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  Editorial Issue 166, October 2017   
A Difficult VintageA Difficult Vintage  Contents 
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A Difficult Vintage


 We knew 2017 would have not been a good vintage or, to say the least, one of those to be remembered. The positive side is that - at least this year - they refrained from spreading the enthusiastic and joyous news about the “vintage of the century”. Indeed, some tried to do that, maybe they were simply used to do so as, in past recent years, every vintage has been declared as “vintage of the century”, despite there are still eighty-three years before the end of this century. The negative side, more seriously, the quantity harvested in vineyards is one of the lowest of the past recent years and what they harvested is not exactly what we could call “quality grapes”. It certainly is not comparable to the quality of recent vintages. We knew vintage 2017 would have been one of the most difficult ones of the past years, a vintage we would probably not remember because of the hard meteorological conditions. The only thing we can do is to save what can be saved and, in terms of quality, wines will tell us.


 

 After all, also in vintages considered “bad”, such as the well known 2002, with time - in particular red wines - have given very good surprises. The bizarre meteorological conditions of 2017, impossible to forget, have greeted the new and young vine sprouts with a severe frozen also causing damages in other cultures. In case some thought this was enough, drought made things even harder for vineyards and, without water, vine hopes for bearing quality fruits is severely compromised to say the least. To such condition, where allowed and possible, vintners have irrigated vineyards in order to give them a sort of relief and tried to quench the thirst of vines. It should be said the diminished availability of water is generally considered a quality factor as this forces vines to dig their roots in the deep of the soil in order to find underground water reserves, therefore becoming more resistant to the effects of drought.

 This is what has actually happened in 2017, therefore only the vines of “a certain age” and with well developed roots could benefit from underground water reserves. Young vines, or relatively young, with short roots, certainly have suffered from the lack of water. This is a well known fact: inside grape berries is found juice, mostly made of water. In case water is not available, of course, the development of berries is strongly compromised, they will therefore be smaller than the average and the quantity of must will be lower as well. This is what happened in many areas of Italy in vineyards which survived the effects of frosts. 2017 has also been characterized by very high temperatures which, including the effects of the lack of rains, have made even harder and complicated life of vines. Grapes have ripened in advance, therefore forcing a significant early harvesting. In other words, a vintage - 2017 - evidently complicated, complex and difficult. For the sake of completeness, we should also mention the unwelcome hail that, in certain areas of Italy, have caused serious damages.

 The expectations of the past weeks have been unfortunately confirmed by the meteorological events and, now that many are done harvesting vineyards or are about to do it, we can talk about quite reliable results. Everyone agrees on the fact quantity produced in 2017 is evidently lower than the past, among the lowest in the last fifty years. In general terms, production in Italy is expected to be 26% lesser, in certain cases even 32% lesser, than 2016 such as in Central Italy. It makes me smile - let me say that - in this context, many have triumphantly said Italy will however be making more wine than Frances, relaunching the endless and quite useless competition with the French. Italy is still the country making the highest quantity of wine in the world: the honor is fortunately saved. They are talking about quantity. What about quality? Some have promptly said that, despite quantity is lower, quality is however good and we will have surprises as well as good wines.

 In opposition to what some said, we should also mention what has been said by Riccardo Cotarella, chairman of Assoenologi, the Italian Association of Wine Makers. The famous Umbrian wine maker has in fact said 2017 will not be evidently remembered for the quality of its wines and the unusual conditions occurred in this year will be quite troublesome in wine making as well. For many aspects, summer 2017 seemed to be similar to 2003, another very hot vintage. Wines of that vintage - in particular reds - were characterized by a pretty high alcohol by volume with a harsh astringency, certainly not very elegant. That's why it will be fundamental to do a good job in making wine in order to avoid this condition, for any possible extent. As for the quantity of sugar - and therefore of alcohol - in theory there is not much to do, whereas for the agreeableness of tannins it is possible to do something. It is too evident miracles are not possible in wine making (more or less) in case the quality of grapes is low. In other words, only the best vintners and the most competent wine makers will be safe.

 Shall we have disappointing or low quality wines? This is hard to tell. There will be - as usual - areas, varieties, wines and in particular producers who will be more interesting than others. 2017 certainly is a hard, complex and demanding test for everyone and in which - like to say - only the best will be successful. In this case, best means the ones who will have quality grapes - because of his or her talent or the benevolence of Nature - best viticultural and enological competence, therefore capable of proving to get the best from what he or she harvested in the vineyard. And the best - in this case - means the least worst. 2017 is a difficult vintage and we knew this since a long time. How difficult it is, wines will tell us about that. For the moment, it is quite obvious - also by considering what I have personally heard from vintners and wine makers - this is not an encouraging vintage. Let's however be optimistic and wait the moment in which we will pour 2017 wines in our glasses: after all even vintages like 2002 and 2003, certainly not brilliant ones, have given us good surprises. Quantity in 2017 is clearly low, quality is not exactly promising, however it is too early to talk about the wines to be. Dear vintners, wine makers and producers, I know you all are making the best you can in order to honor your land, your vineyards, your wines. Despite the fact this 2017 seemed to be really crazy.

Antonello Biancalana



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  Editorial Issue 166, October 2017   
A Difficult VintageA Difficult Vintage  Contents 
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