Is the year printed on the wine bottle in reference to when the grapes were picked and the wine made, or when the wine was released from the winery?
A great question and one we get all the time.
When you see a year (or what’s also called the vintage), it refers to the year the grapes were harvested. In some cases wineries will release wines the following year, and in other cases the winery will hang on to the wine – either keeping it in barrel or in bottle – for many more years after the grapes were picked and crushed. For example, by Italian wine law, Barolo must age a minimum of 3 years (2 of which must be in barrel) before the winery can release it to market.
If you have a wine with no date printed on the label (very common for sparkling wines and champagnes), that means it is a blend of several vintages so the winery can achieve consistency year after year.