Does Non Vintage Wine Mean Lower Quality?

Over the past half century there have been many awe-inspiring vintages. These specific years have produced wines regarded as the ‘best ever’, including 1947, 1959, 1961, 1982, 2000 and 2005. But what happens when a wine doesn’t come from a specific year? Except in the case of non vintage Champagnes, such as Veuve Clicquot, what if there is an absence of a date on the labels of red and white wine.

I recently attended a wine tasting of a wine company’s new releases. I breezed through the new offerings rather quickly, just sniffing swirling and spitting. I didn’t spit it out because the wine was particularly bad, it’s just that I had at least 9 wines to try, it was 11am and I had to drive 120 miles to get back home. I was paying so much attention to the wine itself that I never noticed the absence of a vintage on the bottles.
When the wine maker revealed to me later that all of the wines were non vintage I was quite surprised and very confused. I couldn’t tell if that was why I was not blown away by the flavors, or if the flavors would have been like that regardless. To be fair, the wines were decent, and my perceptions probably had a lot to do with getting 2 hours sleep before driving 120 miles to taste wine.
For me, red wines that do not have a vintage conjure up images of very inferior sub-standard wine, non vintage = Red Flag! Am I a wine snob because of this? Can a wine still be decent, or even very good without having a specific vintage? Is non vintage the hallmark of plonk wine? Where does non vintage wine come from? Is it the leftovers from several different years that a vineyard/winemaker just wants to make some extra money on? Or are they actually happy with the final product? Is every case different?
Some winemakers argue that producing non vintage wines allows for the winemaker to take what is best from every vintage and build upon their strengths and be more creative. It is not making an inferior wine, but making the best possible wine he or she can from the grapes. While going non vintage is nontraditional, theoretically it does make some sense. Right?
I have a lot of questions and almost no answers. Help me to understand, dear reader.
Edited by Jon Troutman

2 comments

  1. Just to point out that all those great vintages quoted in the first para are French.

    In areas with more predictable climates, vintages may indeed be less relevant, because the weather and therefore quality is more consistent. Potentially more boring too, however…

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