Vintages are a subject that is hotly debated among wine lovers. Yes, there are differences in vintages from year to year, which is reflected in the wine, but just because the wines are different, does that make one better than the other? As the old saying goes, “There are no bad vintages, just bad winemakers,” and to a point that’s true. For the regular consumer, vintages on the wine list are most likely an afterthought, and at a casual restaurant, a case could be easily made for not having vintages on the list at all.

Where we see the benefits of vintages on a wine list is when a restaurant is looking to highlight older wines for consumers or to list multiple vintages of a single wine. This is seen most often at higher-end establishments, but it could also be the case at a more casual establishment with a serious wine program. Listing the vintage allows the customer to select an older wine, or to choose a vintage of a wine they are familiar with that they may not have had before.

On rare occasions, listing a vintage could also signal a problem to a consumer who is in the know. For example, if there happened to be a lot of Napa Cabernet on the list from the 2020 vintage, it’s highly probable the grapes used to make these wines were impacted by smoke taint. This type of flaw can’t be helped by even the best winemaker, and it’s good to be aware of the situation before ordering the wine.

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.