March 28, 2011

Like a fine non-vintage?

Non-vintage / NV

    A wine that is blended from more than one harvest year and therefore cannot be given a vintage date. Meant to be consumed “immediately”.
The term Vintage comes from the harvesting of grapes and the making of wine. The notion of dating the vintage – the harvest year – has been around since Roman times, and perhaps before. In general, we look upon a vintage date as a sign of quality in a wine. But it’s just one of many factors that determine quality. Plus there are wines that do not carry a vintage date, and that throws our concept of a “vintage product” into a tizzy.
To begin with, most champagne is non-vintage, as is port. And these are among the most revered wines available. The wines achieve their unique style by being a blend of different vintages, different harvests. The convention is to omit any meeting of vintage date in this case. Even if the vintage years that went into the blend were known, who would by a bottle labelled “1995/’97/’98/’99/2001”? So we content ourselves that the product’s quality speaks for itself, and that a vintage dated port or champagne is a bit of a bonus. By the way, these wines almost always age quite well.
A second type of non-vintage wine is a quality blend that spans more than one harvest. I’ve often seen non-vintage wines from respected producers where the specifics of the harvests were declared on the label. What the winemaker is saying is that the blending decision needed to span multiple vintages to achieve the desired quality. This really is standard procedure for all wines: if something will improve the wine, then it perhaps should be added. But if it’s from a different harvest year, you have to forgo the vintage date. It’s a bit of a risk, but if the producer has a strong reputation, then these wines can rival the vintage dated ones. They may even age well; just be sure to record the purchase date, which is as close to a vintage date as you’ll get.
The final category is wines that don’t deserve a vintage date. In most cases, these are factory wines that are cobbled together from cheap bulk wine from different sources, and likely from different vintages. Given a wine that has no known origin, it’s entirely appropriate that a vintage date be withheld. How would you go about declaring the pedigree of a wine blended from Chilean, Californian and ‘other’ wines? The date(s) would be meaningless. But likely it’s not the lack of a vintage date that makes most of us steer clear of these products.

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