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Dear Dr. Vinny,

As I understand the term, "non-vintage," or "NV," refers to wines made from grapes harvested in more than one year. I am told that a recent bottling of Australia's Warrenmang Estate Shiraz NV from Australia is a blend of grapes from 2010 and 2011. These wines can mature, so the year information is important to assess suitable times for consumption. Why don't label notes identify the years involved for non-vintage wines?

—Peter J., Melbourne, Australia

Dear Peter,

The labeling laws in Australia are similar to those in the United States. Vintages may be claimed on a label as long as 85 percent of the grapes were harvested from that year (in the U.S., that number jumps to 95 percent if an American Viticultural Area is named). If a wine is a blend of multiple vintages, it's considered a non-vintage wine.

If a wine is labeled as non-vintage, no reference to vintage is permitted to be made anywhere on the label, capsule, cork or any part of the bottle. It’s simply the law that the winery is complying to. And there is a good reason that wineries choose to make non-vintage wines that are blends of multiple vintages—it’s a way to create a house style despite vintage variation. Sure, that wine may be a blend of 2010 and 2011 in that particular bottling, but once that wine is sold out the winery might make a new version, which might be a blend of 2011 and 2012, or with a little 2013 in there.

The good news is that if this is information you’re interested it, you can always ask the winery, and often their websites will give that information. Sometimes they’ll change the label slightly, or give the wine a name that indicates which version of the non-vintage wine you’re enjoying (“Dr. Vinny’s Blend No. 9” could be this year’s version; next year I’ll call it Blend No. 10 …). And yes, that information can be helpful if you’re deciding when to cellar or drink the wine.

—Dr. Vinny

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