Vintage and non-vintage and why it matters
Question from Nick: I know vintage means old but what exactly does it mean in the context of wine and why does it matter?
In a nut shell – Vintage in the context of wine means the year that the grapes were harvested (i.e. picked) and it matters because every year the climate is a little different to that of the previous year. This difference in temperature, rainfall, sunshine etc. can significantly change the wine.
In a clam shell – So we’re happy that ‘vintage’ on a bottle indicates the year that the grapes were harvested. Simple! If there is no vintage date we can assume that the wine was made from grapes harvested from several years (but more on that later).
So why does it matter? Well, no two vintages will ever taste the same and that’s because no two weather patterns from one year to the next will ever be the same.
Let’s do a little primary school problem solving to simplify things. John has vines that grow Pinot Noir. In 2011, the climate for growing Pinot was perfect (cool but dry with a long winter and spring). The resulting wine was a glass of delicate strawberries and raspberries with a little mushroom and wet-leaves (I know what you’re thinking, drinking wet-leaves sounds revolting but it gives the wine a unique vegetal element which is delish when paired with a little red fruit). In 2012, things got bad! Mother nature cracked it and turned up the heat. The resulting wine had no delicate fruit flavours and was heavy and jammy. And that’s why vintages matter because every day, the combination of temperature, sunlight, rain, frost and warmth is different from last year, which will result is a slightly different tasting wine.
Hardcore wine drinkers will look at the vintage on the bottle and the region it was produced in and they’ll know what to expect. The meteorologists of wine! It’s going to be a bad vintage if there is too much rain or frost, if it’s too cold or too hot or if there’s not enough sunlight.
Now onto non-vintage wines. You’ve probably drunk plenty of Champagne that’s non-vintage or NV. This is when several vintages are mixed together. This is done to create consistency year after year. Take your favourite Champagne for example – Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot or Mumm perhaps (yummmmm). You know exactly what to expect when you pop that cork don’t you? That’s because you’re drinking non-vintage which has been made by blending the grapes of several vintages.