Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have a "forgotten old bottle of wine" question: The label of the bottle in question reads "Solera 1845," but there is no other indication of vintage or age—is this wine really from 1845?
—Don, Bethesda, Md.
The solera system is an interesting and somewhat rare system of bottling wine, often used for Sherry, but also sometimes Port, non-vintage bubbly and you might even see it used for rum and balsamic vinegar.
To understand the solera system, picture a stack of barrels from multiple vintages, with the youngest barrel on the top and the oldest at the bottom. Remove some wine from the oldest barrel on the bottom, but then replace that missing portion with wine from the next oldest barrel, and that portion is then replaced with the next oldest barrel, and so on down the line so that the missing amount is always replaced by the next-oldest available wine. Because you never entirely empty the barrels, the barrel on the bottom will always have at least a small amount of the oldest vintage, and new wine goes into the barrel on the top every vintage. It’s a way to keep a consistent house style, as well as a complex blend of multiple vintages.
In the case of the wine in your possession, the solera started in 1845 and there will be a trace amount of the 1845 vintage, which is pretty special, and hopefully a delicious taste of history.