On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe examine why multi-vintage wines are becoming more popular. The idea has most notably been used for Champagne and other sparkling wines in the past, but many wineries now offer blended still wines without a year on their bottles.
Is this the result of climate change and the uncertainty when it comes to harvesting amid droughts and wildfires? What is the preference of consumers when it comes to flavor profiles? And will multi-vintage wines break into the luxury or cult wine space, or remain in the entry-level market? Tune in to learn more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Guys, what’s going on? How’s everybody doing?
J: Doing well.
A: It’s not Derby de Mayo, which has happened before.
J: Derby what?
A: So it’s when the Derby and Cinco de Mayo fall on the same day.
J: I get it.
A: Today I was out walking around, and I saw a sign that said, “Happy Cinco de High-O.”.
J: Oh, geez.
J: Margarita for me. I don’t love a Julep, to be honest with you.
A: Yeah. Zach?
Z: If you’re asking me exactly right now, I would say a Julep. But I think I would drink vastly more Margaritas in a year, which is perhaps unsurprising.
A: Which is why I feel like you would say Julep right now.
J: Do you know what my problem with a Julep is? It never feels like there’s enough drink in there.
Z: It’s true.
J: It’s all ice.
Z: You have so much ice. And yet if you drink it quickly, which you should, it’s gone in four sips. Well, now I have the world’s saddest snow cone.
A: My problem with a Julep is, if you hold it for too long or if you don’t drink it quickly, it gets all that watery-ness. But then if you drink it quickly, it can be sickly sweet. And I’m not about that life, either.
Z: I will say this to the Juleps credit, though. It is a super-cool drink to watch someone who knows what they’re doing make. The technique of a Julep is very elaborate. Obviously, there’s a lot of debate about what you do with the mint, how you incorporate it, how you garnish the drink, and what the proper way to serve it is. And I love that. Not that I’m watching someone make a Margarita isn’t fun. A Julep is a very distinctive cocktail in several ways that I kind of dig.
J: I think I need to watch more Julep-making videos then.
Z: It’s a weekend project for you, Joanna.
J: Seems like it’s the perfect weekend for that.
A: I didn’t answer, but I think I would be Margarita all day long.
J: What kind of Margarita?
A: Tommy’s, always.
Z: We’ll save that for another episode.
A: Zach, what you’ve been drinking lately, man?
Z: Good question. There have been a couple of things that I have had recently that I’ve been excited about. After tasting some Madeira with Joanna on the podcast this past Friday, I had most of a bottle of Madeira left. As much as I enjoy sipping on this, I am going to do one of the things that we discussed, which is trying to figure out a cocktail that works with it. I found what I think is a pretty fun use for the Madeira that’s a cool riff on an existing cocktail template. I mixed equal parts mezcal, so I used the Del Maguey Vida — a very representative blend of mezcal from a couple different villages — with Aperol and this Rare Wine Co. Verdelho Madeira. It was kind of a Negroni-ish formulation, I suppose you would say. But it was really cool because I wanted to do something with the mezcal and I wanted something that would work really well with the cooked notes of the Madeira. You can kind of just get the cooking method of the agave in mezcal in a way that you can’t with most tequilas or things like that. I just figured that would work and I was really pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I don’t know if that’s a drink that’s already out there. I did a very, very cursory Google search and didn’t see anything. But in case anyone wants to try it, that one is mine. I made it up. Don’t ask me to name it.
J: That was my next question.
Z: It’s everyone’s next question. That’s the worst thing about cocktail creation is naming them, at least in my opinion.
J: Zach’s No. 2.
Z: Yeah, exactly. Listeners, if you have any suggestions: email@example.com.
A: The Geballe.
Z: Try it and then send me a name.
A: Have a Ball With the Geballe.
J: Oh, I like that.
A: Everyone else likes it.
Z: Yeah. The only other thing I had recently that I thought was really good was a really beautiful bottle of white Burgundy. Adam, you and I have discussed our mutual love of it a couple of times on here. This was Domaine Michel Niellon, their Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru. That’s a lot of f*cking words to say for a bottle of wine. That’s one of Burgundy’s problems. But really it’s just a beautiful bottle of wine. It was a treat to share with my wife after she got back from her work trip. So that was fun.
J: That sounds great.
J: I feel like we as a team have been having a lot of wonderful wine, even just in the past week from all over, including Lodi, Calif., Chile, Argentina, Virginia. One standout for me was the Early Mountain Petit Manseng. I thought it was very delicious. I feel like I haven’t had a ton of Petit Manseng in the past.
A: It’s not really that prevalent.
J: Yeah, it’s not popular. So that was really great. And then another thing that I had recently at the office was a canned Tepache from a brand called De La Calle. Tepache is a fermented pineapple drink for those who don’t know. This one was flavored with cactus and prickly pear and it was lightly sweetened with, I think, cane sugar and spiced with cinnamon. That was very good. It’s a non-alcoholic drink. What about you, Adam?
A: So a few things. Speaking of all the amazing people who came and paid us a visit this past week, we had a crew from Lodi in the office, and I got to have a bottle of Turley Old Vine Zinfandel. That was mind-blowingly good. It was really, really amazing. So that was awesome.
Z: Can I express my only gripe with Turley, which is that they put their Zinfandel in the widest bottles imaginable and they’re impossible to fit on any kind of wine rack?
A: I never actually had a bottle of Turley in my wine cellar, so I’ve not experienced it. I don’t have it out. But I can see the gripe. That must be very frustrating. Anyway, this weekend I followed in Joanna’s footsteps, and I went to Manhatta with some friends. I had the Always Money, and it was f*cking awesome.
A: It was by far the favorite cocktail I had there. I tried other people’s and things like that. But that one was really good, and my wife tried to steal it. You always know that you made the best cocktail order when your significant other is like, “I like yours.” So that was great. And then Aaron Goldfarb lost a bet to me because he doesn’t know sports. No, he does.
Z: What was the bet? You gotta explain.
A: Early on in the basketball season, Syracuse played Auburn. Aaron is a very cocky individual. He decided to text me and be like, “Oh, Syracuse is going to beat Auburn.” Even though, first of all, Auburn actually has a good basketball team and Syracuse is just living in the past of when they used to be good. But I think Aaron forgets because he’s so old that he went to college like 30 years ago. Anyways, Aaron lost a bet to me, and I know he’s a listener because his mom has a Google alert on him. Aaron and I went to Popina, which is a really great Italian restaurant in Brooklyn on the Columbia waterfront. I was just perusing the list and I was like, “Well, you lost the bet.” He’s like, “Yeah, man, whatever you need to do.” So I asked for the seller list and they had a bottle of Roagna Barbaresco, and he bought it. It was very, very good. Which is really crazy because I had a different bottle of Roagna a few months ago with Keith, actually, and we both weren’t as impressed with it. I don’t know if maybe that shows that the last bottle we had wasn’t in great condition or whatever. This was an amazing wine and I really enjoyed that. That was what I drank this week.
J: Thanks, Aaron.
A: Thanks, Aaron.
Z: Yeah, exactly.
Z: If you’d like to make any sports bets with me, I’m happy to discuss.
A: We have to figure out how we cash in because I don’t like to bet money.
Z: Just barter, OK.
A: I’ll bet a dinner or a night out at a bar or something. It was a lot more fun. But I tried to be respectful. So this week, we decided we would have a conversation about something that we’ve been seeing pop up a lot recently. Across the board, I’m seeing it in the regular world of wine and in natural wine, you’re also seeing a lot of natural wine. Obviously, it’s existed forever in Champagne. So those who know where we’re going know it’s these multi-vintage wines that are basically coming out of nowhere but seem to be everywhere nowadays. It depends on who you talk to. I think that’s what’s interesting about them. If you talk to natural wine producers, oh, this is a cool way to highlight different vintages. If you talk to more established winemakers who are making these wines, they’ll say it’s a way to protect against the massive vintage variations they’re experiencing, especially in California. I feel like I’m seeing a lot of them come from California. What happens if we are stuck in another drought or we have more fires or things like that? It’s the way that they’re hedging their bets against it. But the case is that there’s a lot of it now. And I’m kind of curious if either of you have had these wines and also what you think of them. What’s the hot take? Do we like this? Do we think this is good for wineries? Is this not good for wine? How do we think the public is going to react to this idea of these multi-vintage wines all of a sudden? Obviously we’ve done multi-vintage forever in Champagne. But consumers are used to seeing a year on the bottle of regular still wine. So I’m really curious where this all goes and thought it would be a fun conversation to have.
J: One question I have about this is, the opposition to multi-vintage wines is that it does away with terroir? That’s the big issue?
A: It’s one of them. I think it could be. I don’t know how I feel about these things. I might be showing my hand a little bit too early on in the conversation. For some consumers, it ruins the romanticism of wine, right? You’re drinking a specific year and everything that happened in that year and what was happening in the world and in the environment and the fact that that wine could only be made in that year. That’s something that’s always romanticized about wine. To me, this starts to put wine more in the discussion of bourbons and other kinds of spirits that are blended over different kinds of years. Again, I get that we’ve always done this with Champagne. So if you want to come for me, come for me. But I think in the world of still wine, it is a very new idea and one that I’m not sure how I feel about yet.
J: I think we’ve had this conversation before, but I also think that many consumers don’t really care about vintage. I think serious fine wine lovers do. But I also think that there will be plenty of winemakers that never explore multi-vintage wines. For winemakers where the prestige of the vintage isn’t really important or for really small wineries where crop issues can be particularly devastating to them, I think multi-vintage wines could be really valuable, especially if the wines they’re making are good. If it’s consistently good wine and it’s reliable for a winemaker, then I think it’s a good thing.
Z: It comes a little bit to something that Adam was mentioning a moment ago, and it almost comes to this question of, what do you want out of wine as a consumer? Is what you want out of wine a specific flavor profile, whether that flavor profile is the natty profile or something totally different or whatever? If what you’re looking for is mostly the flavor profile and all that, then multi-vintage wine makes a lot of sense for a winery. As explained, it helps with crop shortages. It also allows you to do more with a bumper crop in other years. California saw this really severely with 2018, which was a really, really large crop. You don’t necessarily want to vinify and sell all the wine you make in a year where you get a lot of crop because it’s going to lower the price. And you’re going to have problems selling wine. If you could hold on to some of that as reserve wines, such as it was, and blend that out over the next five years, you’re essentially supplementing smaller vintages. Additionally, it also just ensures you a more consistent flow of products into the market. There are a lot of things to recommend. And as Adam has pointed out, it’s why Champagne and other sparkling wine regions have traditionally done this for a variety of reasons. Some of it is consistency of flavor, but also as an insurance against bad or short crops.
Z: But in addition to the romanticism that comes with a vintage and the idea that these grapes were grown in this place at this time in this year — and we can attest to that in a very, very meaningful way — I also think that there are just a lot of wine styles that don’t really work as multi-vintage wines. With your fresher styles of white wine, rosé, and even red wines, I don’t want two-, three-, or four-year-old wines being blended in there. How are those wines being stored? Is that vinified wine being kept in barrel? Well, that’s dramatically changing its profile. Is it being kept in stainless steel tanks? Well, maybe that’s not changing the profile, but are you losing some of the freshness and vivacity of the wine? To say nothing of what it costs for a winery to store wine year after year. Storage of wine is a very big expense for any winery. If you’re storing wines, you’re going to have to put them in a temperature-controlled, airtight stainless-steel tank for three years to be able to blend them in. Again, that’s a big barrier.
J: But if that’s wine you would have lost otherwise or maybe wouldn’t have sold, isn’t it better?
Z: It depends how much you pay for that tank, to be completely honest. I mean, those things are not cheap and all the cost that goes into maintaining them and keeping them operational and stuff is not small. We’re definitely going to see more of it. I’m very curious to see if you start to see any of the high-end producers do it, and we’ve talked recently on podcast about cult wines and luxury wines and all these categories. It’s one thing to put a $20 multi-vintage wine out there. Certainly, lots of the really well-known grocery store wines are multi-vintage, or at least they’re not vintage designated. So we assume that they’re some kind of blend of multiple vintages and that’s fine. Those wines can be quite good and they can meet a really meaningful consumer demand. But if you’re talking about higher-end Napa Cabernet being bottled and sold as non-vintage or multi-vintage, I think someone will do it. I think someone will have to do it because, as discussed, some of these regions are going to come across vintage after vintage where there are various and different challenges. And making a vintage wine every year is just not quite an option. Maybe you have the Champagne model, where for certain vintages, you make a vintage wine and other years you just start selling Napa Winery “X” Cabernet Sauvignon and it doesn’t have a vintage date attached to it. But someone’s going to have to really splash into that pool, and we haven’t seen it yet. We don’t know who wants to be first.
J: But I think brands will do that under another brand.
A: Yeah, I think so, too.
J: That’s happening, right?
A: Yeah, that is happening. We are seeing that some of the higher-end wineries are saying, “Well, we have access to these wines. We have the ability to make them. So let’s create these wines under different brands.” We’re definitely seeing that. I think that what Zach said is really interesting about it only being applicable to certain styles. I can’t believe I’m saying this — I do agree with that.
J: It’s OK.
A: I know, was just f*cking around today. It’s true, though. I can’t see a beautiful Gamay or Pinot Noir doing really well multi-vintage, but I can see red blends doing very well. I can see Zinfandel, I can see Cabernet, especially, again, to hit a price point that consumers are already hoping to pay for those kinds of wines. I’m coming into this having not fully looked at what all the regulations are. I’m not sure if you’re still allowed to say “Napa” on the bottle if it’s multi-vintage. But if you are and that allows a producer to hit a lower price point, we all know that Napa is a name that sells. It’s a massively successful marketing term at this point for wine. Then that is something that allows other people access to “Napa wines” at maybe a $30 price point because they are wines that were blended over multiple vintages. On the high end, I think it could work for some of these Napa Cabernet producers, especially the ones that make the big cult wines that are basically oaked out anyways. Those wines could also potentially still exist here. Now, again, I don’t know if that’s going to work for our generation of wine consumers who don’t really love that style of wine. But there’s always going to be a buyer for that style. If that allows some of these wineries to be able to be in existence in years when there’s going to continue to be fires in California, then that’s also interesting. I really do think we’re going to only see multi-vintage wines in basically two areas of wine. And this is not a story about luxury or affordable wines at this point. It’s two regions, regions that are affected simply by climate issues like California. I can’t see this happening in Bordeaux.
Z: They’re going to get hammered almost worse than anyone. But I also find it very hard to see the Burgundians doing this.
A: Right, but California will. Especially, I think, in New World regions will be regions that are sort of open to this. I think we’re also going to see it in natural wine, because you already are seeing it in natural wine.
J: I don’t think people look for vintage in natural wine.
A: No, they’re looking for the flavor profile. If you can achieve that same flavor profile like kombucha-esque, then I don’t think the consumer is going to really care. It’s got a really cool label and it is cloudy and it has the flavors they’re looking for. What do they care if it’s four or five vintages that went into making that? I think that’s really interesting. The reason that multi-vintage Champagne works is, first of all, the older wines are adding some character. But then second, the entire wine is developing so much complexity because it stays on the lees for so long. The lees are imparting a specific kind of flavor, it’s the brioche we always talk about. Well, that’s actually what’s happening in natural wine when bacteria is getting involved. If we have, all of a sudden, Brettanomyces, and it’s creating all of these sour notes, that probably won’t matter. What does it matter that some of the wine is from a few vintages ago? That could be really interesting as well. And again, that’s why I think we’re already seeing it in natural wine.
Z: Especially because in natural wine, you’ve also seen a lot of producers eschew traditional notions about what varieties go well together or sticking to site specificity. You see some really popular natural wines that are blends from across California. And again, that’s not something that’s only in natural wine. You see that in very commercial wines as well. But I think you’re right that there is not the same interest in some of these classic indicators of quality in wine.
A: What you said is very true, Joanna. Ultimately, it’s a good thing. It’s going to allow for people to access wines at an affordable price and it’s going to allow producers to be able to recover when vintages are bad. Especially for producers who create this second label of these wines in order to still be able to make their fine vintage wines, but then not be completely lost when those vintages fail. I think it’s a really interesting thing. I’ll probably just have to get over the fact that all wine doesn’t have to be vintage. I got into wine and the romanticism of wine. I love the idea of drinking a year and thinking about that year and all those amazing things that we all do. But when I do think about it, I don’t even look at vintage all the time. If I really looked at vintage, then I would always be like, “OK, how would I treat all these different vintages and which one was better? Maybe I should buy off the list that way.” And I actually never do that. Even when I’m buying really nice wines off a list, I usually never do that.
Z: Like, say, a Roagna Barberesco?
A: Yeah. I didn’t even think about the vintage. I was like, “You’re paying for this.” There’s always been those statements people made that there’s no bad vintages, only bad winemakers. Which I think is also a very true thing. Any winemaker can make good wine in a good vintage. It takes a great winemaker to make great wine in a bad vintage. That’s really true as well. That’s why so many people don’t pay attention to vintage. This is all just an evolution. Keith’s reminding me here about Shinn Estate, which doesn’t exist anymore. But in the North Fork, they were making non-vintage wines years and years and years ago. And again, it’s because the North Fork wasn’t always dope. Some years it had good vintages and other years it had challenges because it’s on the North Fork of Long Island, which is not an amazing place to grow grapes. Yet, here we are. They’re going to come for me now. That’s why they did that. They were really, really smart. And it’s a very entrepreneurial idea. I’m here for it, I guess.
J: I just think that the vintage wines are not going to go away, though. If you want people to pay that much for your wine, it has to be special.
Z: Well, I think you’re right that you’ll see more wineries dip their toe into it, whether it’s a second label or their entry level-priced wine might. More of those might become multi-vintage wines. But I think you’re right that for most of the top end of the market, whether totally justifiable or not, people associate quality and still wine with a lot of things. They include it with variety designation. Certainly with appellation, and they associate it with vintage-dated wines. You’re not going to change people’s minds in a few years. But maybe if some of these multi-vintage wines become a little bit more common, more of the entry-level wines for some of these wineries are multi-vintage wines. Then maybe you start to see that approach spread beyond just the entry-level price point.
A: Right now, we don’t have enough data or proof that would show that a wine that’s held in cellar for 25 years before being blended into a multi-vintage bottle is amazing. Maybe it is. Maybe someone should try that. We now know that in the world of brown spirits. We know in whiskey and Cognac that, as these liquids develop in barrel, they get more complex. So that’s why we’re willing to pay for these multi-vintage whiskeys and Cognacs, where some of the liquid is five years old and some of the liquid is 23 years old. We don’t know what would happen in wine. Who knows if it will be good? It could be completely terrible. But I think that that’s also why, until we know that, it’s always going to be the priority on really old-vintage wine when it comes to the collection market, the speculation market, all of that stuff. We can assign a value to that. We’ve been assigning a value to that for centuries. So, all right. Well, I hope everyone had an amazing weekend and a great start to your Monday, and we’ll see you guys here on Friday.
J: See you then.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.