Welcome to our first foray into vintage reports. A vintage report is a general summary of the conditions and characteristics one can expect from wines from a region in a particular year. Think of this as a place to start your research into understanding vintages, especially if you’re looking to cellar wines for the future. And, even if not, it’s still a window into how climate affects the wine that is ultimately in your glass.
Vintage matters because growing conditions can vary greatly from year to year. In colder years, grapes may have trouble ripening, in other years summer hail storms can damage vineyards leading to lower yields, and, rain, depending on the time of the year is either a blessing or a curse. As a consumer, getting a general sense of vintage can help you evaluate wines that you might be unfamiliar with, and give you information that is helpful to you when making buying decisions.
Our goal here is to provide information and help you interpret it. To begin, we’ve included some excerpts from Jancis Robinson’s Free Vintage Guide. Like Jancis, we believe that these descriptions are more useful than numerical scores. We’ve also chosen to begin with regions that most people seek out for their age-worthiness.
“Frost and drought affected yields across the region, and the heatwave over summer resulted in a shorter ripening period than usual. This may stunt aromatic development, although cool nights have preserved the characteristic high acidity of the region’s reds.” ‒JancisRobinson.com
Piemonte or Piedmont, located in the Northwest of Italy, is known for high-quality wines based primarily on Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. It includes the world-famous areas of Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are renowned for their long-lived Nebbiolos.
As stated above, 2017 was a turbulent growing season that included frost, drought, and a heatwave. Because of these conditions and the aging requirements for releasing Barolo (just over three years, 18 months of which must be in oak), we’re just starting to understand the 2017 vintage in the bottle. The marked acidity and tannins may help this vintage age well into the future, but uneven ripening could have stunted the depth of fruit characteristics.
Not to fret, though, as Barolo is very site and producer specific, meaning, that if you have a favorite producer or village, you’ll likely be happy with a bottle of the 2017 vintage. Another benefit is that a poorer vintage with a great winemaker also allows consumers to find values and typically allows for more accessibility to bottles.
“As with so many other regions, the combination of frost, drought and heat resulted in a small crop with fruit that often suffered from shrivelling and overripeness. While that should result in a good level of concentration, there may be stark tannins, especially in Sangiovese.” ‒JancisRobinson.com
Toscana or Tuscany, is located in central Italy along the western Tyrrhenian coast. Home to Brunello di Montalcino, arguably one of Italy’s most famous wines. This is where Sangiovese, also locally referred to as Brunello, Sangiovese Grosso, or Prugnolo Gentile, shines.
As with other Italian winegrowing regions, 2017 was full of extremes in Tuscany. The combined frost, drought, and heat, led to a smaller than typical harvest, with very ripe and concentrated grapes. As a grape, Sangiovese is known for having naturally high acidity and high tannins, so this concentration may have amplified the tannins, and the 2017s could require longer cellaring to integrate and mellow. But, Brunello di Montalcino, which is 100% Sangiovese, also has the longest aging requirements in Italy (a minimum of four years, including at least two years in oak and four months in bottle), so we haven’t tasted the official 2017 releases yet.
So, if you’re considering investing in the 2017 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, unless you’re a fan of extremely tannic wine, you’ll likely want to cellar it for at least a good five years, maybe even more like 10-25 years, especially if you enjoy the dried fruit, nutty, sweet tobacco notes that often come with aging. Again, less-revered vintages often lead to pricing for consumers, and if you have the patience and space to cellar the wine, you may be rewarded.
Bordeaux 2017 (red)
“Frost is the major headline for Bordeaux in 2017, resulting in the lowest yield in over 25 years across the region. What was left of the crop had very mixed fortunes. The top appellations in the Médoc generally fared well, while the right bank had much more variable ripeness levels. Even though some very good wines were made, and quantities were limited, this is a vintage that failed to sell well en primeur.” ‒JancisRobinson.com
Bordeaux, a historically important port, located in the Southwest of France, produces some of the world’s best trophy wines. The region has a high percentage of large estates and is known for selling wine en primeur, which is a term for wine that is sold as futures before being bottled. Red Bordeaux is often divided into Left Bank and Right Bank (of the Gironde river), but is typically a blend that may include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec (and sometimes small amounts of other grapes as well).
Because the region is so large and varied, it is difficult to generalize the 2017 Bordeaux vintage. The Médoc, on the Left Bank, was spared the worst of the frost damage, while the Right Bank was hit hard in certain areas. Yields were low throughout the region, the vintage did not sell well en primeur, and overall it was a mixed bag quality-wise. If you love Bordeaux, look for producers who experienced the least amount of frost damage in 2017, as those have the most potential for greatness, or, look for value from producers or areas you prefer.
Northern Rhône 2017
“Very challenging climatic conditions – like the seven plagues of Egypt, according to Michel Chapoutier – nonetheless resulted in very promising quality, with high levels of concentration yet with fine natural balance among the Syrah. 2017 Seems to be the third good vintage in a row for the northern Rhône. Particularly strong for both colours of Hermitage.” ‒JancisRobinson.com
The Rhône valley starts in central France, just south of Lyon, and extends almost all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Though the North and South are known for different grapes, soils, climates, and geography, the Rhône river is their unifying characteristic. The Northern Rhône is where Syrah is king. Famed areas in the Northern Rhône are Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and Cornas.
Even with a tough climatic year, by all accounts, 2017 was a strong vintage for the Northern Rhône. Syrah, with its dark fruit, and often smoky, meaty, tobacco, earthy notes, fared well in 2017. Expect full-bodied wines with expressive fruit, approachable tannins, and structure that should allow the wines to age well.
Southern Rhône 2017
“Frost then rain then heatwaves didn’t make things easy for vignerons in the southern Rhône, and the harvest was early and small. The berries were similarly petite, resulting in marked concentration that has produced ageworthy reds.” ‒JancisRobinson.com
Where Syrah dominates the Northern Rhône, the Southern Rhône is known for blends, typically based on Grenache. You’ll often see Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, and a number of other grapes round out the blend. Southern Rhône areas of note include: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras.
Though the weather was tough in 2017, the Southern Rhône produced lovely red wines. The concentration suggests that the vintage is worthy of aging, but overall the wines had good fruit, mellower tannins, and low/medium acidity meaning that people will find them approachable even in their youth. It’s a vintage that is inviting to a broad audience and almost anyone can find a 2017 Southern Rhône to enjoy