When it comes to wine, vintage is ‘supposed’ to be the best… and with a very few exceptions, it usually is. A wine’s vintage simply tells you which year the grapes that were used to make it were picked.
Most wines come from a single vintage, and the label on the bottle shows the year in which the wine was made.
Champagne and Sparkling wines, including fortified wines tend to be non-vintage but this is because they are often made using a blend of different vintages. The main reason for this is to be able to achieve a consistent ‘house’ style. An exception to this blending process is when there has been a ‘outstanding year’ for the grapes when a true ‘vintage’ Champagne or Port will be made.
What decides an outstanding year?
It is simply the producers decision on whether a year is sufficiently good to produce a ‘single vintage’ wine. For example, Port is matured in oak barrels for two or more years before it is assessed to determine its quality and only after at least two years will the decision be made as to whether it will be classed as a vintage.
For a vintage Champagne, growing conditions have to be almost perfecct to produce the grapes required and nowadays, these ‘near perfect’ conditions are quite rare with maybe 4 or 5 in any 10 year period.
Why is one vintage different from another?
It is all about the weather. The micro-climate of any particular wine growing region varies from one year to the next and different grape varieties respond to different climatic conditions in their own particular way.
This is why knowing your grapes is the key to knowing your wines. For example, Shiraz responds particular well to dry, sunny conditions. This is why growers in South Australia’s Barossa Valley have been particularly successful in producing wines made from this grape. Alternatively, Sauvignon Blanc responds well to more cooler, damper conditions, which is why it thrives in the Loire Valley and New Zealand’s South Island.
How old does a wine have to be to be stored before being considered vintage?
In this sense, wines that have been stored properly, a vintage is considered to have been aged for about 10 years from the vintage date. By the time a wine is 20 years old or more, it is considered ‘old’.
Can a vintage become too old?
Some wine experts say that more wine is consumed when it is too old than too young. Aging changes a wine but does not actually improve it or worsen it. With red wines, a high level of flavor compounds, such as phenolics, most notably tannins, will increase the likelihood that a wine will be able to age.
How long does a vintage wine last once opened?
Once a wine (any wine) has been un-corked there is usually a period in which it should be drunk to maintain its flavour. Typically, red wines should be used within two or three weeks and whites should normally be used within a few days. That’s typically how long the flavour lasts after opening before it begins to go off, i.e. taste sour or vinegary.