2011 Harvest Report

A country-by-country guide to your favorite wine regions and how they fared in 2011.


Published:

France

It was a difficult, if unusually early, harvest in Bordeaux. The key to France’s 2011 harvest was meticulous grape selection. While harvest yields were larger than the five-year average, final wine quantities could be down due to the discrimination of grapes required on the sorting table. Prices for the top 2011 wines will likely decrease after the highs of 2009 and 2010, while the 2008 vintage still provides the bargain of the century.

As botrytis affected Burgundy’s vineyards, strict grape selection was vital for both red and white varieties. For now, the 2009s and the just-bottled 2010s will provide more rewarding wines. Beaujolais had better success and will likely provide deliciously fruity wines. Alsace, too, had favorable conditions. Watch for sweet and red wines from the Loire.

Early reports from producers in the Languedoc suggest comparisons to the excellent 2001 vintage, with evenly mature whites and concentrated reds, both exhibiting superb balance and great acidity. Cellar high-end reds, especially grand cru selections, from the 2006 vintage and those following after, while the majority of white and sparkling wines are ready to drink now and throughout the coming year.

Producers in the Rhône also reported a promising year, if somewhat off the pace of the 2010s, which should be on everyone’s shortlist of wines to buy in 2012. The 2009s are also appealing. Ten years out, the 2001s from both the north and south are drinking beautifully. ––Roger Voss, Lauren Buzzeo and Joe Czerwinski

Italy

The best time to start collecting Italian wine is now. Prestigious regions have produced a string of excellent vintages including 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.  The 2004, 2006 and 2007 vintages are standouts for Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino and Bolgheri, Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, Veneto’s Valpolicella and southern Italy’s top regions, each showing long aging potential (balanced acidity and extract) and moderate production numbers. Many icon wines come at discounted prices and values will rise. The 2011 vintage delivers low volume and excellent quality due to a long, hot summer and rain-free harvest. ––Monica Larner

Spain

It is too early to assess the overall quality throughout Spain for 2011, but one thing is for certain: The summer months were warm and harvests were conducted a week or two earlier than normal. Currently, there is a plethora of fine Spanish wines available from the excellent trio of vintages that were 2004–06. Rioja and Ribera del Duero gran reservas from 2004 are on the market and sensational overall; reserva wines from 2005 in Rioja and Ribera del Duero are also in fine form, as are the Priorats from 2005 and 2006. For younger reds, the 2008s from Priorat are good––if not at their potential best––while basic 2009s from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Castilla y León offer lots of fruit and generally good quality. Among white wines, Albariños from 2010 are at their collective best since the 2005 vintage, but they will be past their prime by the time this report goes to print. Solid options include the 2009 and 2010 whites from inland Galicia, particularly the Ribeiro and Valdeorras regions. ––Michael Schachner

Austria

After the low-yielding harvest in 2010, the 2011 harvest was 41% larger–just above the normal average. That means Austrian producers will be able to supply good quantities again with controlled prices.
The best wines are likely to be reds from Burgenland and the Sauvignon Blancs from Styria. ––R.V.

Portugal

There is already talk of 2011 being a declared vintage for Port in the Duoro. Throughout Portugal, while botrytis has affected the selection, the wines are likely to be good or very good. The first wines to watch for will be the aromatic and fresh white Vinhos Verdes from the Minho region in the north.––R.V.

Germany

Estate owners are already talking up the quality of the just-harvested 2011s, but keep in mind most of those wines won’t arrive until April 2012 at the earliest. Well-chosen 2010s can be spectacular, especially if you don’t mind high acid levels, while the 2009s are crowd pleasers that are already drinking well. ––J.C.

California

2011 was another cool, damp vintage, a particularly challenging one to vintners all along the coast, where a wet spring and foggy summer were capped by heavy rains the first and second weeks of October. Depending on location and producer, red wines including Zinfandel and Syrah could be compromised by greenness and mold. The threat to Pinot Noir will be underripeness, but the best producers might produce wines of uncompromising delicacy and restraint. Chardonnay ought to be just fine, though mold was an issue in some areas. The surprise could be Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which miraculously enjoyed several weeks of mild, dry weather following the October rains.––Steve Heimoff

Pacific Northwest

The late, rain-affected harvest in Oregon and Washington reduced crop size, though not necessarily quality, in most regions. Drink your 2007 Oregon Pinots and buy the excellent 2009s just coming onto the market. The 2006 Washington reds are drinking beautifully; the 2007s need more time. Drink up the 2008 whites. Red wines from 2009 are looking good so far. ––Paul Gregutt

New York

With the exception of some powerful September rains, 2010 was a long, hot summer in New York.  Both red and white wines are showing intense fruit qualities with high sugar levels and relatively low acid levels. It was a compelling year––particularly for red wines––from this fairly cool-climate region. ––Anna Lee C. Iijima

Chile

As with 2010, the 2011 vintage was another very cool year by Chilean standards, thanks to La Niña conditions. At the moment, top-end 2007 and 2008 Maipo Valley Cabernets and Colchagua Carmenères and red blends are drinking perfectly, while higher-end 2009s will show average concentration and character when they debut in 2012. White wine drinkers should zero in on 2010 Chardonnays from coastal regions like Leyda, Casablanca and Limarí, or enjoy the zesty and citrusy Sauvignon Blancs from 2011. ––M.S.

Argentina

Early frosts throughout most of Mendoza severely cut production in 2011. But on the plus side, wineries used Mother Nature as their unpaid green harvester to lower yields, increasing concentration and overall quality. As for current drinking, Argentina’s 2006 high-end Malbecs are in perfect condition, while Malbecs and red blends from 2007 are showing well for what was a relatively rainy year. As for 2008, this was a cold and inconsistent vintage marred by harvest-time frosts that stunted final ripening. Most top wines from ’08 are not as generous and balanced as they have been in past years. Expect round, soft, ripe wines from the warm 2009 vintage once they hit the market this year. ––M.S.

South Africa

It was a difficult season, but 2011 could be deemed a vintage of winemakers as wines of varying quality will be found throughout the country;  high quality bottlings  will largely depend on the producer and region. Look to purchase reputable estates and renowned brands that have a solid history and know how to weather difficult situations. It’s also best to stick to wines made from grapes with a regional connection, like Chardonnay from Robertson, Sauvignon Blanc from Paarl and Pinotage from Stellenbosch. Or, continue to enjoy the more fabulous 2009s. ––Lauren Buzzeo

Australia

Across much of Australia, the 2011 vintage was cool and wet. Smart shoppers will focus on 2010, which looks to be the most consistent year for Australian wines in some time. Although 2009 was good for South Australian reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, parts of Victoria were heavily affected by drought and smoke taint from the destructive wild fires. ––J.C.

New Zealand

The 2011 vintage was “very difficult” says Neal Kunimura, owner of Kennedy Point Vineyard on Waiheke Island. That was also true in Hawke’s Bay. However, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs that make up the bulk of the country’s production have turned out well. Buy them as they arrive, and drink up any remaining 2010 SBs. ––J.C.

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