We often hear of “vintage sparkling wine” or “vintage champagne” with a very serious tone, almost as if the simple pronunciation of the word “vintage” could describe the wine we are about to drink or that could raise it in quality.
But what exactly does “vintage” mean?
It means that the year of harvest is indicated on the sparkling wine / champagne bottle. A vintage wine is produced with only grapes of a specific year.
Wine is made with one specific year grapes! It’s obvious!
No. Still wine is generally made with grapes of a specific vintage, sparkling wines … almost never.
Ever heard of “cuvee“?
The cuvee is nothing more than a standard sparkling wine that exactly reflects the typical taste that the winery wants to achieve. The cuvee is always the same every year. To obtain it, wines from different vintages, particular mixtures of alcohol and sugars are mixed to obtain a result studied at the table.
Sparkling wine is a wine in which the hand of man is very present, it is not a wine that is made with simplicity, it requires a lot of work in the cellar (and obviously also in the vineyard to obtain better grapes).
Traditionally each winery has its own particular taste, a trademark that distinguishes it from the others. To obtain that specific taste and produce the cuvee, grapes are mixed, blended, liqueurs are added. Each year the grapes have a different yield, a degree of ripeness, acidity, flavor, so the wine produced always has something different every time. The cuvee mitigates these differences and makes us a recognizable label among others.
The vintage wine, on the other hand, is an expression of the current year, together, of course, with the skill in the vineyard and in the cellar of that label. (You have to know how to work well whether you make a vintage or a cuvee … but you have to work well even just to sweep a road, for that matter.)
What if the year sucks? How is a vintage made?
If the year sucks, the vintage wine will reflect the vintage. It will be up to the producers’ ability to get something decent out of terrible years like the 2014 Tuscan. The cuvee, on the other hand, will be more or less the same as in previous years.
The vintage wine usually (depending on the disciplinary) includes at least 85% of grapes from the same vintage, so some corrections are always possible to obtain something drinkable. Obviously such a high percentage will give a greater footprint and the vintage will reflect the reference year.
Does Millesimato/Vintage mean better quality?
Vintage/millesimato only means that the grapes used come from a single vintage. Nothing more, nothing less!
So what is best to drink?
As always, it’s best to drink whatever you like best. There is no better wine than another, there are quality wines and wines of inferior quality. Everyone is free to drink what he wants and no one will be able to say anything about it.