Vintage, when it comes to wine, has a unique definition: it isn’t merely an old, classic bottle or one wearing a Guns 'N' Roses hat and Van Halen (pre-Sammy Hagar) shirt. In wine, vintage is defined as being made from a particular harvest or a specific crop. A 1989 vintage Riesling, for example, is made up of grapes from – you guessed it – 1989.
Still, not every single grape used for the wine may be from the year denoted. Like a fruit with a fake ID, some grapes from other years may sneak in. How many, however, depends on the country.
In the wine regions of Chile and South America, at least three fourths of the wine must be from the vintage year in order to bear that year on the label. In Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and the United States, the rule sits at 85 percent. But, the United States has an exception for wine that is from an American Viticultural Area, such as Napa Valley, the Hamptons, and the Ohio River Valley. For wine from AVA designated regions, 95 percent of the grapes must be from the same year in order to be considered vintage.
On the opposite end of the vintage spectrum are the bottles full of grapes from at least two or more years. Wines that can never be sued for ageism, nonvintages are produced by winemakers who blend a variety of grapes, and create a style that is somewhat constant with each production.
While being deemed “vintage” can go somewhat to the wine’s head, as they are found being (Cabernet) Franc about their greatness, there is some dispute as to its importance. One of the sources of dispute come from the wine’s country, or rather climate, of origin.
Wines produced in colder climate, such as Canada, Washington, and Vermont, often place a higher value on vintage wines. This is because certain years may produce certain climates. A particularly warm year in Washington, for instance, will produce a different tasting wine than a particularly chilly year. When the weather dictates both the wine’s taste and its quality, vintage comes off the bench to plays a necessary role.
Conversely, in wine producing regions where the climate does not vary, a vintage bottle might not have a grape up on its nonvintage competition. Year after year, many of the wines may taste similar. Still, this isn’t always the (wine) case.
Some wine producers, in both cold and warm climates, label wines “vintage” only when they come from a superior and excellent crop. In these instances, the definition of vintage is more fittingly “the best of the best.” This route serves to preserve the reputation of the word itself; because the term “vintage” is often thought to be synonymous with being special, wine producers don’t want to put the label on just any ol’ bottle. If that happened, we might find boxes of wine selling themselves as such.
Vintage wines are sometimes wines meant to be drunk quickly, such as any vintage of Beaujolais nouveau, which is intended to be drunk within a few months of purchase (this is typically rather easy for wine lovers to achieve). But, they are more commonly wines that are meant to age. In highly tannic varieties, wines that adhere to the age gracefully reputation, vintage becomes essential — the older the wine, the better it’ll taste.
When it comes down to it, vintage isn’t a clear-cut thing: sometimes it’s important, and sometimes it’s not. It really depends on what type of wine the individual wine lover is seeking. Some people prefer vintage wines, some prefer nonvintage wines, and some people, such as myself, simply prefer them all.