What Is Vintage Wine All You Want To Know

What Is Vintage Wine? All You Want To Know

Few terms in the world of wine are as significant yet misunderstood as “vintage.”

A wine vintage is the year in which the grapes were harvested. The weather that affects the vines throughout the growing season is the main factor that the vintage of a wine can have on taste and quality. The grape-growing season runs roughly from April to October in the Northern Hemisphere (North America and Europe).

What does it mean for a wine to be “vintage” as stated on labels and displayed on shelves at your neighborhood liquor store.” Is it old, aged, or experiencing an unexpected resurgence among hip wine drinkers?

Please continue reading as I will present you with more specific information.

A Vintage Wine Is What?

The year that the wine grapes were harvested is indicated by the wine vintage, which is also the year that is printed on the bottle of wine. It is unrelated to the year the wine was made available for purchase.

A single vintage wine is simply a wine produced with grapes from a single harvest year or a single crop. For a wine to be referred to as “single vintage,” it must contain 75-95% of the same grape harvest; the exact percentage will vary depending on the wine region.

Other meanings of the wine vintage?

You can learn more about the weather and the growing season for grapes by looking at the wine vintage. You can choose the best wine by considering these elements, which are essential for the wine’s quality, flavors, and aroma.

The vintage is therefore very significant, especially for single vineyard wines, in wine regions with unpredictable weather (such as Sonoma, Napa, Willamette Valley, Portugal, Cote de Beaune, and Sauternes).

In a perfect world, a vintage with warm, moderate weather would result in fully ripe grapes and better wine, while a vintage with bad weather and temperature extremes might result in wine of lower quality.

The highest prices can also be found for some of the best vintages from wine regions with changing climatic conditions.

As long as all crops are harvested in the same year, wines made from different grape varieties can also bear the vintage designation.

How Is A Vintage Wine Made?

It can be simple to overlook the fact that winemaking is primarily an agricultural activity. Farmers are acutely conscious of the various climatic whims Mother Nature can bestow upon them. Hail, spring frost, early fall rainstorms, wildfires, insect infestations, flooding—any number of tragedies—can affect how many grapes are ultimately harvested and, ultimately, how well wine is produced.

If you hear the word vintage in wine circles or see the word vintage on a wine label, it’s easy to think of this as the year the wine was made. It goes beyond simply stating the date the grapes were grown, despite being technically correct.

‘The term “vintage” refers to all of the various climatic and growing conditions that the growing region encountered throughout the season. This can last from the end of February to the end of October in the northern hemisphere. Consider the variety of weather patterns that occurred during those long months. Because of this, some vintages can be particularly difficult while others can be incredibly advantageous for growing high-quality grapes and, as a result, high-quality wines.

For Some Wines, Does Vintage Matter More Than For Others?

For some growing regions more than others, knowing the vintage is useful.

For instance, marginal growing climates that are already on the cool side may experience greater annual fluctuations in their growing conditions. Consider the northern latitude and brief, cool growing season of Germany. A hot vintage can have a direct impact on a wine’s alcohol content, flavor ripeness, and acidity levels, which will then have an impact on the wine’s ability to age. A cooler-than-average vintage can result in underripe flavors, more acidity, and lower alcohol content in the finished wine, all of which have an impact on quality.

Bordeaux, which produces some of the most well-known wines in the world, is another region where vintage is significant. Growers have chosen vineyard sites in this temperate maritime climate based on the various soil types that can be found there; some are clay-based, while others are gravel-based. Due to the maritime region’s constant rainfall, these soils are especially well suited to it.

Based on those soils, producers over the ages have figured out which grape varieties thrive in the various vineyard locations. For instance, the Right Bank has a higher proportion of soil made of clay, which retains water and is ideal for growing Merlot grapes. Sadly, an extremely hot growing season can result in drought, which stresses the grapes and lowers yields.

Older reports may make references to these difficulties by saying things like:

  • The weather was warm without being oppressive from July until the end of August, but there was a notable lack of water. The growing season was the longest on record due to the fact that it was the driest year of the decade with conditions that were close to drought.
  • The volume was affected by the ongoing drought because the berries had thick skins and were not at all affected by harvest rain.
  • Depending on flowering and the effects of the drought, vintage yields can range from average to abundant.

Vintage Isn’t Important For Most Wines

If you enjoy weeknight wines, raise your hand. (me!) The majority of wine produced and consumed worldwide is common table wine grown in warm, sunny areas that are fortunate to experience only minor weather variations from year to year. These wine-growing regions, such as the Central Valley in Chile, the Central Valley in California, or Southern Italy, produce enormous quantities of good, approachable wines that aren’t overly complex. In general, you won’t be able to tell much of a difference in quality between wines from one year’s vintage and the next, even though they may still have a date on the label.

Nonvintage Wine: What Is It?

The vast majority of the Port and Champagne produced each year is nonvintage, in contrast to other wine regions. Wineries like Champagne Marie-Césaire and Quinta do Tedo combine barrels from various vintages to produce bottles with a dependable house style year after year.

“Our winemaker, Kay Bouchard, whose family produces Quinta do Tedo ruby and tawny Ports in Portugal’s Douro Valley, says every year we have to recreate this blend of three harvests to get the same flavor. According to her, nonvintage Port makes up about 98% of the total production released annually.

Champagne’s staple wine, making up 95% of annual production, is nonvintage (NV) brut Champagne. It makes sense to blend wines from various years in a place like Champagne, where the weather can be erratic and chilly, according to Molly Brooks, a buyer at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, California. She claims that some years may see very low or nonexistent yields of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and other traditional Champagne grapes due to late frosts and rain.

“Because there are so many vintages that simply don’t produce, the idea is to be able to have a consistent house style rather than a vintage style, according to Brooks.

In 2021, this was true. A triple whammy of hail, rain, and frost caused the loss of 40% of the crop, according to the Comité Champagne.

Nonvintage wines are a backup option for businesses that depend on the weather to be profitable.

“According to Jennifer Huether, a Toronto-based Master Sommelier, when blending a Port or Champagne, you draw from various vintages and cuvées to create the ideal wine. “You are not only subject to the gifts that Mother Nature has given you. You’re giving yourself more protection by blending various vintages and grape varieties.”

What Is Vintage Wine All You Want To Know
What Is Vintage Wine? All You Want To Know

Which Wine Is Better, Vintage Or Non-vintage?

Depending on what you’re looking for.

A vintage wine lets you experience the terroir of a certain wine region and the characteristics of the grapes that were grown there in a single year.

For wine drinkers who want to try a blended wine made from a few different grape varietals and different growing seasons, non-vintage wines are a great option because they are more balanced.

What Characterizes A Good Vintage?

The quality of a vintage is dependent on a number of factors.”

But keep in mind that a good wine can be subjective, blending the drinker’s preferences for taste, aroma, tannin, and acidity with the objective quality of the grapes used in the vinification process.

Your tastes might or might not actually match what the experts consider to be a great vintage. However, understanding the factors that sommeliers and other wine enthusiasts consider when making that decision can help you improve your wine knowledge and selection method.

Growing Season Conditions

A successful growing season with ideal weather conditions that resulted in an abundance of fruit that is flavorful and healthy is the foundation of a good vintage.

These grapes are analyzed by the winemaker, who decides whether the harvest has the quantity and quality required to produce single vintages.

  • Northern hemisphere: The grape growing season runs from late April to late October in North America, Europe, and a large portion of Asia.
  • Southern hemisphere: In contrast, the grape growing season starts in October and lasts until April in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and the majority of Africa.

The grapes’ final quality and characteristics in both hemispheres are primarily influenced by the spring, summer, and autumn seasons. More specifically, the weather throughout the seasons must typically exhibit these conditions for grapes to ripen into single-vintage worthy batches.

  • Spring: The biggest threat to springtime grape buds and flowers, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, is frost. Even though some grape varieties, like German Rieslings, require chillier weather, too much of it stunts grape growth and may even kill some of a vineyard’s delicate flowering buds.
  • Summer: Most grape varietal types thrive in moderate rainfall tempered by both direct and indirect sunlight. This rain-to-sun ratio is just right for vintages during the summer. While too little rain can actually cause grape dormancy, where the fruit waits for milder weather before fully ripening, too much rain can actually cause rot and fungal diseases in the grapes and vines themselves. This throws off the entire grape-growing schedule and might prevent a plentiful end-of-season harvest.
  • Fall: Harvest time for grapes begins in both hemispheres in the fall. To preserve concentrations, fend off rot, and fully ripen on schedule for harvest, grapes frequently need milder temperatures and light rainfall during these crucial final two to three months.

There are some exceptions to these grape-growing conditions and seasons, such as cabernet sauvignon, which needs dry, warm, and sunny climates to mature fully.

Sunshine

Sunshine has the greatest impact on the ability of a harvest to produce single vintages of grapes out of all grape climate variables.

  • A varietal’s distinctive palate of acidity, tannin, and sweetness develops as a result of adequate sunshine encouraging slow but steady grape ripening.
  • Grapes mature more slowly and develop unbalanced flavors, vine rot, and even disease when there is too little sunlight or too much rain.

Temperature

Temperature is another factor in the perfect climate balance required for good vintages.

As a general rule, the majority of grape varieties need 150 to 170 growing days with temperatures above 50°F for them to mature from bud to flower to fruit.

  • The majority of varietals mature more quickly when the weather is unusually hot, which increases their sugar production. Grapes that have been overly sweetened often succumb to palates that are flat, monochromatic, and lack depth.
  • The opposite is triggered by unusually cold weather. Grapes lacking sufficient warmth are unable to maintain healthy sugar ratios, which produces harsher, even acidic profiles. See more about What Is Claret Wine?

Does It Really Matter If I Buy Vintage Wine?

Yes, there are some situations where choosing vintage wine over a non-vintage wine or blend is preferred.

If The Wine Is From A Climate With A Range Of Climates

The unique way each vintage recounts the events of its previous year and will never do so again is one of the things that makes a particular vintage of wine so special.

Vintage wine bottles offer the best temporal representation of a region’s climates at a specific time, including rainfall, frost, humidity, sunshine, soil nutrition, and air quality. Due to the integration of these traits into the grapes, production and yields are highly variable. A successful year in one area might not continue in the following year.

Both the New and the Old Worlds contain wine-producing regions noted for their erratic weather. By purchasing vintages from these regions, you can travel to these locations without having to pay for an expensive plane ticket and learn about the distinctive growing environments and climatic patterns of these more erratic vines. These well-known wine regions with fluctuating climates include:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Northern Italy
  • Northern Spain
  • New Zealand
  • Chile

When Beginning A Collection

Vintages should be considered, even by inexperienced collectors who only have a few bottles. A well-rounded wine cellar in your own home demonstrates the care and attention you put into it by having a variety of wines from different eras.

Additionally, acquiring fine vintages from the world’s top wine-producing regions is your key to understanding these areas and their individual varietals. Every wine-producing region has unique traits and qualities to offer, often best displayed through their single vintages, from the illustrious green hills of Bordeaux and Burgundy to the chiseled, mountainside vineyards of Chile to the golden plateaus of Australia.

In other words, you seek out legendary vintages from all over the world and stock your personal wine collection with the best of the best.

When Is A Wine’s Vintage Irrelevant?

Once more, there isn’t a fundamental difference between vintage and non-vintage wines. Your decision will depend on your preferred varietal, your spending limit, and the overall situation you’re purchasing the wine for.

But in the following cases, choose a non-vintage wine to keep things straightforward.

When You’re Purchasing From A Large Producer.

Large producers of commercial wines purposefully design their bottles to be interchangeable over time.

Quantity and uniformity are given priority at their scale. Large producers will therefore manipulate everything from pH and residual sugar to natural flavors, total acidity, and alcohol content to make sure each bottle in the case is the same as the one before it. For this reason, disregard “vintages” or years printed on wine brands that are produced in large quantities.

If The Wine Is From A Region With A Stable Climate.

Crops grow more consistently in climates that are stable. Therefore, areas with a majority of sunny days, mild temperatures, and a moderate amount of seasonal rain support equally predictable crops with a lower likelihood of vintage variations.

The following climates, among others, are capable of producing wines with consistent styles:

  • Argentina
  • Southern Italy
  • Central Spain and Portugal
  • Southern California

If You Already Adore A Particular Region’s Variety.

There is no need to overthink this. No matter the vintage or reputation, if you enjoy Loire Valley Chenin Blancs, purchase one.

Exploring that variety over time is fun and educational, no doubt. When you do this, you’ll detect slight variations. However, in the end, your taste buds won’t be swayed by a bottle’s number if you have a particular preference for a particular variety of red or white wine.

How Do Producers Manage Their Vintages?

While the word “vintage” itself only refers to the year the grapes were harvested, many winemakers value the complexity and variation that come with varying grape yields from year to year.

To tell an honest story of the year, this entails accepting both successful and unsuccessful harvests and making the most of each.

  • In good weather: A winemaker will produce more single-vintage wines rather than blends after a successful vintage marked by a plentiful, rich harvest. When this happens, producers are usually advised to take a “less is more” approach and use the fewest cellar techniques possible to let the gorgeous grapes speak for themselves.
  • In inclement weather:Grapes are still subject to the whims of nature, even with modern winemaking equipment and technology. Numerous vinification and blending techniques can be used to overcome less-than-ideal weather and climate conditions. For instance, using specific yeast strains can soften the harsh acidity from underripe yields, while using reverse osmosis can reduce the sweetness or alcohol levels from excessive sun exposure. Some producers may even add artificial or natural flavors to alter a varietal’s taste, but they must still keep a 75 to 95 percent grape base.

A shrewd winemaker knows when to play their cards and when to hold back to produce a vintage they can be proud of in either situation.

How Does Aging Affect Vintages?

Up until a bottle is decanted, vintage wines in a cellar continue to undergo chemical changes.

These reactions are the end result of ongoing interactions between the wine’s alcohol, sugar, and acid compounds. These compounds mix in their airtight environment to induce new layers of flavors, textures, and bouquets. Until a bottle is opened, these chemical reactions will continue. They are not, however, completely arbitrary. The most talented winemakers are aware of the chemistry involved in aging wine and know how to manipulate the conditions in the cellar to promote different flavor and aroma nuances, producing a delicious, heady, and good vintage.

Here are some things that will happen when vintage wine is aged and things that won’t happen in order to better understand cellaring.

Signature Flavors Don’t Change

At least not much.

No matter how long a wine is aged, its core flavors will always be retained. These primary tastes are a direct result of the grape variety at the base as well as the growing environment.

To demonstrate, you should always take note of the following dominant flavors in these varietal examples, whether you cellar the wine or not:

  • Greenery or grass in sauvignon blanc
  • Green and black pepper in cabernet sauvignon
  • Apricot in Gewurztraminer
  • Berries and chocolate in port wine

The secondary and tertiary flavors and aromas of a vintage varietal will change as it ages. Secondary and tertiary notes are produced by a winemaker’s distinctive brewing methods and by the chemical reactions that take place between oxygen molecules and natural compounds in a wine. Wine ages as a result of these processes. Therefore, it makes sense that only these layers of flavors and smells are really impacted by wine aging.

The secondary flavors that are typical in aged vintages range, but may include:

  • Slate or wet pavement in sauvignon blanc
  • Tobacco in cabernet sauvignon
  • Honey in Gewurztraminer
  • Cinnamon in port wine

Mouthfeel Adapts

As a wine ages, its mouthfeel—or how it feels in your mouth—will also change.

In general, red and white vintages will develop their mouthfeel as follows:

  • White vintages, especially dry whites like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, tend to become oily, heavy and stickier over the years.
  • Red vintages, especially those with naturally high tannin levels such as With age, nebbiolo, syrah, or cabernet sauvignon tend to soften. “The tannins that have been “softened” are those that have chemically combined and matched with one another to form dense chains that lower the overall tannin surface area. These chains then fall to the bottle’s bottom and create numerous visible sediment deposits. As sediment forms, sips become softer, less prickly, and sharper, making drinking more enjoyable.

Color Alters

The third and last aspect of aging vintages that is impacted is color.

When determining whether a red vintage has been properly aged, start by inspecting the rim, or the edge of the glass where the wine pour meets it. A younger bottle of red wine is indicated by a younger rim, while an older bottle is indicated by a lighter rim.

Second, consider the red vintage’s actual color. As red wines oxidize over time, their hues frequently shift from deep ruby-purple to muted mauve to tawny, deep brown.

In contrast, white vintages typically transition from paler, straw-yellow hues to deeper golden tones. White vintages can eventually darken to the point of turning a golden amber color after three or more years.

The oxidation process is necessary for these color changes. Only the tiny amount of oxygen trapped in the bottle’s neck and the tiny amount of oxygen that can pass through the cork or seal will be present in a bottle when it is properly sealed before cellaring. The majority of red and white vintages that are cellared will be corked, which allows very little oxygen to permeate. Even between bottles that are cellared and cased at the same time, oxygen permeation will vary significantly because cork is a natural material rather than a consistent product made by humans.

What Vintage Wine Varietals Age Well?

Consider these vintage varietals that are known to age well for the best vintage wine tasting experience.

Well-aged Red Vintages.

Given the naturally higher presence of tannins, most red wine varieties will age well. But not all reds deteriorate at the same rate.

Red vintages are regarded as the masters of cellaring because they have concentrated, bolder flavor profiles, heavier mouthfeels, and medium-high acidity and alcohol contents. Winemakers can coax truly complex yet refined cases for customers like you thanks to this combination of qualities from a given year’s yield.

Once more, the circumstances surrounding a grape’s growth will determine the quality of a given vintage. Look for the following areas and grape varieties to find concentrated red wines with medium-high acidity:

  • Bordeaux and Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, aged 2 to 4 years
  • Chianti Riserva, aged 2 to 4 years
  • Petite Syrah, aged 2 to 5 years
  • New World Nebbiola, aged 2 to 6 years
  • Australian and Californian Grenache, aged 2 to 10 years
  • Italian or Californian Cabernet Sauvignons, aged 3 to 15 years

White Vintages That Keep Their Color.

These regions are known for their aging finesse in vintages, much like red wines:

  • Dry White Bordeaux, aged 2 to 3 years
  • Alsace Pinot Gris, 2 to 5 years
  • White Roija, aged 2 to 5 years
  • Alsace Gewürtztraminer, aged 2 to 10 years
  • Californian Fume Blanc, aged 2 to 10 years
  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, aged 3 to 10 years

Remember that some nations, most notably Italy, Spain, and Portugal, have legal requirements a wine must meet in order to be referred to as a vintage. Look for bottles with the following labels when looking for vintages from a particular region:

  • Italian Riserva
  • Spanish Reserva
  • Portuguese Reserva

Should I Purchase Vintage Or Non-vintage Wines When?

You are ultimately responsible for choosing a vintage or non-vintage wine.

It’s great that you might be drawn to the idea of drinking only acclaimed bottles from particular areas with exceptional yields. On the other hand, you might prefer to keep things straightforward and choose the first brand or varietal that appeals to you, regardless of the labels.

We’ve got a few recommendations for when to drink vintage and non-vintage wines to help you make your choice.

Go Vintage When…

If: Seek out bottles with the designations “vintage,” “Reserva,” or “Riserva.”

  • You’re buying port: Vintage port wines command a high price. In reality, experts point out that it can take up to five years for the northern Portugal region, where port grapes are grown, to produce harvests deserving of the name. Additionally, port must be aged in oak for a minimum of two years before its quality can be determined, prolonging the debate over whether to use the label “vintage” or not. Once you spot a legitimate port Reserva, seize the opportunity. That required a lot of effort and good fortune.
  • It’s a noteworthy event: Unique vintage wines are required to mark special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, and holidays.
  • Giving a gift involves: Gift a fine red or white vintage wine to go above and beyond. The recipient may not be familiar with the concept of good vintage wine, but they will undoubtedly value the time and care you took to find a unique bottle.
  • Due to your desire to give it a try: Any better justification?

Stick With Non-vintage When…

On the other hand, non-vintages are a fantastic choice if:

  • You’re making bulk purchases: Are you throwing a sizable gathering, cocktail hour, or major celebration? When wine cases are required, it is simpler to stock up on more widely available wines or vineyard cases rather than looking for the best vintages.
  • You’re looking for something quick and simple: Nearly every grocery, liquor, or convenience store has non-vintages on the shelves, making it an easy choice for your home bar cart.
  • You’re on a budget: Not all vintage wines are more expensive. In fact, it’s a common misconception that buying expensive bottles of vintage wine to drink is required. However, a lot of the most affordable wines on the market come from wineries that produce large quantities of wine; these are the ones that use recipes that are carefully calculated to produce nearly identical bottles over time. Stick with the more affordable non-vintages you are already familiar with when uniformity is the goal.

Why Isn’t The Year On The Label For All Wines?

Non-vintage wine, or NV for short, is wine that doesn’t have a date on the label. (No, NV does not indicate that the wine was produced in Nevada, which is my home state and for which I have a great affection. But I’m sorry.) For some wine styles, vintage may not be important. Wines that lack a vintage date fall into one of two categories.

Non-vintage Blended Wines

After fulfilling an order or blending wine for a particular label, a producer will occasionally have odd lots of leftover wine. For a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, the producer may only require a small amount of Merlot. Merlot is still in the pot. In order to have more Merlot to sell, the producer can keep that Merlot and use it in the wine of the following year. A wine is considered to be non-vintage when grapes from two or more harvest years are combined.

Non-vintage House Style Wines

The house style, which may be the most well-known label for some producers, is dependent on non-vintage wines. Producers use skillful mixology to combine various batches of wine to create the style that their devoted customers expect in order to maintain consistency in the house style of wine from year to year.

Wine lovers who enjoy this Vella Burgundy wine anticipate a consistent flavor each time they drink it. In order to produce consistency, the winemaker uses grapes from various vintages and must possess mad blending skills.

It can be hard to blend for a particular house style. Mother Nature’s vintage variation is still a problem for the winemaker because it reduces the selection of wines that can be blended. If a house style is a significant portion of their market, wineries may reserve larger amounts of wine for blending.

Conclusion

Who controls a bottle of wine more, exactly, is a topic of intense debate. Is it the vintage or the vintner? Wines used to be at the merciless whim of Mother Nature. But the winemaker has a ton of cutting-edge tools at their disposal in today’s technologically advanced cellars to combat and make up for unfavorable weather patterns. The tool belt of the winemaker is full of techniques, from adding particular yeast strains to alter aromatics or palate texture to using reverse osmosis to control excessive alcohol levels and additives to change color components.

When a wine fails to adequately convey the story of a particular growing season, producers are criticized for over-manipulating the wine. Also receiving a lot of criticism is letting a wine show how difficult a vintage was without cellar intervention.

Many thanks for reading.

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