Discovering Non-Vintage Wines

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


Photo: Lee Harrelson; Stylist: Mindi Shapiro, Laura Martin

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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."

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