Discovering Non-Vintage Wines

You may not find a year on these wines, but you will find exceptional value and flavor.

A wine's year, or vintage, is part of its defining character, giving rise to those little vintage chart cheat-sheets that are supposed to tell you whether a wine comes from a good, or bad, year. While vintage may be critical for collectors spending big money at wine auctions, some winemakers are forgetting about vintage altogether, and focusing on making good affordable wine for the rest of us.

"Our new Bonterra Red does not have a vintage date because it includes some fresh, fruity wine from 2008 and some more mature wine from 2007, that spent over a year in oak barrels," says Jeff Cichocki, assistant winemaker for Bonterra Vineyards. Due to U.S. labeling laws, the wine can't indicate either year, but Cichocki prefers the added flexibility and freedom of combining vintages.

And, there is a good argument that vintage is not all that important for some regions of the world anyway. "When it comes to California wines specifically, we have ample sunshine, so we get ripe fruit every year. That vintage chart really applies more to European wines and it should not play into most people's purchases," says Cichocki.

Other wines may, in fact, come from a single year, but don't have a vintage because they break other boundaries. For instance, {yellow tail} Sauvignon Blanc Australia-New Zealand does not have a date because it includes wine from two regions.

"By law, wines without a single appellation of origin can't state a vintage year on the label. We chose to put New Zealand fruit into our otherwise Australian wine because it lends complexity and cool-climate character to the wine. We feel it's a worthwhile trade-off because we're betting that taste is ultimately more important to wine lovers than having the year on the bottle," says Isabelle McDonnell, marketing director of {yellow tail}.

In place of listing a year, some wineries, such as California's Hope Family Wines, add a lot number to their non-vintage wines to indicate when a new blend enters the marketplace. In crafting his Candor Merlot Lot 2, winemaker Austin Hope used fruit from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. "I look at it as a chef expanding his spice rack," says Hope. "I don't want to be constrained by one vintage or one vineyard."


So relax and leave the vintage chart at home. You may not find a year on these wines, but you will find exceptional value and flavor.

  • Bonterra Red (California; $10) Made from a blend of organic grapes, this is juicy with black plum, toasty oak and vanilla.
  • Bonterra White (California; $10) Offers lovely floral, pear and apple aromas, with citrus flavors and a crisp finish.
  • {yellow tail} Sauvignon Blanc (Australia-New Zealand; $8) Brisk lime, lively grapefruit and grassy flavors lead to a crisp and clean finish.
  • Rosenblum Zinfandel Vintner's Cuvée XXXII (California; $10) Pleasant cherry and raspberry fruit pour soft and smooth, with hints of smoke and spice.
  • Sokol Blosser Meditrina 6 (Oregon; $15) Berry fruit is refreshing and medium-bodied. A red blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.
  • Candor Merlot Lot 2 (California; $18) Black plum and blackberry fruit in a medium-bodied style, with vanilla flavors on the finish.
  • Barefoot Cellars Moscato (California; $8) Very aromatic with floral and citrus aromas. Sweet, peachy fruit is balanced with mouthwatering acidity.
  • Fess Parker Frontier Red, Lot 101 (California; $12) Robust red and black fruit reveal aromas of peppery spice, licorice and smoke.

Jeffery Lindenmuth is a full-time writer and equal opportunity imbiber, known to enjoy wine, cocktails or beer as the occasion demands. Lindenmuth champions these beverages as a part of our agricultural tradition and culinary culture, rather than just controlled substances, in his writing for Food Arts, Men's Health,, Cooking Light and others. 


Jeffery Lindenmuth

August 2010