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Only in the very top category of wines does the year matter

How to Drink Better: Any bottle of wine can be picked from your supermarket shelf without looking at the vintage

Q. What does vintage mean and is it important?

A. The vintage of a wine means the year in which the grapes were harvested. Most wines will have the vintage or year printed somewhere on the label, sometimes on a neck label, which allows the producer to use the same main label every year. The wine won’t be ready to drink for a few months after harvest and some wines are matured for a further two years or more before being bottled and released.

In the northern hemisphere, the harvest takes place sometime between August and October, and in the southern hemisphere from February to April.

Some wines, such as Champagne, Sherry and Port, are often made from a blend of wines of several vintages. These wines will not have a year printed on the label. Some will have N.V. meaning non-vintage. This does not mean the wine is in any way inferior; some of the very best wines are made from expertly chosen blends covering many vintages.

In the past, the quality of wines varied enormously from year to year, so it was important for wine drinkers to know their vintages. Thanks to improved viticulture and winemaking the vast majority of wines produced now vary very little from year to year, so you can happily pick any bottle of wine from your supermarket shelf without looking at the vintage.


It is only in the very top echelon of wines that the year really matters. The very best, most expensive wines from the best vintages will have greater concentration of fruit and often more tannins that will allow then to age better. Collectors, investors and wine buffs will study vintage reports and only buy the very finest wines for laying down in their cellars.