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Tuscany: Despite Variable Weather, Vintage Holds Promise

Top winemakers said it was possible to make some outstanding wines despite frost and hail in April and a harvesttime deluge.

Jo Cooke
Posted: December 28, 2001

 
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Despite extreme weather conditions throughout the 2001 grapegrowing season in Tuscany, leading wine producers in this Italian region said they produced some outstanding wines. Some are even comparing the vintage to a benchmark year: 1997.

"It wasn't easy, but we produced some very good Syrah and Chardonnay," said Francesco d'Alessandro, an owner of Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Manzano in Cortona. "Both wines are very rich in fruit and alcohol, but they have a freshness and aromatic quality that is very fine indeed."

Wine producers had to cope with an array of weather problems this year. After a very wet winter and spring, a severe freeze suddenly hit most of Tuscany in mid-April, resulting in a reduced grape crop throughout the region. Particularly affected was the Montalcino area, where temperatures dropped dramatically to as low as 25 degrees F. At the same time, freak hailstorms in April added to the problem, causing Brunello di Montalcino producers to lose 15 percent of their grapes on average, though some reported losing as much as 40 percent.

"The 2001 vintage is certainly going to be a strange vintage for Tuscany," said Carlo Ferrini, a leading consulting enologist for a number of Tuscan estates, including Casanova di Neri, Poliziano and Sette Ponti. "The anomalous weather conditions mean we are going to get all kinds of wines -- from moderate quality to outstanding -- depending on the position, depth and character of the terrain, but above all, on sensible vineyard management and timely harvesting."

The summer was just as variable. After a mainly stable and dry June and July, the weather underwent constant change throughout August and September, running from hot to cool, from humid to dry. The final act was a deluge of rain during the last week of September, just as producers were readying their wineries for the harvest of the later-ripening Sangiovese grapes, the staple variety for Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Luca D'Attoma, who consults for estates such as Badia a Coltibuono and Antico Podere Gagliole in the Chianti Classico area, as well as Le Macchiole in Bolgheri, claimed that these last-minute rains did not cause any big problems, as long as the harvest was timed right.

"It rained a lot, and the grapes that came in after the rains were a bit diluted," said D'Attoma. "Some wines may lack the density of the 1997 vintage, but they promise to be more elegant and perfumed than, for example, the 1998, where the same rains were accompanied by cold temperatures."

In Bolgheri, on the other hand, the Cabernet and Merlot grapes that produce great wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia were already picked before the rains started. "I have never seen such high-quality grapes in my life in Bolgheri," said Renzo Cotarella, technical director for Antinori, which produces the Bordeaux-style blend Guado al Tasso in Bolgheri. "The young wines are very rich in fruit and tannins. It may be the best we ever made."

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