Anyone who traveled to Italy in June or July may remember the broiling, unforgiving heat that engulfed the peninsula for much of the summer. In fact, July was the hottest on record, even hotter than the scorching 2003 vintage.
However, comparisons stop there. While continuous drought and excessively hot temperatures punctuated 2003 from April until October, this year exhibited normal weather conditions until summer. A cold, wet winter and a cool, rainy spring created water reserves in the vineyards.
When the heat wave took hold this summer, the vineyards were able to withstand the heat and water stress that defined the 2003 vintage. In August, beneficial rains turned the vintage around in most of the country.
Although it’s still early (most wines are still fermenting), producers are already comparing the latest vintages to previous years. They point to everything from 2007 and 2009, both hot vintages that produced more immediate wines with modest acidity levels, to more classic vintages like 2010 that boast elegance, structure and freshness. So it’s difficult to generalize this year’s vintage quality or compare it to previous years at this stage.
The recent harvest appears to have gone well in much of the country, particularly in northern and central Italy. Most producers there are enthusiastic about 2015, especially after the cold, wet 2014 vintage that created extremely difficult conditions across Italy, with the exception of Sicily and Sardinia.
According to Elisa Scavino, enologist at the family-run Paolo Scavino estate, this year was a wonderful vintage.
“The extremely hot temperatures of June and torrid conditions in July were interrupted in early August, thanks to cooler temperatures and sporadic rainstorms,” she says. “But the rains were beneficial and saved the grapes from water stress.
“We harvested fantastic grapes: Nebbiolo had small berries and thick skins that boasted perfect acidity, high sugar and ripe, sweet tannins.”
How would Scavino compare it to recent years?
“At this stage, it’s too early to compare the wines to other vintages,” she says. “But in terms of the climate, 2015 is similar to 2010, which also had an extremely hot July, a cool, wet August and a fresh September.”
The August rains slowed what had looked like an extremely precocious vintage. In Piedmont, white grapes and early ripening reds like Dolcetto and Barbera were picked somewhat earlier than usual. In general, most producers say they picked Nebbiolo only about a week earlier than other recent years.
However, rains in late September and early October were not beneficial, though in Piedmont, they didn’t seem to damage the quality of Nebbiolo grapes—the last to be picked in the region—thanks to the thick skins that didn’t break.
In Tuscany, producers widely agree that 2015 is a top-quality vintage.
“[It] was a gratifying vintage, with average quantity and, in general, great quality,” says Piero Antinori, who has estates throughout Tuscany. “The wines are balanced, with great color, savory and with optimum fruit lifted by light acidity. Overall, an excellent vintage.”
In Campania’s Irpinia growing zone in southern Italy, the harvest, still underway for the area’s late-ripening native grapes, white Greco and red Aglianico (the grape behind Taurasi), has proven to be more challenging. That’s mostly due to unusual ripening periods of the various grape varieties and the heavy autumnal rains.
“In Irpinia, the spring was characterized by limited and quite concentrated rain, while summer was hot with almost no rain,” says Antonio Capaldo, president of Feudi di San Gregorio. “July was on average the hottest on record, with high temperature peaks. We only had some heavy rain during the last days of the harvest (mostly effecting Greco and Aglianico), with quite significant impact on quantity.
Capaldo believes it will be a very good vintage overall for whites, in particular Falanghina and Fiano, with wines rich in both body and freshness.
“Greco and Aglianico are still being harvested, and the grape quality is very differentiated by area, not all good,” he says “In the lower altitudes, it does not look an extraordinary vintage, to be honest.
“Overall, it’s a very challenging and variable vintage in Irpinia, with some very peculiar situations that we never experienced. Fiano was harvested before Falanghina, for example. It’s a much more difficult vintage than what the enthusiastic reports in much of the media seem to suggest.”
As always, location, vineyard management during the summer heat and late rains, and when a producer picked its grapes will prove telling.
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