Another harvest is over, and the newest wines are aging in winery cellars. Although it's too early to thoroughly assess quality, Wine Spectator's editors have provided a snapshot of the conditions and expectations in key regions and given each of them a preliminary grade.
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. Johannes Leitz, owner of Leitz in the Rheingau, reported harvesting 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. In the Nahe, Armin Diel witnessed the largest and most impressive crop of BA and TBA in 203 years of family winemaking. The downside is that very little QbA and kabinett were made, according to Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster.
In the Rheingau, steep, well-drained soils fared better than the heavier clay and loam sites, according to Leitz and Jochen Becker-Köhn, commercial director for Robert Weil. In the Pfalz, Christian von Guradze of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf hails the 2005 wines as "fruit bombs, one of the mad and bad vintages of the last 50 years." But he cautions that the acidity is lower than normal.
"In total, it looks really good, but I think we have to credit global warming," quipped Becker-Köhn.
Producers throughout the Italian peninsula faced a difficult harvest in 2005. Wet, autumnal weather settled over many regions from the middle of August onward, accompanied by some punishing 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," said Riccardo Cotarella, a leading consultant for wineries across Italy, "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," he added, "were better able to fully ripen for the harvest, despite the rain."
According to Cotarella, 2005 is going to be predominantly a white-wine vintage for Italy. "The whites from Alto Adige down to Sicily look like they will be excellent, as the grapes were harvested before the real rain started," he said.
The soil type also had some effect on quality, Cotarella said. "Sandy soil was better equipped to drain off the rain," he explained, "but in some water-retaining clay soils, there was enough water to breed fish."
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.
Luca Currado of Vietti, one of the many Barolo producers who harvested slightly ahead of time to avoid the predicted storm, is pleased with the outcome. "The grapes showed good maturity," he said, "and the wines are fresh, with good color, aromas and structure, without being heavy in any way."
Roberto Voerzio, one of the region's top Barolo producers, said that despite some stressful moments during the growing season, the outcome was good. "It was an unusual year," he added. "In the end, there were only 10 to 12 days between the Dolcetto and the Nebbiolo harvests. It took a lot of work and planning to get everything going at the same time in the winery."
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.
"It's a bit of a leopard-skin vintage for Sangiovese," said Stefano Chioccioli, one of the region's most prominent consulting enologists. "The quality will depend on the local microclimate and how well the vines were tended throughout the growing season."
In Montalcino, home to Brunello di Montalcino, the area south of town fared better than the cooler northern area, where Siro Pacenti owner Giancarlo Pacenti said that the Sangiovese that made it to the winery was good quality, but that he left 30 percent on the vine. "Some of the grapes just didn't ripen, and there was botrytis in the vineyard."
According to Chioccioli, the quality of Sangiovese was very uneven in the Chianti Classico area, too. "Vineyards in higher altitudes, with better drainage and better ventilation, had more chance to offset the effects of the damp weather," he said.
On the whole, the coastal areas performed better than the interior. Leonardo Raspini, estate manager at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia in Bolgheri, said the Cabernet and Merlot are very good quality. Sangiovese also 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.
Drought conditions plagued wide sections of Portugal for the third year running. 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, said Miguel Roquette of Quinta do Crasto, a maker of both table wines and Ports. "After this rain, we had a sunny, dry harvest with some cool nights and even some dew." The resulting wines are showing good color and aromas, Roquette said, though it was hard to gauge overall quality because the wines.0 are just in their infancy.
Dirk Niepoort, who also makes table wine and Port in the Douro, said that 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," he explained.
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, Telmo Rodriguez, whose label comprises a range of wines from different appellations around Spain, predicted that 2005 will produce "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, he said, "there will be a freshness to the wines."
Tempranillos fared better than Garnacha, said Jaime Echavarri, director general of El Coto 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...Initially the crop seems to be clearly better than 2004, which was very good indeed." He cautioned, though, as did some other vintners, that 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. Nonetheless, Guillermo de Aranzabal, who heads La Rioja Alta group, which owns Aster, expected the Tempranillo to have a lot of color, mature tannins and well-balanced acidity.
In the Catalonian winegrowing areas, which include Penedès and Priorat, the dry spell was relieved by intense rainfall on Sept. 7 and 8. The soil totally absorbed the water, according to Miguel Torres, and botrytis did not form. Afterward, the weather was mild and dry, allowing the grapes to reach excellent phenolic maturity.