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The release of Krug Grande Cuvée Edition 170 was celebrated this week, with a tasting in Toronto of the Champagne house’s famous non-vintage blends. Like many Champagne houses, Krug creates its sparkling wine by blending wines from several years, building a base with the most recent vintage and adding reserve wines from older vintages to add complexity and character, before a second fermentation that creates the bubbles.

The average non-vintage Champagne – though “multivintage” strikes me as a more apt term – represents a more affordable price point, starting at $40 per 750 ml bottle. A bottle of Krug commands $355, due to its reputation and a greater use of older reserve wines in each blend. Krug’s 170th edition is a blend of 195 wines from 12 different years, the youngest is from 2014, while the oldest component dates to 1998. In all, reserve wines comprise 45 per cent of the blend, which helps Krug maintain a consistent style and quality.

Multivintage blending is such a useful tool for sparkling wine producers, the practice can be increasingly seen in wineries that produce quality-minded still wines. While blending vintages has been common practice to produce inexpensive wines in California, the south of France, and other warm regions that are capable of mass production, it’s spreading to more expensive and expressive wines as well.

In 2017, Penfolds introduced its G series, an innovation that saw the celebrated Australian winery blend multiple vintages of its flagship Grange to create a collectible red wine called G3 that included wines from 2008, 2012 and 2014. G4 followed in 2020. G5 was released last year, with components from the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 vintages, as well as the yet-to-be-released 2018 Grange. Production was limited to 2,200 bottles, priced at $3,500 AUD each.

Each vintage brings their own personality and contribution to the blend, Penfolds Winemaker Peter Gago explained.

Vega Sicilia’s Unico Reserva Especial is another serious and age-worthy red wine created by blending wines from different years. The winery, which helped foster the reputation of the Ribera del Duero region, explains it is a tribute to conventional Spanish winemaking practices before French winemaking consultants introduced the idea of single vintage wines in the mid- to late-1800s.

Wineries in Napa, including Cain, Opus One and The Mill Keeper, have also added multivintage wines to their portfolios.

The knock against blending wines is that they lack the romance and authenticity of vintage-dated wines, which are prized for their ability to express the growing conditions that produced a wine reflective of a single harvest. But the vintage date on a bottle of wine only needs to tell consumers when most of the grapes where grown. Winemakers in different parts of the world are allowed to use 15 to 25 per cent of wine from a different harvest into a vintage-dated wine as a safeguard. If one quarter of a bottle of wine from California can come from a different year, how relevant is the date on that label?

Perhaps if multivintage wines become more commonplace, winemaking legislation could change to promote a category of 100-per-cent single-vintage wines? That could satisfy those consumers who desire consistent and predictable quality wines as well as ones who crave authentic and individual expressions of wines from a specific vintage.

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