what does vintage wine mean cover image

By Rebecca Sterry

Have you ever wondered what the difference between your regular wine and a vintage wine is? You’re not alone! Believe it or not, plenty of wine drinkers are unaware of the differences in wine. 

In this article, we will be focussing on answering the question of “what does vintage wine mean?”. We will also delve into what makes a vintage wine, what does vintage mean for wine and what is a non-vintage wine. 

Here at Verwood Estate Wines, we have a 2019 Vintage Collection that was our first vintages in 7 years, as well as a First Vintage Collection 2019. But what exactly does this mean?

For Verwood, the 2019 Vintage Collection is special as it is the first wine that the gentle old vines in the vineyard have given rise to in 7 years. Because of this, it has accounted for the lush aromas, in addition to the satin smooth and plump flavours within the wines. 

Verwood Estate Wines is located in the Southern Highlands, an area to be considered a cool climate, in which it produces cool climate wines – if you’re interested in finding out more about cool climate wines, we have another blog in the journal section of our website called ‘What are Cool Climate Wines?’ that goes into further detail for you. 

Whilst remaining a cool climate wine, 2019 had an uncharacteristically dry and hot growing summer in the Southern Highlands, with a wet season just before picking allowing our wines to have a beautiful, smooth balance whilst remaining pleasant on the palate and not over-powering – an overall enjoyable selection of wines. As our Collection of Vintage is recently new, being from 2019, our wine will keep getting better with age (like ourselves), maturing and gaining in body. 

What Does Vintage Wine Mean?

To put it in simple terms, vintage wine means the year in which a wine’s grapes were picked, (Decanter, 2010). This can be from grapes that were all, or primarily grown and picked in one year, (McWilliams, 2018). 

The majority of still wines in Australia, both white and red, come from a single vintage, in which you can find the specific vintage year printed on each bottle’s label.

What Does Vintage Mean For Wine?

Vintage means that each vintage wine will have a unique flavour profile, based on the grapes harvested from that particular year. This primarily has a lot to do with the weather throughout the year in which the grapes were grown and picked in. Just as our climate changes in each wine-growing region, so does our microclimate (the climate of a very small or restricted area that typically differs from the climate of the general surrounding area). The changes in the microclimate is what creates such variation in the vintage as some years may have more humidity, or wet seasons than others, thus impacting the flavour of the vintages each time. 

When a wine-growing region has a great microclimate of warm days and cool nights, this can create a good vintage due to the grapes ripening to their optimum Baume content, full of bold and intense fruit flavours and medium tannins. Whereas, if a region were to have a poor microclimate for the year, involving heavy rainfalls and varying, unstable conditions, then the likelihood is that the grapes for that year will have minimal flavours and tannins, therefore not creating a good vintage.

However, this does also depend on the types of grapes being grown as some grapes will grow better in some conditions than others, for example Riesling thrives in sunny days and cool nights, unlike a Cabernet Sauvignon which needs a dry, hot and sunny climate in order to mature fully.

Define Vintage Wine: Good & Bad

As we’ve previously mentioned, a vintage wine means the year in which the grapes were grown and harvested in, in order to make that wine. We’ve also stated that it is primarily down to microclimate and the conditions wherein the grapes grow, whether it be hot/sunny or wet seasons with plenty of downpour. But what makes a vintage wine good?

The microclimate does have a big impact on whether a wine will be a vintage or not, though to get a good vintage, the weather does need to have a that special ingredient of sunshine – lots at that. Sunny days are great for grapes as it allows them to fully ripen and increase the Baume content (sugar levels), which in turn determines the alcohol content within the wine, (it’s what makes your standard grape juice into adult drinking juice!)  

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for warmer climates though as having drought and exceptionally hot weather can pause growth on vines with them requiring some cooler temperatures to stem good growth, thus impacting the grapes’ overall quality. Hotter climates can also occasionally have wet seasons, in which this can cause fungal diseases in grapes and therefore ruin them. 

What Makes A Vintage Wine Have A Lower Success Rate?

Quite simply, the opposite, which goes without saying. Cool climate areas, such as the Southern Highlands in NSW and Yarra Valley in VIC, can be prone to frost in early spring which has a detrimental effect on vines and their growth. Frost can destroy buds before they even begin to flower, which in turn can affect whether the vines will have a second successful growth as they have already been damaged once. If you’d like to find out more about frost, you can find another article called ‘Grape Frost Protection’ on our journal section of the website at Verwood Estate.

What Is A Non-Vintage Wine?

A non-vintage wine is produced by blending multiple vintage years together. These wines tend to have more consistency in their taste and can be tailored to a certain style, neither depending on the type of year the microclimate in the wine-growing region has had. 

Instead of basing a wine on a year, unknowingly whether it will be a good or bad year in terms of microclimate, non-vintage wines are characteristically more reliable, which is great for consumers as they ultimately know what they’re buying and in for, making it great for businesses with regular customers who have an acquired taste!  

Fortified wines, such as Port or Sherry, and Champagne are typical examples of non-vintage wines as these types rely on being more consistent overall in taste each year. You can always tell if a wine is non-vintage as it usually has ‘N.V’ on the label.

What Does Vintage Mean for Wine Collectors?

When collecting wine, collectors are looking for a wine to have good aging potential, fine vintage weather, and rarity and provenance. It is important to choose a good vintage as if wine is already ‘bad’, it is most definitely not going to get better with age. When buying vintage wines, it is worth investing in a good vintage that is known for its taste, as well as tannins and acidity as this entails that the wine will age beautifully – not to mention that it will also become a great addition to a wine collector’s collection. 

When beginning a collection, wine collector’s must expect that they aren’t always going to get good vintages first time around; because of this, even experienced wine collectors have selections of wines that are for the purpose of everyday or occasional drinking, compared to a great vintage that they will cellar away for years to come. Essentially, it’s all about trial and error and whether or not you are willing to invest a fine amount in a good vintage (as this is what typically signifies a good vintage, in addition to cellaring potential and provenance).

Verwood Estate Wines has a First Vintage Collection available which is the first 100 bottles of each wine bottled (Chardonnay, Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Shiraz Rosé, and Sparkling Shiraz Rosé), all from the 2019 range. Prices start from $99.00 to $105.00 and all come with a certificate of authenticity that can either be a great start, or great addition to your collection.  You can find this on our website.