain only the best grapes from the best vineyards from the best years.

If it’s a so-so year, there will be plenty of NV, or non-vintage, champagne. NV Champagnes are a blend of the best grapes from the best and other vineyards for a fraction of the cost of a Tete du Cuvee.

Vintage Port

Much like Champagne, only the best years have dates on them and everything else is a blend of other years. Port houses individually “declare a vintage” if a year measures up to the high standards of a vintage porto. Most houses declare unilaterally but there are a couple of mavericks.

Some NV ports include ruby, Tawny, and white. Some have proprietary names like Six Grapes, Trademark, or Presidential.

Tawny ports have a unique dating system: 10 year, 20 year, 30 year or 40 year. This spells out the average amount of years spent in barrel. (The barrel is what gives a tawny that tawny color).

Vintage charts

Vintage charts are guides for laying down a wine or not laying down a wine. If you are stocking a cellar, use a vintage chart from a source you agree as your guide. (Remember, off years may be cheaper but there is a reason why: They lack the concentration and balance to age).

Personal taste has the biggest influence on deciding when a wine is at its best — regardless of the vintage on the label. There is no wrong or right, let your taste buds be the guide. And working on defining and articulating what you like is the fun of wine tasting.

Our next post will guide you on when to drink your wine.