Monday, March 30, 2009

Understanding Vintage Wine

By Tommy Hammerman

A vintage wine actually refers to a wine that was made from grapes grown, for the most part, in the same year. Vineyards will go through great lengths to label their bottles with the year associated with that wine when a vintage wine is produced.

The rules of labeling a vintage wine will vary slightly country to country. However, a majority of places will allow a small percentage of the wine to be made from grapes which are not from the same vintage.

Generally, vintage wines are produced in the same production period; in order to preserve the same taste for all bottles of the same vintage. There are many factors that can affect the taste of the wine, such as climate, the soil, the region and even the amount of rain or sunlight received when the grapes are grown.

The purpose of the vintage wines, for most vineyards, is to define a quality of wine for that vineyard, which will also define a standard for the rest of that vineyard's range of wines. This is a method of keeping consistency in this delicate process, as well as showing off the highest quality they can achieve. There are even some vintages which are only produced when the quality of grapes that year are a certain level, thus increasing demand for the beverage by decreasing supply.

In America, the highest quality vintages are given an AVA or American Viticultural Area label. This label defines that the wine was bottled with at least 95% of the vintage grapes during that year. If a wine doesn't have an AVA, it can still be called vintage, given that 85% of the wine was made from grapes grown in that same annual period.

There are also non-vintage wines, which consist of a blend of grapes or wines of different vintages. This allows for vineyards to keep producing wines when the quality of grapes that year is bad. Some vineyards, such as in France, take this blending to an important style.

There is growing debate over the actual quality of vintage wines as compared to the blended variety. More people claim that the cheaper and low cost blends are just as good as the expensive vintage wines. On the other hand, conservative connoisseurs object to this, and feel that consistency is essential for a high quality wine to be produced. Meanwhile, wine tasting contests are giving support to both sides of the claim.

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