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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have had bad luck lately with some non-vintage sparkling wines I have been buying, and I think many of them have simply been on the shelf for far too long. The problem is a non-vintage bottle from 10 years ago might appear the same as one that was just released.

Since NV bubblies generally reward early consumption, is there any way (besides always hunting a store associate down) to tell when any non-vintage wine was released?

—Ben B., Ames, Iowa

Dear Ben,

I checked around, and in general there's no way to tell just by looking at a bottle, unless the disgorgement date is listed on the label. But if you have a magnifying glass, you might find the teeny, tiny production numbers at the bottom of some—not all—bubbly bottles.

Each producer creates its own code. One told me that their code is straightforward, indicating month, day, and year (for example, "010506" would mean the bottle was disgorged and bottled on January 5, 2006). But even if you find a number, it might be more difficult to crack the code than to simply talk to your retailer and ask how long the wine's been on the shelf. Frequenting shops that do a brisk bubbly business is a good idea, as is avoiding dusty bottles on dusty shelves. Sometimes non-vintage wines can last a while, but in general, I'd recommend consuming them within no more than a couple years of bottling.

—Dr. Vinny

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