Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wine Age

"We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born." - Carl Jung

Choosing a bottle of wine can be intimidating. There are so many decisions. White or red? What type of grape? Which region of the world? Which vintage? Is older better? How old is too old? A lot of this depends on personal taste. Today, we are going to focus on wine age.

Let’s talk age. First things first. What does “vintage” mean? Vintage refers to the year in which the grapes in a particular bottle are harvested. Not all grapes, however, have to be from that year. Individual countries have regulations that determine the percentage of a wine that must be from a year in order to be labeled as a specific vintage. For example, US wine labeling laws stipulate that 95% must be harvested in the same year for the vintage to appear on the bottle.

Why does the vintage matter? Aren’t the grapes the same every year? In short, no. As you well know, the weather varies from year to year. In some years there will be more rain than others.
Photo of Vineyard on the South Island of New Zealand
Some summers may be hotter than others and some winters more brutal with snow in South Carolina! All of these factors affect the flavor of the grapes. A perfect example is 2001 in Napa, where the weather gave way to what has been considered one of the best vintages for cabernet sauvignon. If you are curious about specifics, you can read more at

Even though the grapes are harvested in a specific year, that does not mean that the wine is bottled in the same year. Depending on the type of wine and the vineyard, some wines may be aged in barrels for months or even years before being bottled. Others are bottled almost immediately. None the less, the vintage (or year on the bottle) refers to the year the grapes were picked, not when they are bottled.

Is an older wine better? What factors determine whether a wine will age well or not? After speaking with Danielle Robinson, a wine representative for Advintage, we learned that older wine is not always better and that there are a number of factors that contribute to how well a bottle will age. For example, the quality of grapes, acidity, and sugar content all factor into the aging process. Higher quality grapes, those harvested at a lower yield, tend to age better than lower quality grapes which are harvested to generate as much juice as possible. Sugar content also influences aging. Riesling, for example which tends to have a very high sugar level at the time of harvest, ages very well. Danielle recounted a story from when she was in Germany and tasted Riesling from the 1950s. According to her, it had aged beautifully and had bright fruity flavors.

The reality is, however, that most of the wines we pick up at the grocery store or wine wholesaler are designed to be consumed relatively early and are not meant to sit in your wine rack for 10 years or more. So drink up!

For a detailed chart of wine age by region, check out the 2013 Vintage Chart from Wine Enthusiast -

If you are looking for a really cool present (thanks for the idea Danielle), give a bottle of wine from the vintage of a person’s birth year or anniversary year, but do your research first.

The next series of blog posts will feature some of the wines and beers that will be available at the Grapes & Gallery wine bar, which opens Thursday, February 6th.

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