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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why are some wines without a vintage date? Probably another stupid question but as a chef and wine lover I never learned the answer to the undated bottle. Thanks.

—Bart H., Pompano Beach, Fla.

Dear Bart,

Keep in mind that a vintage date refers to the year in which the grapes that became that bottle of wine were harvested. Some wines, including many Champagnes, are made with grapes from different years. Such wines do not carry a vintage date, and these are known as "non-vintage," or NV.

The benefits of knowing the vintage include having an idea how old the wine is (and therefore where it is likely to be on its evolution from young to mature to over the hill), and also, of understanding something about the character of the wine (which will reflect to a greater or lesser extent the growing season during the vintage year).

However, you should be aware that even vintage-dated wines may contain wine made from grapes harvested in other years. The laws in different countries vary, but may allow anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent of other vintages in a blend. The flexibility to blend in more wine from other vintages is key to keeping wine styles consistent, especially in difficult vintages. Purists and traditionalists feel that if you want to blend more vintage wine in, you can do so, but just don't give the wine a vintage date.

—Dr. Vinny

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