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Grape-growers around the world had a mixed year in 2009. But with great vintages in France, South Africa and
New Zealand, there’s plenty for wine lovers to celebrate in the year ahead. Simon Woods gives a
round-up and recommends the best vintages to buy in 2010
It’s a case of smiles all round in France, with a vintage that in many
regions is already being hailed as one of the true greats. Some parts of the country, notably parts of Burgundy, experienced hailstorms in May and June, which reduced yields, but July and August
were hot (but seldom excessively so), with occasional welcome showers, allowing steady maturation. The end of August brought cooler temperatures, but the sun continued to shine, which helped the
grapes both to ripen fully and retain acidity. Comparisons with legendary vintages of the past are already being drawn in many regions – bring on the wines!
Much of Spain experienced a torrid summer, with the drought conditions
causing heat stress in several regions. This led to some producers harvesting grapes with high sugar levels but unripe flavours and tannins. Later-ripening grape varieties such as Garnacha were
able to recover in the cooler, wetter September conditions, but overall 2009 will be a vintage in which the skill of the grape-growers and winemakers will show through.
It was also a hot, dry vintage in the Douro, with the summer heat causing
grapes to shrivel in exposed sites in the upper parts of the valley. However, in cooler, lower zones, there was enough rainfall to produce a small crop of potentially very good ports and table
wines. But with quality being erratic, it remains to be seen whether 2009 will produce vintage port.
A tale of two countries, southern Italy experienced an erratic vintage,
thanks to spring hail, summer heat and rain at harvest. However, from central Italy northwards, the growing
season progressed from cool and wet in spring to very hot in summer. Thanks to the winter rain replenishing the water table, the heat wasn’t a problem, and although hail was an issue in some parts
of the Veneto, in general, there are optimistic noises being made about quality in most regions,
including Piedmont and Tuscany.
Quantities were down in Germany in 2009, thanks to uneven flowering in
spring, but as a result of the warm summer and friendly autumn that followed, early signs seem to indicate that quality is very high in all regions, with sufficient ripeness to make decent
quantities of beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese and some excellent red wines too.
In California, a dry but mild growing season with virtually no frost damage
led to high hopes for a fine vintage. Some parts of the state suffered in a large rainstorm in mid-October, but most grapes were harvested in excellent condition, and the wines should be similarly
good. In Oregon, sugar levels are on the high side, but producers are happy with the ripe, balanced wines they
have made. Washington State vintners are also bullish about a
vintage that has provided reds with deep colour and good levels of concentration, ripeness and acidity.
Australia experienced scorching heat in January but the vintage was saved by the mild weather that followed. Some
early ripening varieties suffered in the heat, as did some parts of Victoria, where early February bush fires affected several vineyards, However, most of the vineyards were able to recover from
the heat, and the late-ripening grapes such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon performed well.
After the erratic 2008 vintage, South African producers enjoyed an excellent 2009. There’s always a heat spike in the Cape in midsummer, but the gentle weather either side of this resulted in a good crop of both reds and whites, with the only concern being the
pressure put on storage facilities in the cellars due to many varieties ripening at the same time.
A cool, wet February caused concern in Marlborough, but with drier weather
from then on, the harvest, though late, was a good one. It was a similar situation in Central Otago, and in
the North Island regions of Martinborough and Hawkes Bay, and all three should have produced some excellent whites and reds.
A warm, dry vintage led to an early harvest in many Chilean regions. Regions close to the coast, and higher altitude vineyards were able to cope with this, but
in warmer zones, irrigation management was a critical factor in order to prevent the vines suffering from heat stress. Those who were able to do this, and let their grapes achieve full flavour
ripeness, will have made some fine reds – this should be a very good Carmenère vintage.
It may have been a touch warm in 2009 for some of Argentina’s white grape
varieties, but producers are certainly optimistic for their red wines. While some vineyards suffered in a spell of intense February heat, most were able to cope with this. Yields were lower as a
result of the winter frosts, but the reds are expected to be concentrated and powerful.
‘With quality erratic, it remains to be seen whether 2009 will produce vintage port’'
2005 Mid-range Red Bordeaux: A year when you had to try really hard to make
poor wine – spend £15-20 and you’ll seldom be disappointed, plus they’re drinking very well now.
2007 Cotes du Rhone: The Châteauneuf-du-Pape is splendid, but the less ambitious Grenache-based wines have also performed well in this excellent
2005 Western Australian reds: This region in general offers cooler, fresher flavours than the states further east. Margaret River Cabernets and Lower Great
Southern Shirazes are the pick of an excellent bunch.
2005 Dao: Not as famed as the Douro, but this granite-soiled region is the
source of some of Portugal’s top wines, with the Touriga Nacional grape showing at its most perfumed and
2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: Back on track after the rather dilute 2008s, the best offer a winning combination of exuberant flavours and precise
2001/02 German Rieslings: Not the current vintage by any means, but it’s worth seeking out wines at kabinett, spätlese and auslese level, as they’re maturing
nicely but still have bags of life and potential.
2008 Campania whites: You’d think it would be too warm, but the southern
Italian region of Campania has three terrific white grapes in the form of Fiano, Falanghina and Greco. Move
over Pinot Grigio…
2007 Austrian Gruner Veltliner: These are now drinking beautifully, exhibiting a real stamp of terroir with a touch of honeyed maturity now adding some richness to the fine-boned fruit.