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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently purchased some dessert wine that is made using the solera system. The "vintage" on the bottle says 1927, but I wonder how much of the wine is actually from that year. What is a good way to work through the details of solera-style wine?
—Daniel B., Wichita, Kan.
The term "solera" refers to a system of fractional blending commonly used in fortified wines in order to maintain a consistent style. Picture a stack of barrels, with the youngest barrel on top and the oldest on the bottom. A portion of the wine from the oldest barrel, on the bottom, is removed for bottling. The missing wine is replaced with some taken from the next youngest barrel. That barrel is then topped off with wine from the barrel above it, and so on. The very last barrel is topped with the newest vintage. So, the oldest barrels, the ones on the bottom, always contain a proportion of the original vintage used in the solera, but only the winemakers know for sure what the exact proportion is. In your case, 1927 was the year that the solera was started, so wines bottled from the solera will contain at least trace amounts from that year.
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