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Pleasurable Vintages
by W. Peter Hoyne

This might be a promising holiday season for choosing the perfect bottle for family, friends or even something to lay aside for yourself.  Globally, many wine growing regions benefited from ideal weather conditions during the 2018 and 2019 vintages. Buying in good vintages usually assures a higher quality depending on the winemaker. While there are some stylistic differences between these years within each region, you can choose many wines blind and still be still assured of their quality. These wines have begun to enter the market with some vineyards delaying their release until next year. Overall, rankings for these wines exceed 90 points and are sure to be treasures down the road if you intend on cellaring them for a few years. Either way, this translates into an easy choice for consumers, regardless of what price point they feel most comfortable in purchasing.


We begin by covering a few of the wine growing regions within California’s north coast. “Slow and easy” were some of the glowing terms used to describe the 2018 vintage. Spring was cooler than normal and flower set was even in the vineyards. Fruit matured slowly with mild temperatures and without any heat spikes which led to a long  growing season. There was an abundance of black and blue fruit character in the reds that possess a sense of freshness and elegance. Napa and Sonoma scored highly along with Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs. Mike Sullivan, winemaker and co-founder, of Benovia Winery described 2018 as having tremendous spice with delicacy and elegance in the mouth.


By comparison, in 2019 the vineyards received heavy Spring rains followed by a long summer with warm, sunny days. With an extended growing season, it was described as a “classic” vintage by many having a slight edge over the 2018’s. The extended hang time of the fruit created reds with deepened colors, structure and well-rounded tannins. I had glowing comments as I reviewed these wines during a recent trip to Napa. Cabernet Sauvignon exceeded my expectations with wines showing an immediate appeal on opening. There was plenty of balanced concentration to these wines along with a lovely complexity and structure that would easily stand the test of time in the bottle. Napa Valley and Sonoma have a cache of extremely well crafted wines.


France also benefited from the weather patterns during the 2018 and 2019 vintages, although very different in their styles and expression, especially in Bordeaux. Most critics regard the Bordeaux wines of 2018 as exceptional. A wet Spring was followed by hailstorms in May and July. Despite these challenges, the summer was sunny and dry, with a heat wave at the end of June leading to a plentiful harvest in October. After tasting these wines, I found them to be very New World in their expression. They were very forward and similar to the lush, ripe extroverted wines from the 2009 vintage.  For the most part, many of these wines are ready to be enjoyed now and are worth aging.


In 2019, Bordeaux wine producers, especially those from the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Left Bank, were particularly enthusiastic about the resulting quality of the wines. Flowering was delayed until June with the wet, cool weather. Warm summer weather arrived at the end of June. Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested in perfect conditions during harvest. Even with hot July days of 95 degrees, vine growth was stimulated by the water reserves in the soil. August and September were equally hot. Slow ripening allowed harvesting of the whites in August and Cabernet Sauvignon followed in October. The whites revealed intense aromatics while Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines showed peak ripeness and fine tannins. After tasting the 2018 and 2019 back to back, I found the 2019’s to be more classic Bordeaux styled with depth and complexity.


In Burgundy, 2018 was preceded by a wet winter with heat spikes similar to those in Bordeaux. It was followed by a dry and hot summer that continued through October. Water reserves in the soils preserved the vineyards with whites having lovely tension and acidity while Pinot Noir showcased beautiful floral aromatics, purity and spice.


The wines of 2019 in Burgundy were less fortunate with spring frosts, followed by heat waves and hailstorms.  Champagne and Beaujolais were hard hit. There was some variability between vineyards along with low yields, Whites had ample richness and freshness while the reds of the Cote de Nuits were very floral and “seductive” with intense fruitiness that was not over ripe.


As in other parts of Northern Europe, Italy was not spared from the heat and hot growing conditions during the 2018 vintage, although it wasn’t excessive. In Tuscany, there were thunderstorms in July and August. Some had found that the rains rehydrated the vines during the hot summer which affected the Sangiovese grapes.  Selection was the key to success in this year It is described as “exceptionally good” and a  “5-star vintage” for Chianti Classico.  The Super Tuscans of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot performed well.  The summer was much drier in in Tuscany in 2019 and with less humidity, producing high quality Sangiovese grapes. Quality and quantity were high across the region.


In the northern Italian region of Piedmont, despite the wet weather in Spring and early summer the weather dried up by mid summer. The year were described as an “early-drinking vintage of sufficient intensity and balance to last a good 10-15 years plus.” In 2019 a cold, wet Spring along with hailstorms threatened the region. Although, the water provided relief from drought during hot summer days. Harvest began in early September. The unstable weather conditions did not significantly impact Barolo and Barbaresco, which were excellent from some producers.


Despite one of the hottest vintages on record, Germany benefited with some exceptional wines.


In 2018 and 2019, North American wines faired extremely well with the weather conditions.  In northern Europe, the challenges of water and significant heat allowed the wines from Bordeaux and Beaune to prosper. Italy was more of a mixed bag, but produced early drinking and in some cases, exceptional wines. Depending on your focus, there are many well-made wines entering the market at competitive price points that you can enjoy in the midterm and beyond.

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