Greybeard’s Corner – Harvests End

By the time you read this harvests all over the Northern Hemisphere will have ended or be well on their way to finishing. 2011 has been a challenging harvest in both Europe and America but for different weather related reasons.

VinesIn Europe vine development was accelerated by as much as 5 weeks due to a mild Spring which, by the end of June, had German and French growers cancelling their August vacations in anticipation of a ripe, full crop. Then the weather changed; with Northern Europe going through a wet, cool and downright stormy couple of months while Southern Europe experience a heat-wave – neither scenario optimal for gentle grape ripening and threatening to ruin the 2011 vintage. Finally an Indian Summer at the end of September recovered the quality, if not the quantity, in the North with the harvest ending up 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.

Italy looks to be about 10% down in volume with the heat meaning higher sugar levels and potential alcohol needing managed. Wines from Spain report an inconsistent vintage with low yields (Rioja down by 20%) and CataVino include some reports from Portugal indicating good quality from what’s been harvested so far.

Inconsistency sums up France as well, especially Bordeaux where The Drinks Business (db) also uses “Challenging” and calls it “A Winemakers Year” (code for “you’d better know what you’re doing in the winery”). At least we won’t be getting another “vintage of the century” out of the Bordelais for 2011. There is a similar prediction for Germany as well, with Rupert Millar’s db article saying  this year “will separate the men from the boys”. As if contending with the weather wasn’t bad enough one Pfalz winemaker saw €100,000 of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapes stolen overnight – grape rustling is sadly becoming a more common event!

England seems to have fared better (summer storms were less destructive here) with the recent hot weather just in time to ripen the grapes, as reported in The Telegraph. The English harvest is going to be down on 2009 and 2010 (both good years for quantity) but with possibly the ripest grapes in a decade.

Over in North America and the summer hardly got started – “the summer that never was” – with minimal sun leading to delayed ripening and lower sugar levels, followed by persistent wet weather as autumn arrived. Jon Bonné wrote a good overview piece on SFGate, in Oregon Dana Tims writes of a stoical yet optimistic view of the harvest while in California the concern is whether enough grapes will survive rot to make it into the bottle, as discussed by Tim Fish and Augustus Weed in the Wine Spectator. At least Mexico seems to have had a smoother time of it!

Jancis Robinson’s recent FT piece “No one forecast this …” summarizes some of this in her own inimitable style, but of course we won’t really know what this means for 2011 wines until they come out of the tanks and barrels into bottle.

Wine News:  It would be wrong not to mention the passing of Daniel Rogov, Israel’s foremost wine critic. As the internet becomes the go-to resource for most wine consumers Rogov took that one step further and effectively posted his own obituary on his wine forum hosted by WineLovers Discussion Group. It will be interesting to see if a forum so closely aligned to the life and tastes of one man can continue after his death, a snapshot of the future for everyone’s on-line presence.

September also saw 11 new Masters of Wine announced taking the total number of MWs to 300 worldwide.

The rights of whether wine made in Beaujolais can be labelled as Burgundy or not was (partially) resolved by an INAO ruling at the beginning of October as reported by Decanter. The net result is that 43 Beaujolais communes who could previously label their white wines as Bourgogne Blanc can no longer do so, having to use Beaujolais Blanc instead.

While some things change in France some things stay the same over in Italy as “Montalcino says no” to proposals to allow up to 15% of other grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese wine from Tuscany. Victoria Moore added her comments on “Pleasing the Purists” in The Telegraph.

North East wine: The biggest local news has to be the 1st Northumbria Food and Wine Festival which finally came together over the damp 7-9th October weekend after the year-long saga surrounding whether the 2nd NorthEast Wine Festival would be held at all (it wasn’t). It was a great gathering of local wine retailers and professionals – a chance to catch up with a host of people met over the years – plus a showcase for some of the best food and wine available in the region.
I was there over the three days as a visitor and also as a guest speaker on the Satruday and Sunday where I put together a talk on unusual grape varieties that seemed to go down well – it may turn into a separate blog piece sometime soon!
Doors opened at 6pm on the Friday but it was Saturday that was the busiest day with a constant stream of visitors, however, the Sunday was quieter than most people would have liked, not helped by less than perfect weather (although for October it could have been worse – a 2012 summer slot should help).

I’ll add more about the NF&WF on this site shortly.

October’s NEWTS tasting was on Celebrity Wines, a category I’ve written about before back in the early days of Reign of Terroir. Stars of the night were the classically styled 2008 Two Paddock’s Pinot Noir from Central Otago and the remarkably complex Terre Inconnue 2008 Guilhem from the Languedoc – more details of the tasting and the other wines tried can be found on my earlier post Sleb Wines – A NEWTS Tasting.

At home and among other things going into the cellar recently were a pair of St. Georges St. Émilion reds from Château St. Georges (the Bordeaux producer where local sommelier Ian Cobham used to work as winemaker), a delicious Bunan 1997 Bandol tasted at the Wine Festival and immediately bought, an ‘09 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage (from Sainsbury’s Finest range), the delicious 2006 Falcoaria from Ribatejo (from PortoVino) and my first Vin Santo (del Chianti Rufina) by Villa di Monte, their 1995 (bought from M&S in The Metro Centre).

Passing these on their way out of the cellar and into the glass were the excellent pear & honey Rebenhof 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett trocken (Von wurzelechten Reben) that I bought on my trip to the Mosel in June; a bargain Wither Hills 2005 Marlborough Pinot Noir for £7 on bin end at my local co-op; the superb Jorge Ordonez & Co. 2007 Malaga Seleccion Especial No. 1 (nectar of the gods!);  a honeyed Roussane by Domaine de Palejay (2008 Le Sablet); and a light, chocolate tannin & raisined finish 2004 Chinese Cabernet Franc from Château Bolongbao, opened in homage to the Chinese Wine that won top honours at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Less encouraging was the Château Musar Jeune 2009 red I tried last month after seeing it in Richard Granger Fine Wines. I am a big fan of the Musar Rouge, Blanc, Rosé and Hochar Pere et Fils labels that I’ve tasted before but the Jeune – made from primarily Cinsault with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon – was a young wine with simple fruit flavours, slightly green tannins and little complexity. I’ll stick to its older siblings for Musar in the future.

Cellar Trivia: If you hadn’t already figured it out then I’m not a big buyer of Bordeaux due to a combination of budget, mistrust and my eclectic sense of adventure. The very good wines are too expensive while it’s often difficult to tell the very bad wines (of which there are many) from the rest of the affordable offerings. Since I don’t want to spend large parts of my life researching which producers are consistent when I can be exploring what the rest of the world has it means that I only end up with Bordeaux wines as gifts or very random purchases. The 2 incoming bottles of St. Georges St. Émilion take my meagre stock of both left & right bank wines to just under 10% of my cellar total – with the Château St. Georges nearly half of that (the wine is not readily available in the UK but I get some thanks to a French colleague).



Also published on October 23rd on Reign of Terroir

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