Wine Words: Vintage

published Jul 30, 2012
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Vintage is a wine word that you frequently hear regarding wine. For the most part it refers to the year the grapes were grown. Most wines carry a vintage year. If a wine carries a vintage year, it means that it was produced from grapes from a single year – i.e single vintage.

As well as referring to the year in which the grapes grew to make the wine, the word ‘vintage’ is used to refer to the actual harvest. You will hear expressions such as “the vintage has just started in Champagne” or “l am planning to work the vintage in Tuscany this year”, or “2009 was considered an excellent vintage in Bordeaux.”

Vintage Matters
It is generally accepted that wine quality is directly correlated to the quality of the grapes used to make the wine. The quality of the grapes is influenced by the weather and growing conditions of the particular year (i.e the vintage) in which the wine was made. Some wine regions, particularly in the old world such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne etc. are subject to what is called vintage variation. Very cool years make it more difficult to fully ripen grapes, and can result in thin, lighter wines with under ripe flavors. Very hot years can result in over ripe grapes leading overly alcoholic, low acid wines with jammy or raisin flavors. The challenge to every grape grower is to harvest balanced, ripe grapes. Thankfully, improved viticultural techniques and vineyard practices have significantly helped growers minimize or at least manage the negative effects of a less than ideal difficult vintage.

Vintage Parameters
Up front I mentioned that if a wine is vintage dated it is produced from grapes from a single year. Oh, that things could be so simple! Different countries have different regulatory parameters regarding vintage dated wines. This ranges from 75% to 100% depending on the country and/or where the wine is sold. For example, under European wine law, any vintage dated wine sold in Europe (not just produced in Europe) must be made from at least 85% of grapes from the stated vintage. Technically, this leaves up to 15% that can come from a previous vintage. In reality most old world designated appellations require 100% from the stated vintage. The practice of including wine from a different vintage to a vintage dated wine is more of a new world practice.

Port and Champagne
While most still table wines are vintage dated, some styles of wines are for the most part non-vintage such as Champagne and Port. For these styles, vintage year wines are made and declared only in years deemed good enough to make a wine that merits a vintage date. 80-90% of Port and Champagne wine produced is non-vintage – i.e not from a single year or vintage.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

Previous Wine Words

• Wine Words: Clarity
Wine Words: Color
• Wine Words: Complexity
Wine Words: Texture
Wine Words: Aromas
Wine Words: Alcohol
Wine Words: Body
Wine Words: Tannin
Wine Words: Acidity
Wine Words: Minerality
Wine Words: Length and Finish
Wine Words: Sweetness
• Wine Words: Style
• Wine Words: Oak
• Wine Words: Clarity
• Wine Words: Extraction
Wine Words: Sediment
Wine Words: Variety vs. Varietal
• Wine Words: Reserva, Riserva, Reserve
• Wine Words: Quality

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