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2007 Vintage Report Card: Part 3

A preliminary look at quality in the wine regions of Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain

Posted: December 19, 2007

The 2007 harvest is over, to the delight of some, the relief of others—and the dismay of an unlucky few. Though it's too early to assess overall wine quality, Wine Spectator's editors have analyzed the season's conditions in key regions and given each a preliminary grade.

Germany
Italy - Overall
Piedmont
Tuscany
Portugal
Spain

Germany

Grade: A

The preliminary report from Germany is that the 2007 harvest delivered on both quantity and quality. The yield for all grape varieties is estimated to be roughly 8 percent higher than the long-term average, but 15 percent more than the previous two harvests.

From a quality standpoint, the late-ripening Riesling enjoyed the longest hang time ever recorded, up to 150 days in some cases. The long, slow maturation allowed the grapes to be picked for all pradikat categories (classifications above a certain level of ripeness) in healthy condition.

The warmest April on record meant that vine development progressed about three weeks earlier than average. Hail hit parts of the middle Mosel in late May, but the storms arrived before the flowering, so damage was minimal. The summer was cool, but warm enough to continue the ripening process. It was also dry, with just enough rain at the right times. Steffen Christmann, who manages his family's estate, Weingut A. Christmann, reported that there was no rain at all in the Pfalz from August to November.

A few growers noted that some berries were sunburned in July during a heat spike, but diligent producers removed the affected fruit. Some humidity in August increased the mildew pressure, which most growers handled easily with vineyard treatments, so all reports on the health of the grapes were positive.

Warm days and cool nights in September were ideal for ripening. In early September, Nik Weis, proprietor of Mosel winery St.-Urbans Hof, said, "With the weather we have right now, ripening will continue nice and slowly, so that we have perfect conditions for the metabolism, in order to create flavors and keep the acidity on a good level for refreshing wines." The weather held, just as he and others had hoped.

In the end, the country's main wine regions harvested healthy, ripe grapes. Most growers indicated 2007 is an ideal vintage for the qualitätswein, kabinett and spätlese categories, with smaller quantities of auslese and sweet dessert wines. With a strict selection, several estates were pleased to make beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese, which are the rarest wines only produced in small volumes in exceptional years.

In character, the vintage appears more like a combination of 2002 and 2004, both of which were outstanding. 2007 is also a welcome relief after the hot vintages of 2003 and 2005, not to mention the early, botrytis-affected 2006 harvest.

—Bruce Sanderson

Italy - Overall

Grade: A-

Despite anomalous weather during the summer of 2007, most producers throughout Italy are confident that this year will produce very good to excellent wines.

The very dry and mild winter that bridged 2006 and 2007 did not augur well for the beginning of the season and encouraged a bud burst about two weeks early. The spring provided only moderate rains and water reserves were already low, particularly in the plains and coastal areas, but also in the hilly interior, when the temperatures rose from mid-June through July.

"We all thought it was going to be another 2003," said Ricccardo Cotarella, one of Italy's top enologists, who consults for a number of estates throughout the peninsula. In that year, sizzling temperatures and drought conditions throughout the summer dried out grapes on the vines, making balanced ripening difficult. What saved the day in 2007, Cotarella said, was the milder climate in August, giving the grapes a period of respite after the heat of the preceding months.

There then followed dry, warm weather in September and October, interspersed with rain. "This was ideal weather for the harvest," said Cotarella, "for those who waited to take benefit of the 'Indian summer.'"

The end result, Cotarella concluded, was a crop of very high-quality red and white grapes, all over Italy, and especially from late-ripening varieties. These include Sangiovese, the staple grape of Chianti and Brunello, Montepulciano in Abruzzo, Aglianico in Campania and Piedmont's Barolo and Barbaresco grape, Nebbiolo.

In Veneto, the harvest of the Corvina and local grapes that make Amarone and Valpolicella, was completed in fine weather, though some producers chose to pick early. "We went in early," said Riccardo Tedeschi, of the Tedeschi family winery in Piedmont, "because we just didn't know what was around the corner. In hindsight, we could have waited."

Romano dal Forno, one of Amarone's superstars, will not be making any Amarone at all, due to a very severe late-August hailstorm, which devastated the vineyards around his winery in Illasi and caused damage in other areas of the Valpolicella region. "The weather during the harvest has been really good," added Dal Forno. "For those who were spared [the hail], it should be a good year for Amarone."

According to Cotarella, the biggest spoilers in 2007 were hail, which also hit severely in some areas of Piedmont, together with an outbreak of mildew and mold in some vineyards in Sicily, due to the combination of heat and humidity. "Where either hit hard," he said, "there was no possibility of a harvest at all."

—Jo Cooke

Region: Piedmont
Grade: B+

The 2007 harvest in Piedmont started in mid-August, around two weeks early, at about the same time as in the superhot 2003 vintage. Despite some worrying—and some hard rainfall at the beginning of the harvest—most of the Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes were picked in fine weather and were in the winery by the end of September.

"It was different from 2003," explained Luca Vietti, of Vietti winery, "where the early harvest was necessary because the grapes were drying out and amassing relatively high sugar levels. In 2007, the whole season, right from the budding was early, because of the mild winter and spring. In 2007, the Nebbiolo—[the staple grape of Barolo and Barbaresco]—is showing good fruit, structure and balance."

The biggest problem faced by some producers in the Langhe was an early, but severe hailstorm at the end of May, which almost wiped out the Bussia vineyard near the town of Monteforte and caused damage in other top Barolo vineyards, such as Cannubi and Bricco del Fiasco.

The combination of hail and the same dry conditions that all Italy faced through the summer caused a natural reduction of yields. Angelo Gaja of the Gaja winery said that the Nebbiolo on his estate was down by 25 percent in 2007. "But," he added, "we anticipate the quality will be very good."

—Jo Cooke

Region: Tuscany
Grade: A

Producers throughout Tuscany are hailing 2007 as an excellent vintage, comparable with 2001 and 2004.

"The producers of Chianti Classico have good reason to be euphoric," said Marco Pallanti, president of the Chianti Classico Consortium and technical director of one of Chianti Classico's top estates, Castello di Ama. "The relatively high grade of alcohol, combined with good acidity, are pointers to a wine that will age well."

The harvest of Sangiovese grapes, in both Chianti Classico and further south in Montalcino, the home of Brunello, was less precocious than producers were predicting at the start of the season, after budding started very early in the spring. However, many producers were able to take advantage of the fine conditions during September and October to allow the grapes to linger a little while longer on the vine.

"It was best to wait," said Riccardo Cotarella, who consults for the Castello Banfi estate in Montalcino. "You may have got an extra degree of alcohol, but that's not the whole story. There was a more overall balanced ripeness in the grapes if you waited. There will be some great wine from Montalcino this year."

In Bolgheri, on the Tuscan coast, both the Cabernet and the Merlot fared well in 2007, though the fair weather at the end of the season favored the Cabernet over the earlier-ripening Merlot.

"The last 10 days that the Cab spent on the vine ensured perfect ripeness," said Leonardo Raspini, director of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, which produces the Bordeaux blend Ornellaia, and a pure Merlot. "But we are more than happy with our entire crop of Cab and Merlot in 2007," he added. "We have great quality and also good quantity."

—Jo Cooke

Portugal

Grade: B

Unlike the past few vintages, when scorching heat and drought were the norm, the prime table-wine regions of Portugal experienced milder weather during the growing season and ample moisture—though too much, in some cases.

The spring saw heavy rain in key regions such as the Douro. Fortunately, the rain did not disturb the flowering and setting of the fruit, though the cooler summer temperatures delayed the beginning of harvest in many regions by one to two weeks. Harvest commenced in mid-September and was followed by nearly perfect conditions, with warm and dry weather for nearly three weeks.

Overall, yields were down 10 to 20 percent over the last three vintages, mostly due to attacks of mildew spurred by the humid and wet conditions, though some vintners reported a harvest down more than 50 percent. Those vintners who were diligent in spraying to combat the mildew reported good-quality grapes.

"The maturation of the grapes developed in a steady and balanced way through the dry and mild summer," said Francisco Olazabal of Quinta do Vale Meao, a leading producer in the Douro River Valley, Portugal's leading table-wine region. "Our first impression of the 2007 wines is very favorable with intense color, pleasant flowery aromas and good acidity."

Some Port shippers believe they have made vintage-quality Ports, but if they do opt to officially declare 2007 as a vintage year, they will not do so for several more months.

—Kim Marcus

Spain

Grade: B

Difficult weather conditions, pests and disease plagued some of Spain's vineyards in 2007, but for the most part, the principal impact was on yields, so many producers predict good-quality wines. However, they are also warning of higher prices because of the lower volumes.

Red-wine regions were the most affected. In Rioja, yields were down 30 percent this year. Producers said this was partially due to hail in the spring, and a summer attack of mildew. However, harvest lasted nearly three months, beginning the first week of September, so vineyard managers did not have to rush through their Tempranillo grape-selection process, helping maximize fruit quality. In nearby Navarra, yields were down by 17 percent due to mild days and cool nights. Another hard-hit region was Priorat, in the northeast of the country, where harvest rains affected ripening. Growers there are reporting uneven results.

But there were some bright spots, especially among the white-wine regions. In the northwest of the country, in Rias Baixas, producers expect to make excellent, aromatic and tangy Albariño-based whites in 2007. In the Castilla y León region, in the center of Spain, yields were up almost 25 percent.

Another region that saw a good year was Penedes, near Barcelona, where cava is produced. "Grape quality, health and ripeness have been at an optimum level," said Mireia Torres, technical director for all the Torres wines. She reported "intense and fruity" white wines and reds with "good color and well-matured tannins" at her family's vineyards.

It's likely to be a mixed bag of wine quality in Ribera del Duero, however. Growers experienced a damaging frost in late September, which forced an earlier-than-desired harvest. The weather was so chaotic that locals have begun to call it "the curse of the sevens," in reference to the bad weather of this year, as well as in 1997 and 1987. However, growers equipped with wind towers were able to push the frost out and preserve the leaves on the vines. "Don't think for an instant that we weren't a bit scared," said Angel Anocíbar, winemaker at Abadia Retuerta. "Technology in conjunction with a great team is what helps us in creating a great wine, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at us."

—Jacob Gaffney

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