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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I’ve recently discovered the joys of vintage Champagne, but I don’t want to ignore non-vintage Champagne. How do you know how old a non-vintage Champagne is?
—Tom R., Waynesville, N.C.
Let me just back up so everyone can follow along. A vintage is the year that the grapes were harvested, and it's usually indicated on the bottle. But some wines are made from blends of wine made in different years, and those don’t have vintages; they're called “non-vintage” wines, often abbreviated as “NV.“
Why would a winemaker want to blend together wines from different years? It gives them the flexibility to make consistent wines from year to year that are less dependent on or influenced by the weather during one particular growing season. Non-vintage wines aren’t lesser wines at all, and it’s a common practice, particularly among bubblies and fortified wines.
But there's no easy way to tell how old a non-vintage wine is (and part of the point is that different components of it are different ages). However, more and more Champagne houses are listing the date of disgorgement, when the sediment that resulted from the secondary fermentation in the bottle is removed. A disgorgement date is not the same thing as a vintage date, but it will give you an idea of when that wine was bottled.
Not only that, some sparkling wine houses are giving additional information beyond that. Krug now puts an ID code on the back of their bottles of NV Champagne, giving wine lovers a way to look up additional information on their website.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to frequent wine shops that do a brisk bubbly business when buying NV Champagnes. If the store has a lot of turnover, you can expect that you'll be buying the most recently bottled NV cuvée from that producer. Non-vintage sparkling wines can easily hold up for a few years, but they're generally made for short-term consumption.
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