What IS Vintage Wine?

Side image of a wood case with wine bottle inside

A vintage by any other name ...

by Erin Henderson

This article is inspired by Franca, a terrifically enthusiastic wine student currently enrolled in my Wines for Beginners course.

She stayed behind after class last week, asking me to clarify vintage. She wondered how old a bottle must be, before it moves into that time-honoured category.

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And she’s not alone in her confusion. A few years ago, a friend came over toting a nice bottle of wine. As she handed it to me, she proudly announced, “it’s vinntagggge.”

As you might be in the spirit of giving bottles this season, and quite possibly labouring under the same uncertainty, I would explain.

It's just the year the grapes were picked. 

Vintage, in wine speak, simply means the year that’s stamped on the label. The year that the grapes were picked. That year could be 2022 for your favourite Pinot Grigio, 2003 for that special bottle you have squirreled away in the cellar, or 2016 for that Cab you ordered last night at your company dinner party.

It can get confusing because when we talk about vintage clothing, cars, or watches, it generally refers to an item that has a specific amount of age (watches are vintage at 20-25 years old; cars specifically manufactured between 1919-1930, I found out while writing this.)

But with wine, vintage only refers to the year the grapes were picked, which is the date that appears on the label – regardless of when that bottle gets to store shelves.

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