This week I’ve decided to answer a question that I almost never get. Now, that may sound silly but I’m not sure it’s really understood what vintage wines are, how they differ from NV (non-vintage) and what a good or bad year means.
I suspect I don’t get asked because people think they’ll sound silly if they ask, or maybe I’m just talking to myself because you’re all very smart!
When we talk about nonvintage wine what we mean is a wine that is made from grapes harvested from more than one year. This allows for greater consistency with minimal risk for the winemaker as their output isn’t effected by external factors such as bad weather. We see this in both cheaper wines and in higher end wines, most notably NV Champagne.
Though consistency is great it doesn’t allow for what I call the interesting and only gives us half the picture. A boutique burger restaurant will always have an edge over a fast food chain because it’s not all about the bottom line and although it’s nice to have the exact same experience every time you go into a place or open a bottle, it’s the unique experience a vintage gives us each year that makes life interesting.
The French termed the phrase “Terroir” to describe how all of the natural elements that effect the land reflect in the glass. Temperature and rainfall are the obvious, frost in recent times has been the most damaging to crop yields and then there’s the funny examples wine makers will inevitably rattle off like proximity to the pig farm down the road!
All of these factors do in-fact help shape the wine that the crop becomes so it makes sense that each vintage is interesting and different in its own way. A vintage wine, therefore, shows the whole picture.
I recently rewatched the film “Sideways” and what stood out to me was the star of his collection: The 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc. Truly a remarkable wine. But one that never could have been if the aim was consistency. Frost in late May dramatically reduced vineyard yield but as it turns out left great concentration in the berries. The rest on the season was absolutely perfect and they were left with an incredible vintage.
In our wine subscription boxes we celebrate the cool, the interesting and the different because they’re what make life fun. We suggest that you join us!
Kind regards and drink up,