THE QUESTION: The growing trend toward single-vineyard bottlings (and the requisite price jump) is noticeable. They often taste better to my palate; why is this?
THE ANSWER: It's that old saw about real estate: location, location, location.
Wine vines are highly sensitive to their local environment. They adapt in a variety of ways to different soil composition, hours of sunlight, and fluctuations in temperature, wind and humidity. Every vineyard is different and every vine variety is different. As you surmise, most wines represent a blend of fruit from two or more (often many more) demarcated vineyards. It's more economical to craft large-scale blends, and permits winemakers to craft a consistent product - a predictable house style, if you will. Poor fruit from less-stellar vineyards gets blended with better fruit from choice vineyards, so the idiosyncrasies of one location are not as apparent.
But when one vineyard tends to produce great fruit year after year, some producers will set it aside and bottle it separately. They feel it would be a shame to water it down, so to speak, with other juice. They're like proud parents of star athletes, frustrated that their child must play on a team with mere mortals who represent a drag on the championship talents of their future Sidney Crosby.
Burgundy is the role model. In that region of France, so-called grand cru and premier cru wines contain single-vineyard juice. You'll see the name of the vineyard (for example, Les Referts) listed in small print on the label in addition to the village or commune designation (such as Puligny-Montrachet). Burgundy fans are expected to know that "Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts" comes from a single vineyard, and thus is likely to be "better" than one labelled simply "Puligny-Montrachet" with no vineyard name. It may not always taste better to you or me, but you get the idea.
In the New World, where outstanding plots of land have yet to acquire a widespread reputation for quality, the vineyard name will often be followed by the helpful term "vineyard," as in Jackson-Triggs SunRock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from British Columbia. SunRock is an awesome slope in the Okanagan Valley, with excellent south-facing exposure. Wines like this sometimes get extra coddling in the cellar, too.
So, essentially, vineyard-specific bottles represent a form of cherry-picking (pardon the fruit pun) on the part of keen winemakers. Those producers want you to taste the best of what their land can yield. And, yes, you'll almost always pay a premium for the privilege.
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