A Good Run to be On
By: George Balling
Its not that long ago that here in the US we were lamenting back-to-back growing years that were somewhere between challenging and just plain awful. I’m referring of course to 2010 and 2011. The good news for those years though, was that as tough as they were domestically, they were outstanding years in the “Old World” appellations of Europe. There have been countless arguments between wine geeks about whether 2010 or 2011 was the better year, those arguments just illustrate how outstanding both years were. Since then though we have witnessed a string of very good to great years both in the US and Europe, that is until we start to factor in the smoke damaged years of late.
The weather that can so severely affect the quality of the wine grape crop is normally far more fickle in Europe. “The Continent” is simply not as temperate during any given year as is the Western US. Additionally, the micro-climates in Europe are far more varied. In Europe too you find very specific grape crops planted to areas influenced by the climatic conditions mentioned above. When all goes well in any year, the wines are outstanding but in challenging years the crop is far more impacted.
For years from 2012 through 2015 here in the US and for years from 2015 forward in Europe we are seeing a string of great years. The trend in Europe is particularly beneficial with so many fire damaged years from domestic appellations. The wines we are tasting now in every year from 2015 forward from Europe have been simply outstanding. In recent weeks we have tasted wines from Italy, France, and Spain from all of these vintages and we haven’t found a single wine that did not exceed our expectations. In price ranges from $15 and under to the super premium price levels we have been uniformly impressed. The challenge right now with so many impressive wines is finding the store space to bring more in. It is a good problem to have.
One of the most compelling developments has been that appellations that normally require substantial ageing before the wines would typically come into their own, are presenting characteristics that are very much drink it now. Domestic producers generally speaking make wines that are more approachable in their youth. With this trend in Europe of warm ripe vintages we are seeing wines that seem to be made more in the American style, when in fact it is the Europeans taking what each vintage is giving them. This has included reds from Piedmont in Northern Italy where Nebbiolo, one of the most tannic of varietals, is king. Nebbiolo based wines we have tried from these years are ready to go now, an unusual trend.
Similarly, both Bordeaux and Burgundy producers are turning out wines that taste great right now. With both of these appellations you would typically expect to age the wines for some time.
With bad to severe fire years here at home that include to varying degrees 2016, 2017, 2018 and especially 2020 wine consumers can feel completely comfortable buying wine from European producers made during those years. This is not to say that there are no good or even great domestic wines made from these years, however caution should be exercised. Especially once we get to wines from 2020 when the fires started so early across the Western US these great wines from Europe will likely provide a buffer to the overall wine market to not only keep prices stable, but to also contribute wines here that our domestic palates appreciate.
The best winemakers and grape growers always adapt their approach to what the growing year offers them. Winemaking and grape growing are as much artistic as they are scientific endeavors and making quality wines with so many variables in any given year demands adjustments. A recipe approach therefore will almost never produce really great wine. There are few years in any appellation when you will find winemakers incapable of turning out delicious wine based on their adjustments. 2011 was like that, it was nearly impossible in many domestic areas to turn out great wine. 2020 is shaping up the same. Wine consumers can be grateful that much of the rest of the winemaking world will have ample supplies of great product to fill in that year and other challenging ones to keep all of us well supplied.