Recently I came across a wine with no vintage date on the label. Why is that? Was it a mistake?
Probably not a mistake. Some wines, like a few Hollywood actresses (and a few actors), don’t declare their honest age. Mostly this is a hallmark of budget wines and bubblies, including Champagnes.
A date on the label represents the year the grapes were harvested. It’s relevant for a couple of reasons. To those who follow wine closely, it reveals something about potential quality. For example, the 2010 growing season in Bordeaux was exceptional, so a 2010 Bordeaux stands a better chance of tasting richer and more harmonious than, say, a 2008. Also, the year permits you to calculate how old the wine is. Without it, you’d have a hard time knowing how long it’s been maturing in your cellar (or cooking in the liquor store’s hot warehouse). It’s like a car’s production year.
With non-vintage labelling, a producer is free to blend wines from several vintages, thereby achieving more consistent flavour rather than surrendering to the vagaries of each growing season’s weather. At the low price end, many still-wine producers omit the vintage date because their goal is to craft an industrial product that will taste identical from year to year, just like Coke. With non-vintage sparkling wines, it’s the same thing. Many bubbly-makers know – whether they admit it or not – that their bread and butter is made up of party-mode revellers who couldn’t be bothered to ponder the vintage character of a wine. Also, sparkling wines tend to be made from highly acidic grapes that demand cool growing temperatures. The weather in these marginal grape-growing climates is highly unpredictable, so it makes sense to blend the bad with the good and call it even.
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The Flavour Principle, by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was named best Canadian Food & Drinks Book in the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Published by HarperCollins.