You know wine vintage is a year but exactly what year is it referring to? The year the wine grapes were picked? The year the wine was bottled? The year the wine was put on the retail shelves?
Big reveal: the vintage of a wine refers to the year the grapes for the wine were harvested. For example, grapes harvested this year, 2016, will have a vintage of 2016 even though the wine may require 3 years of aging and you will not see it on the retail shelves until 2019. The vintage date is not required by law to be on the label; however, most wineries include it either on the front or back of the label. Still wines almost always come from a single vintage.
Fortified and sparkling wines, like Champagne, usually tend to be non-vintage meaning the grapes are blended from more than one vintage to keep the wine a consistent “house style.” There are exceptions to this however, on the rare occasion when there is an extraordinary year, and the wine is bottled as a single vintage. This happens maybe three to five times a decade.
Besides knowing the meaning of vintage, why is it important to pay attention to wine vintage? The answer lies in the weather. The weather plays an important role from one vintage to another. What the weather condition is during the year will greatly affect the outcome of a wine – how much rain, cloud coverage, sunlight, fog, etc. Poor weather conditions are not ideal for a vintage but a good winemaker can take those grapes and turn them into great wine. Excellent weather is a winemaker’s dream and can produce outstanding wine vintages (you will notice this in the price). By paying attention to very good vintages, you can reap the benefit by enjoying very good wine.