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Ernest Valtri: On Wine

Vintage relevance


Vintage dated wines are quite common. In fact, many more wines are dated than not. What does it mean?
In the United States, and largely everywhere in the wine world, the laws are very similar. The vintage date is the year the grapes used to produce the wine were harvested. There’s a little leeway though. In the U.S., wines from an AVA (American Viticultural Area) like Napa, must be at least 95% from one year. If it’s not from an AVA, the standard is 85%.
If grapes harvested from two or more years are blended to create a wine, that wine is “nonvintage” and should not have a date on the label. Generally, vintage wines are of higher quality than nonvintage wines, though there are certainly many exceptions.
The value, or relevance of vintage dates varies with the kind of wine you’re interested in. And by “kind,” I pretty much mean cost.
Inexpensive wines (a relative term for sure) tend to be produced on a much larger scale than expensive ones. They’re typically a blend of grapes from several different vineyards. Making wine from several vineyards strongly minimizes the impact of both good and bad weather conditions during the growing season. Microclimates in these different vineyards are often quite diverse and combining them evens out the good with the not so good, yielding consistent, though not great, wines. This style of winemaking also lowers production costs.
Consumers expect those wines to have consistent flavors, aromas and character, so they can buy their favorites with no surprises. They’re crafted to be exactly that…the same, year after year. For inexpensive wines, the vintage date usually has little reflection of the quality of the product.

More expensive wines are often vineyard specific and you’ll likely see a single vineyard named on the label. Most wine connoisseurs consider these to be higher quality products.
Wine produced from a single vineyard is significantly more subject to its own local growing conditions, which may range from terrible to perfect. So a vintage date means much more to these wines. It’s now time to consult your favorite vintage chart to learn if the vintage you’re interested in is a good one.
Remember though, vintage charts are only opinions. You’ll need to find one from a source you trust. I like both Wine Spectators’ and Robert Parkers’ charts.
A quick follow-up to last month’s “Try Something New” article. Since then, out of the blue, my wife comes home with a bottle of Hondarrabi Zuri. Who? What? That’s the name of the grape. It’s from Spain. I’ll let ya know.

Ernest Valtri of Buckingham is a sculptor, graphic designer, and a former member of the PLCB’s Wine Advisory Council. Please contact Erno at