Our editors give you the inside track on the prospects for vintage 2006. How did your favorite region fare?
Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer in Margaux described the 2006 harvest in southwest France (Bordeaux and points surrounding) as “interesting.” Translation? It was a tough year for Bordeaux. In addition to broken records for weather (the hottest July, the coldest August, the hottest early September) growers had to contend with mildew and oidium. Producers of Sauternes can cheer, but, otherwise, predictions are that Bordeaux prices may undergo dramatic falls from the highs of 2005, maybe even below those of 2004. Elsewhere in France, bad weather did have its effect, but with less impact. It could well be a white wine year in Burgundy. Jacques Lardière of Louis Jadot says there are good Chardonnays from Chablis to Mâcon. Pinot Noir was affected by the high temperatures of July, more in the Côte de Beaune than in the Côte de Nuits further north.
After the cold, gray August, Champagne’s harvest was saved by the hot September. According to Fabrice Rosset of Champagne Deutz, the quality of Chardonnay is excellent, but there were rot problems with Pinot Noir and strict selection was necessary. The best of the Loire’s wines are likely to be Sancerre’s Sauvignon, while in Alsace conditions were difficult, although Olivier Humbrecht is happy with the Rieslings and Pinot Gris. And in the Rhône, the Syrahs and Viognier in the north both profited from a slow maturation. Conditions were harder in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Côtes du Rhône.
Italy’s 2006 promises “very good” to “excellent” results across the board. “2006 will be remembered as the best harvest in the last five years,” says Giuseppe Martelli, director of the Italian Association of Enologists. “In a sense, the seasons were reversed with summer-like heat in the spring and autumn-like temperatures in the summer.” This created healthy growth during bud break and fruit set followed by a slowdown in July and August, helping shape good acidity and aging potential for reds and vibrant color, solid structure and delicate aromas especially where white wines are concerned. Sunshine and warmth returned when it was needed in September and October. Positive results are expected from all of Italy’s 20 regions.
Throughout Spain, winemakers are touting 2006 as a good but not great year, with larger crops than the lauded 2005 harvest and overall quality a notch below that benchmark vintage. In Rías Baixas, the harvest was 40% larger than the previous campaign, but acidity, sugars and phenolics were just right. Consumers can expect typical Albariños of relatively high quality. In Rioja and Ribera Del Duero, two regions where Tempranillo is king, harvests took place earlier than normal and quality was good. In the Catalonian subzones of Priorat, Penedès and Montsant, Carignan and Syrah did well while Garnacha, the region’s workhorse red grape, was more inconsistent and required a lot of hand sorting in order to weed out subpar fruit. The culprit: three days of rains and cool weather in mid September that interrupted picking for the better part of a week.
There were lower yields, but the overall quality is high. Indications are that there will be some botrytis wines, but in shorter supply than in 2005. In Vienna, grower Fritz Wieninger says that “it’s a rare and positive occurrence when the qualities of both white and red wines are equally high. We would be happy to have years like this more often.”
Too much heat was the problem in 2006. This was certainly true in the Douro; quantities were down, while quality was described by Port producer Paul Symington as “reasonably good.” There were excellent whites in Bairrada, and reds from the Alentejo as well as whites with good acidity and higher than usual alcohols in Vinho Verde.
Harvesting was completed in record time as grape growers raced to beat heavy autumn storms and consequent rot. Areas most negatively impacted were Franken, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Baden. The Rheingau, however, had a good vintage, with quantities of sweet Auslese and Beerenauslese being produced. The harvest totals are just below those of last year.
The 2006 vintage is looking a lot like 2005—mildly cool, dry and late. Just about the only difference was that ’05 produced near-record crops, while 2006’s are closer to average. That’s potentially great news, because 2005 seems like a great success. We won’t really know until the wines start coming out, but early indications are that ’05 coastal Pinot Noir could be the best ever. If ’06 is even better, that’s really something.
Like its predecessor, 2006 was cool—the second year in a row of mild temperatures, especially at harvest. The cool weather means that most wines, especially reds, should be more balanced and lower in alcohol than in hot vintages, such as 2004. Pinot Noir should be spectacular, and the cool weather also favors Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the moderate crop, an oversupply of grapes due to last year’s enormous tonnage could bring pressure on vintners to lower prices. Merlot, in particular, is said to be in serious oversupply.
Smiles of relief can be found on most faces; the cool, wet spring and late bud-break were followed by a long, warm summer. The harvest began early, with some white grapes being picked in late August. A cool spell in mid-September slowed things down and allowed for more hang time for the Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. A late-October freeze caught some wineries flat-footed, however. If they waited too long, they found trouble. Look for exceptional white wines and dark, muscular, age-worthy reds.
A warm and dry growing season throughout Oregon allowed growers to increase yields and maintain quality. Quality in the Willamette Valley will be site-dependent. Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem calls 2006 “a combination of 1998’s ripeness and 1999’s depth and three-dimensionality.” Pinot Noirs should be quite ripe, but not cooked—”dead sexy,” says Maysara’s Todd Hamina. In eastern Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley AVAs the vintage mirrored Washington’s.
After two rugged winters that sliced yields by as much as 50% in the Finger Lakes, New York vintners were hoping for better in ’06. ‘Twas not to be. Rain in summer and fall—and birds and deer “feasting on us,” laments Charles Massoud of Paumonok Vineyards on Long Island—reduced yields by a third. Producers in both regions say Chardonnay and Riesling, harvested between the rains, will be good to excellent. The Finger Lakes escaped frost until the end of harvest in late October.
Chile’s incredible 10-year run of the odd-numbered years outperforming the even-numbered ones continued in 2006. After a superb 2005 vintage, Chilean vintners, while not disappointed with 2006, are calling it an average to slightly above-average year. Francisco Baettig, head winemaker at Errazuriz, characterizes ’06 as a “cool and dry” year, one that resulted in large crops. With respect to the white wines of the Casablanca Valley, veteran Concha y Toro winemaker Ignacio Recabarren said the relative coolness of the year combined with the region’s natural marine climate resulted in good wines that are “at the same level of 2005.” He noted, however, that Chile’s 2006 reds will not be as “refined and elegant” as those from ’05.
Extended, hot and dry—that’s how winemakers are sizing up 2006, and they are equating it to 2003, another high-quality but warm year. “Malbec will stick out for its high quality,” predicts Manuel Louzada of Terrazas de Los Andes. “In normally cooler areas [Uco Valley and Tupungato, for example], the Malbec should be sensational.”
“The harvest came late this year,” says Roberto de la Mota of Mendel Wines and a consultant to several Argentine producers. “I don’t hesitate calling it an excellent vintage for Malbec. It was probably more variable for Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Mendoza, the country’s most prominent wine region, experienced dryness, average warmth and only the one scattered but still damaging hail storm in 2006. Overall they are calling it an excellent year.
Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc were the chief beneficiaries of a dry growing season. While there were heat spikes in January and early February, the rest of the season saw moderate temperatures. Mike Dobrovic of Mulderbosch Vineyards in Stellenbosch reported that he was delighted with the quality of his Merlot and Shiraz.
At two million tons, the 2006 harvest in Australia was slightly less than 2005, but it was still above average. With spring rains preceding the vintage, and settled weather during the ripening period, high quality reds and whites were made all over the country.
Coonawarra and Barossa suffered some late rain, but Cabernet Sauvignon has depth and succulent tannins. The Eden Valley fared better weather and produced intense Riesling. Victoria’s southern regions harvested a month early and produced white and red wines with excellent balance and natural acidity. Rutherglen’s warm and early vintage was ideal for Muscat and Tokay ripening. In New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, low yields of concentrated Shiraz were achieved. The jury is still out on Semillon. Tasmania recorded an outstanding vintage; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will be of very high quality.
The only weather anomaly was Western Australia, with one of the coolest seasons on record. Hardy Wine Company Group Chief Winemaker Peter Dawson, cited Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc as standouts. Margaret River has produced elegant reds worth serious attention, if not for cellaring.
Warm summer weather across much of New Zealand led to a generally early harvest in 2006, paving the way for what should be some very good wines. Yields reached a new record, 11% higher than those achieved in 2004, but off vineyard acreage that has expanded by 18 percent. Wines should be more typical in style than the ultraconcentrated 2005s. Some Sauvignons from 2006 have already arrived in the U.S., and they appear to bear this out, showing more pronounced pungency than their 2005 counterparts.