Vintage wine is simply wine from a single year; it does not indicate that the wine is of greater age or distinction than a non-vintage wine. If a bottle states the year that it was made, then it's vintage wine.

Non-vintage wine is a blend of wines from two or more years, which can ensure a consistency flavour and style. In fact, the majority of Champagne and sparkling wines are non-vintage, precisely for this very reason.

However, if the bottle states that it is a vintage wine, this can tell us some very important information about the wine itself. The year of harvest tells you two things: how old the wine is, and, whether or not the wine was produced in a 'good' year.

1. The Importance of Age

The vintage date, especially for inexpensive wines, can serve as a freshness date. Most white and rosé wines are best drunk within two or three years, and even inexpensive red wines are designed to be consumed straight away, rather than aged. Apart from a very few exceptions, younger is probably better for inexpensive wines.

2. An Indication of Quality

Climate conditions vary from year to year, leading to certain years to be considered 'better' than others. A good year could mean that there was an abundant harvest, a high-quality harvest, or both. Growing conditions might have been excellent in one area but below average in a neighbouring area, or one grape variety might have excelled, but not another.

In 1964, the Bordeaux wines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, produced with the early ripening Merlot grape, were outstanding. However, across the river in Medoc and Graves, heavy rains fell before the Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested, and as a result, these wines were rather thin. This is just one example where the quality of a vintage may vary dramatically from one microclimate or grape to another.

The New World, especially the warmer countries, have a remarkably consistent climate, and 'bad' years just don't seem to happen. In these cases, the vintage year will merely be an indication of the wine's age.

So, unless you are looking for an expensive 'vintage-sensitive' wine, such as red wines from Piemonte or Tuscany, Red Bordeaux, or Red and White Burgundy, do not attach too much importance to the vintage date. Use it simply to ensure that the wine you are buying is still young enough to enjoy as it was intended to be.