Wine Enthusiast’s editors post a global weather report to help you decide what ’08 bottles to buy.
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Throughout France, quantities are small. Harvesting dates are back to what they were 10 years ago. In Burgundy, the bulk of picking began on September 25, a month later than 2005. In Sauternes, they were just finishing on November 13. Bordeaux could turn out to be better than anyone dared to expect. Consultant Michel Rolland said, “It is not a great year, not 2005, but the wine has turned out better than 2007.” In Champagne, the quality is “promising,” in what will be a Pinot Noir year. In Burgundy, it looks initially like a year for white wines. Reds are perfumed, meaning tasty fruit but low alcohols. The dry Mistral wind saved the Rhône harvest from rot in both Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage. The Loire has “deliciously tasty” Sauvignon Blanc, accordÂ¬ing to growers. Languedoc’s harvest is down 20% down, but reds are “concentrated and aromatic,” according to Samuel Berger of Domaine Hegarty Chamans in Minervois. —ROGER VOSS
Italy became the world’s largest wine-producing nation in 2008, surÂ¬passing longtime rival, France, thanks to a bumper harvest and excelÂ¬lent growing conditions. Pre-harvest hail skipped over Prosecco and Amarone, but belted Montalcino. Icy, 60-mile winds destroyed 20% of the Brunello crop. The growing season got off to a slow start in Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco) but cool nighttime temperatures in September locked in aromas and elegance. Temperatures grew warm during the Sangiovese harvest (Chianti Classico) helping to bring sugÂ¬ars to optimal levels. Southern regions suffered from draught and heat (with some downy mildew in Sicily) for an early harvest. In all, yields were up 7% in Italy over last year. —MONICA LARNER
The 2008 harvest across Spain will go down as one of the latest on record, which in and of itself is not an indication of poor wines to come. In prime winegrowing regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero, premiÂ¬um grapes were still being plucked three weeks into November, and thus “atypical” is how José Moro, president of Bodegas Emilio Moro in RDD, described this past vintage. Cool, wet summer weather was the norm across the Iberian Peninsula, followed by additional cool temperatures in October. Even with ample sun and dryness, expect alcohol levels and general ripeness to be tamer than in previous vintages. “This year is emblematic of years like 1995 and ’96, two long vintages that extended well into November, allowing us to get magnificent final results,” said Moro. Overall grade B. —MICHAEL SCHACHNER
A cool, wet summer pushed harvest dates back, but growers seemed satisfied with the overall quality, comparing the style of the 2008s to 2004. It is not too late to stock up on any remaining top wines from 2007, which seems assured to go down in history as a great vintage, but if you prefer monumental botrytized wines, go for 2006. Barring purÂ¬chases from retailers with near-perfect cellaring conditions, it’s time to start shying away from earlier vintages that may have gathered dust. These delicate wines suffer when kept under bright lights at room temÂ¬perature for more than a few months. —JOE CZERWINSKI
A late harvest, but “extremely good,” said Charles Symington of Symington Family Estates in the Douro. According to David Guimaraens of The Fladgate Partnership, Ports produced from 2008 are of a “high standard.” —R.V.
There was a high-quality harvest throughout the country, after a diffiÂ¬cult growing season. As of mid-November, Willi Bründlmayer was hopÂ¬ing to “harvest grapes of great quality” for late-harvest styles and for Rieslings in prime sites still on the vine. —R.V.
Vintners were amazed by a year that brought some of the strangest weather ever. By February, winter rains had drenched California, but then the tap turned off, leading to the driest spring ever. The coldest, too: records frosts. With June came unprecedented wildfires, leading to fears of smoke-damaged grapes. August and September brought the usual heat spells, but by and large, late summer was warmish-cool and dry. All that a storm on Sept. 20 did was wash the dust off the grapes. Then the sun came back until Oct. 30, when the first big rains ended the season. The forecast is for high quality, but quantiÂ¬ties will be reduced, perhaps to levels not seen in years. —STEVE HEIMOFF
A cool, wet spring, late bud break and a summer without heat spikes resulted in picking up to two weeks late. An unusual frost/freeze in early October did little damÂ¬age. Physiologically ripe grapes came in at moderate sugar levels. Whites are crisp, high acid and floral; reds extracted, supple and lower in alcohol. Overall excellent. —PAUL GREGUTT
Saved by a warm, dry October, Willamette Valley grapes are small and flavors concentrated. Yields are down, acids up, alcohol down and color excellent. White wines are bright and fruity, Pinots elegant and complex. “The best fruit/acid/pH balance I’ve ever seen,” says Scott Wright of Scott Paul Cellars. Similar story in southern Oregon: brix down, acids up. Overall excellent. —P.G.
On Long Island, vintners battled a series of weather surprises, including a late frost in October, but tonnage was up and fruit was solid, especially in aromatic whites. The Finger Lakes crop was above average to well above average with a pronounced acidity and excellent fruit. Some feel this could be an outstanding year for Riesling. —SUSAN KOSTRZEWA
After serious shortfalls caused by frost and drought in 2007, Australian growers rebounded in 2008, producing 31% more grapes. Pricing should be somewhat stable as a result, although quality may be less consistent. A late-season heat wave in South Australia forced wineries to move quickly, before fruit quality deteriorated, but wineries in Western Australia are reporting one of the most trouble-free harvests in years. Consumers should continue checking in on 1996 and 1998 wines they may have cellared, while among more recent vintages, Barossa’s 2003s are maturing rapidly and are generalÂ¬ly ready to drink. —J.C.
Another harvest of record size (up 39% over last year) should prevent Sauvignon Blanc prices from going any higher, but may put additional pressure on small, family-run wineries as the big guys undercut them on pricing. Quality looks to be variable, with late rains inducing rot in some cases. Otago and Martinborough Pinot Noirs probably fared the best, although the wines are still in barrel. —J.C.
Difficult weather and climatic variation resulted in an uneven year for South African vintners, with wide fluctuations in quality between regions. Rot was an issue because of excess rainfall, requiring aggresÂ¬sive vineyard management, as was overcropping. Though red wine proÂ¬ducers in Stellenbosch and the Swartland report generally good qualiÂ¬ty, the vintage is expected to produce better whites than reds. —S.K.
This past harvest was a good one in Chile, although probably not a clasÂ¬sic year. According to Enrique Tirado, winemaker for Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 was similar to 2006, another good year characterized by above-average heat and dryness. Expect good, lush red wines from the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys, while we are already noticing average to good results with Sauvignon Blanc, although not the intensity or purity of 2007. “Heat spikes, especially in March and April, were a bit problematic but not enough to ruin things,” noted Francisco Baettig, head winemaker with Viña Errazuriz. Overall grade for Chile in 2008: B+ —M.S.
An extraordinarily wet growing season compounded by harvest-time frosts made 2008 a sketchy vintage throughout Argentina. From the middle of January through March, rainfall was excessive and humidity high. With so much rain and cloud cover in what is usually a desert cliÂ¬mate, concentration for the country’s Malbecs, Cabernet Sauvignons and other wines will be less than usual. Adding to Argentina’s woes in 2008 were serious frosts in mid April, the peak of final maturation for high-end fruit. “Even with bleeding, the concentration we are looking for was not encountered,” acknowledged Philippe Rolet, general manÂ¬ager for Mendoza-based Alta Vista. An exception to wines that struggle may come from the Uco Valley subzone of Mendoza, where low-yield vines yielded fruit that could produce wines of greater than normal eleÂ¬gance and finesse. Overall grade for Argentina in 2008: C+. —M.S