A vintage wine is one where the grapes were all grown, picked and harvested with a specific year. It can mean certain years are a denotation of quality. A single vintage is usually applied to most still wines, a vintage, meaning the process of picking and harvesting the grapes. The labels on the bottles will show the year in which the wine (vintage) was made.
There are some well-known quality years when considering a vintage wine. Champagne and other sparkling wines are usually non-vintage. This is because the sparkling wine uses a blend from different vintages, thus achieving a uniform taste. This is rather unlike a vintage wine where a connoisseur would recognise the taste of say a White Bordeaux with a vintage year of 2001.
Some wines are non-vintage because the grapes were harvested in a different year from the year of the final wine production. Non-vintages are popular among winemakers who go for consistency and a certain type of taste, such as Champagne.
It is worth noting however that vintage Champagne and vintage Port (or red wine vintage) will be made if the conditions are ideal for growing exceptional grapes. For example, 2002 was an outstanding year for Champagne. Winemakers have a challenging time when growing vintage Champagne.
Growing conditions have to be just right, for example the right levels of rain and abundant sun and temperature can determine when a vintage is a good vintage. There can be as little as four vintages in any given decade as a result of the volatile climate conditions suited for a good vintage.
In some countries vintage wines can be a vintage when just 75 percent of wine used from that certain year is used. Both South African wines and Chilean wines require only 75 percent content to be vintage.
In the European Union, Australia & New Zealand the requirement is increased to include 85 percent. Vintners or wine merchants will sell a vintage wine as well as non-vintage and would often have a well documented list of the regions, vintage good years and winemakers they deal with.
One of the more popular makes of wine is the Sauvignon Blanc, which is highly responsive to cool and damp conditions and grows very well in that type of climate. This helps to provide a cool, crispy and fruity flavour and thrives in the Loire Valley of France as well as New Zealand’s South Island. The year 1998 had a very long hot summer and it gave rise to an exceptional vintage.