The Rhine and Mosel regions saw their fifth excellent year in a row, amid a string of successful harvests that began in 1988, with only two hiccups along the way. The grapes from this year’s harvest combine aspects of the 2003 and 2004 vintages: high ripeness and good acidity, the result of a growing season that never experienced the extreme heat of 2003.
The average must weights were high, and most estates harvested a week or two earlier than usual. While the overall quality is reported to be high, quantities are lower than average, which means prices may rise. In the Rheingau, reported harvesting was 30 percent less this year because of cool weather at flowering and an outbreak of powdery mildew.
The presence of botrytis allowed some Mosel estates to make BA and TBA wines. The Nahe Region witnessed the largest and most impressive crop of BA and TBA in over 200 years. The downside is that very little QbA and kabinett were made.
In the Rheingau Region, steep, well-drained soils fared better than the heavier clay and loam sites. In the Pfalz Region, the 2005 wines are being hailed as “fruit bombs”, one of the mad and bad vintages of the last 50 years, and the acidity is lower than normal.
There was much hand wringing in the Italian wine press about the quantity and quality of this year’s vintage. Heavy rains were particularly worrisome in many regions. Early assessment in the Piedmont region was for very well-balanced, fresh wines with excellent color and softness. Obviously, this is not a great year like 1999 or 2001, because the grapes do not have the same concentrations of sugars and polyphenols. However, the elegance and drinkability of the 2005 Barolos will satisfy even the most demanding consumers. Very good marks were awarded to wines made with the following varietals: Dolcetto, Erbaluce, Favorita, Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo del Nord Piemonte; and good marks to Moscato bianco, Barbera, Brachetto, Chardonnay, Cortese, Fresia and Grignolino.
Producers throughout the Italian peninsula faced a difficult harvest in 2005. Wet, autumn weather settled over many regions from the middle of August onward, accompanied by some heavy downpours and hailstorms, especially in the north. The constantly damp conditions opened the way for botrytis and other mold, which severely reduced the quality of the crop.
It was pretty bad all around for reds but particularly tough for the late-ripening red varieties. These include Montepulciano in Abruzzo and Aglianico in the southern regions. Earlier-ripening varieties, such as Merlot and Syrah were better able to fully ripen for the harvest, despite the rain.
The whites from Alto Adige down to Sicily look like they will be excellent, as the grapes were harvested before the real rain started. The soil type also had some effect on quality, with sandy soil better equipped to drain off the rain.
The Piedmont Region:
After a summer of unpredictable weather, the outcome of the harvest in Piedmont largely depended on one factor: whether wineries picked before Oct. 2. That date marked the start of six days of heavy rain, after which any grapes still on the vine were severely compromised, so swollen with water that their skins broke. Dolcetto and Barbera were both picked before the end of September, and producers are reporting good quality. But for Nebbiolo, the variety that makes the region’s top reds-Barolo and Barbaresco-timing was crucial.
The Tuscany Region:
In general, it was not a great year for Tuscany ‘s dominant grape variety, Sangiovese, which struggled to ripen fully in many areas and, because of the damp conditions, had to deal with the threat of botrytis. The quality will depend on each local microclimate and how well the vines were tended throughout the growing season.
The quality of Sangiovese was very uneven in the Chianti Classico area. Vineyards in higher altitudes, with better drainage and better ventilation, had more chance to offset the effects of the damp weather. On the whole, the coastal areas performed better than the interior. The Cabernet and Merlot are very good quality and the Sangiovese fared better in the warm areas further down the coast, where grapes can ripen at least a week earlier than in other parts of Tuscany .
In Montalcino, home to Brunello di Montalcino, the area south of town fared better than the cooler northern area. The Sangiovese that made it to the winery was good quality, but a high percentage of fruit was left on the vine. Some of the grapes just didn’t ripen, and there was botrytis in many of the vineyards.
Drought conditions plagued wide sections of Portugal for the third year in a row. In addition, widespread brush fires darkened the skies in the Douro Valley in July, though no major vineyards were damaged.
Despite the stress of the drought, the vines were healthy. Four days of steady rain in September also helped to perk them up before harvest. After this rain, the region had a sunny, dry harvest with some cool nights and even some dew. The resulting wines are showing good color and aromas, though it was hard to gauge overall quality because the wines are just in their infancy.
While the vines were indeed stressed by drought, low humidity suppressed the incidence of disease in the vineyards. Some very fine, elegant wines with good acidity and a lot of personality have been made, especially those sourced from cooler north- and east-facing vineyards on higher ground.
Dry, hot weather caused an early harvest of 10 days ahead of schedule. Drought conditions in some regions resulted in less fruit, but with good concentration and quality. An excellent vintage was declared by Rias Baixas, Navarra, Rueda and Toro and very good vintage was declared by Priorat, La Mancha , Jumilla, Valdepeñas and Rioja. Fruity flavors will be experienced in the 2005 reds as well as dense colors.
One of the driest years in memory led to yields that are 10 percent to 40 percent lower than normal in some vineyards. Although summer was marked by a drought, temperatures were not overly warm. The result was a crop of small, concentrated grapes that were able to ripen fully, free of mildew or mold. Many winemakers believe they will make good to outstanding wines, especially among the reds.
In Rioja, some producers predicted that 2005 harvest will result in the best wines ever seen from the region. Adequate winter snowfall kept the soil wet enough to carry the grapes through to harvest, and as a result, there will be a freshness to the wines. Tempranillos fared better than Garnacha in Rioja, and old and other low-yielding vineyards suffered less from the drought than younger ones. All in all, the wines are extremely clean, healthy and fruity, well-balanced, full in color. The crop seems to be clearly better than 2004, which was very good year, but the wines may be low in acidity. Heavy rains began in Rioja on Oct. 12, but most grapes had been picked by then.
In Ribera del Duero, a September frost burned the vine leaves and deprived the grapes of shade. Nonetheleess, Tempranillo is expected to have a lot of color, mature tannins and well-balanced acidity.
In the Catalonian winegrowing areas, the dry spell was relieved by intense rainfall on Sept. 7 and 8. The soil totally absorbed the water, and botrytis did not form. Afterward, the weather was mild and dry, allowing the grapes to reach excellent phenolic maturity.
The summer had good weather during the day and fresh nights, which supported the flavors; the grapes have a thick skin and are very healthy. The rains at the beginning of September did not affect the quality of the grapes but allowed a better maturity. The North wind blowing during the grape harvest accelerated the concentration. In general the wines show extremely intense fruity flavors and very dense colors, all the ingredients necessary to create a year of very good quality.
The Burgundy Region:
Initial reports say Burgundy 2005 is set to be a great harvest quality-wise. Some commentators are even saying that this year’s Burgundy will outshine Bordeaux . How much of this is the usual producer hype is hard to say. It is, though, shaping up to be a good year for the region.
The grape bunches on both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well formed and getting plenty of air. They are exceptionally healthy and the vines have escaped any and all infections. A characteristic of this year’s Pinot Noir is the thickness of its skins – a pointer to color and structure in the wines. The grapes are already high in sugar and the sugar/acidity balance is excellent for fruit at this stage in maturation.
The region as a whole has experienced good weather conditions throughout the summer with mostly dry, sunny days and cool nights. Rain fell across the region on August 19, bringing the water table up when drought was threatening the vines. The rain came at just the right moment and all the conditions for a great vintage are coming together.
Like most of Europe , initial forecasts indicate a drop in production volume-wise. How significant this drop will be is unknown but it should be below the average for recent years.
The Bordeaux Region:
2005 has been proclaimed an “Exceptional Year.” Cool nights and warm days toward the end of summer meant ideal conditions in the vineyard resulting in balanced grapes, both red and white varieties, of remarkable quality, liveliness, both flavorful and rich. For reds, Left and Right Bank producers agree that the 2005 vintage will produce magnificent wines.
Outlook by Grape Variety:
Sauvignon Blanc: 2005 has proved to be a noteworthy year for Sauvignon Blanc. Weather during the last two weeks of August played a key role in the development of this grape, leading to beautiful aromatics and balanced maturity, acidity, and freshness — perfect for dry white wines of great quality.
Semillon: Crisp September nights paired with heat during the day supported the development of botrytis, essential for the development of the signature sweet Bordeaux wines. Noble rot evolved under ideal conditions and produced berries with honeyed and candied citrus notes.
Merlot and Malbec: With smaller than average berry-size due to dry weather and other climate conditions, the Merlot and Malbec reached optimum brix levels. Color extraction is aided by highly concentrated anthocyanins, (the organic compounds responsible for the rich, purple-red, color of the grapes and resulting wines). Based on initial tastings during fermentation, opinions are positive, and the potential is generally agreed to be remarkable.
Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon: These later-developing varieties profited from dry conditions and achieved full physiological ripeness. They exhibit the rare balance between sugar, tannin, and flavor, ultimately expressing the classic qualities of ” Bordeaux .” One can expect beautiful, round, significant wines with the classic hallmarks of Bordeaux .