It's a Good Year for European Wines

International Herald Tribune

October 15, 1982

Throughout Europe the 1982 vintage, largely finished in most areas, is abundant and of good quality. In some regions the crop is even exceptionally good. The only problems were severe drought with sun-damaged grapes in southern Italy and France and parts of Spain, and a somewhat low acidity for many wines, which may affect their longevity, except the Bordeaux, and will certainly make for softer wines. There is hope of at least price stability and perhaps even some drop in prices in West Germany, France and Spain.

ITALY: Marchese Piero Antinori of the wine firm of the same name in Florence says there is fine quality and large quantity in Italy except for highly productive southern regions such as Apulia, Sicily and Sardinia, where as much as 50 percent of the harvest was lost because of drought and sun-damaged grapes.

In the north of Italy and at Orvieto in the center, rain in August helped correct the effects of drought. There was generally good weather throughout the flowering and growing period and during the picking, which is mostly finished. In Chianti the harvest was three weeks early, ending when it normally starts, about Oct. 10. There were, however, hailstorms in the north of Italy in July and in Tuscany in early September.

Antinori says all the conditions for a great year are present. Alcohol content will not be excessively high because of the drought. Acidity is a little low for white wines but early harvesting of white grapes can correct this problem.

SPAIN: Miguel Torres, Jr., of the family company of Torres at Vilafranca del Penedès west of Barcelona also reports a large crop of generally good quality. With 40 million hectoliters or more expected, the 1982 vintage is 20 percent larger than last year's. In Rioja and Jerez growers are as pleased with he outlook as in Penedès.

There are problems only in mass-producing regions such as La Mancha and Estremadura, where too much wine is made at a state-guaranteed minimum price of 135 pesetas (about $1.20) per degree of alcohol times the number of hectoliters. This subsidy costs about 10 billion pesetas and overproduction is depressing the general market for wine. Exports are about the same as in 1981 with the U.S. and British markets slipping somewhat.

The harvest is in full swing everywhere and will not be over until the end of October although in Penedès it will end this weekend. The reds are very good with plenty of color and alcohol, whether for classic Spanish varieties such as Carinena and Monastrell, or the more newly introduced Cabernet.

The whites are also good. Torres is getting 13 percent alcohol from its Chardonnay grapes but the traditional late-ripening Parellada whites are less promising, with low acidity. This will have to be corrected with an addition of tartaric acid. The Maccabeo used for sparkling wines is excellent.

WEST GERMANY: Manfred Voltel of Deinhard, the Koblenz wine firm, says picking began in the Rhine and Moselle valleys about Sept. 20 with the early Müller-Thurgau and Sylvaner varieties. The late-ripening Riesling will take until late October. Thanks to a beautiful summer, there is a bumper crop of above-average quality, enough so that prices are even expected to fall.

The Rieslings will have no trouble meeting the legal natural sugar requirements for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat such as kabinett, spätlese and auslese. In Deinhard's Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard in the Moselle, the Rieslings were already showing spätlese sugar levels on Oct. 6.

FRANCE: Jean-Micel Dubois of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine excepts a total crop of about 75 million hectoliters – large, but not as big as 1979's 83.5 million. Although ordinary table wines from the Midi, the south of France, account for 60 percent of the harvest, this area suffered from drought and thus prevented a record overall crop.

However, the 17.5 million hectoliters of appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) wines made the largest crop of quality wine since 1905. June weather was good for the flowering of the vines, July was very hot, August a little cooler with some rain in most areas and September was very sunny and warm, all of which made for a large, early crop, especially in Champagne with about two million hectoliters. Intermittent rain since early October may not augur well for late-harvested grapes, such as in Sauternes and Alsace.

The Cognac area produced about 10 million hectoliters and Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure, the category just below AOC, accounted for another two million hectoliters. Overall quality is good and should make for smooth wines ready to drink early because of the generally low acidity.

A region-by-region description of the harvest in France:

BORDEAUX

Médoc: Eric de Rothschild, manager of Château Lafite, jointly owned by the entire French branch of the Rothschilds, says 1982 is a "very exciting year," although it will be difficult to vinify. Alcohol is high, acidity low, and he has never seen such thick skins, which may take up 20 to 30 percent of the volume in the vats. Thus the yield is somewhat deceptively plentiful.

The vatting will last only two weeks instead of the usual three to avoid excess tannin, and yet all the sugar must be fermented out. The Merlot grapes were coming in at over 13 percent alcohol and the average is more than 12. There will be very little adding of beet sugar this year. The harvest ran from about mid-September to the beginning of October, with only one day of rain.

Graves: Gérard Gribelin, owner of the classified growth Château Fieuzal, which makes both red and white Graves, says the reds are very good, with extraordinary color. He says the year is "very, very fine" and the weather was so warm at the beginning of the picking in the middle of September that the crop was coming in at 30 degrees Celsius. Without temperature control there will be serious problems during the fermentation. Acidity is low. Fieuzal was getting 11.5 to 12 percent alcohol with its Merlots, a little less for the Cabernets, which have a lot of color. As in the Médoc, vatting will last only two weeks instead of the usual three. Harvesting ended in early October.

The whites were harvested mostly in the first half of September and required cool fermenting to obtain good aroma. Quantity is high for both reds and whites.

Pomerol and Saint-Emilion: Christian Moueix, owner of Pétrus in Pomerol, reports a large crop of excellent quality for most growth of both regions. He compares 1982 with the famous 1947 but with less concentration. The wines harvested before Sept. 22 are very fruity and should be truly great, better even than 1970, for three reasons: no rain during the harvest, the yield was not excessive and proper temperature control.

The Pomerol harvest ran from mid- to late September and in Saint-Emilion it began and ended a couple of days earlier. It rained during the last few days of the harvest and swelled the grapes too much, diluting everything in them. Pétrus, made almost entirely from Merlot grapes, got alcoholic degrees of about 13.5. As in Médoc and Graves, vatting is shorter than usual.

BURGUNDY

Côte de Nuits: Aubert de Villaine, co-owner and co-manager of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, says the crop is large, with a very fine alcohol content. The wines should be of quality at the very least, fruity and perfumed with good color. De Villaine, like Rothschild, calls the vintage "exciting" in its promise. Because of the "superb" September, the grapes ripened beautifully. The picking ended about Oct. 7, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as usual harvesting later than anywhere else.

Côte de Beaune reds: Hubert de Montille, a grower in Volnay and Pommard, harvested from Sept. 24 to Oct. 4. The crop was large with good alcohol, about 11.7 percent, but color is not very deep because of thin skins. The wines are very aromatic and smooth but lacking a bit in acidity. Quality is above average and De Montille compares it to the very pleasant 1979. There was a touch of rot and temperature control is imperative to keep the fermentation from getting so hot it stops. Yields ran 55 to 60 hectoliters to the hectare.

Côte de Beaune whites: According to Jean François Coche-Dury, a grower at Meursault, there is a large crop of very fine quality. Alcohol runs from about 11 percent in the Aligotés to 13 and more in Meursault and its crus. Acidity is adequate. The grapes were healthy and the wines are very perfumed. The fine September weather, with only one day of rain during the harvest, was the key to quality. The picking went from mid-September to early October.

Beaujolais: Pierre Ferraud, a shipper at Belleville-sur-Saône, says the crop is large, 1.3 million hectoliters, and should make for pleasant early wines that will be aromatic, fruity and smooth. The color is cherry red. Acidity is rather low. The crus should be round and fleshy but probably won't keep long. The harvest went from Sept. 10 to Oct. 1.

Champagne: Georges Vesselle, vineyard master for G.H. Mumm & Co. and a grower himself, says everyone is smiling like the famous angel of Reims on the cathedral. Both quantity and quality are extraordinary, 1.2 to 1.3 million pièces of 205 liters, or about 280 million bottles of AOC Champagne. This high yield should begin to replenish badly depleted stocks from three small harvests out of four.

The white Chardonnay yield was 14,000 kilograms per hectare and the red Pinot Noir and Meunier varieties gave from 10,000 to 20,000. The crop was perfectly healthy with good acidity, good natural alcohol and general good balance. It ought to make for vintage Champagne. The harvest ran from Sept. 17 to Oct. 8.

LOIRE

Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre: Georges Guyot, a grower at Pouilly-sur-Loire, says the harvest was early, from Sept. 20 to the first days of October, and brought in a large, healthy crop of 12 percent alcohol in yields of 80 hectoliters to the hectare. There is some fear of lack of acidity but he is 60 years old and he says he has never seen a better crop of full, ripe grapes with no rot. Conditions in Sancerre are similar. Bottle prices should remain stable and bulk prices even drop.

Touraine: Henry Marionnet, a grower at Soings, says the crop was very big, the Gamay grapes yielding 100 hectoliters to the hectare. His father says there's been nothing like it since 1934. The red Gamay came in at 10 to 11 percent alcohol and the white Sauvignon at 12.5 to 13. Color and acidity are adequate, the wines are aromatic, fruity, smooth and well-balanced. They should be excellent.

Chinon and Bourgueil: Grower Charles Joguet says the Chinon crop is the biggest in 50 years and despite the huge size is of good quality. There are scarcely enough vats to hold it all. The hot summer made for healthy grapes of good alcohol content, 11 to 12.5 percent, but low acidity. The wines should be pleasant and smooth. The last few days of the harvest were rainy and the wines from that time will be less good. The harvest runs from about Sept. 20 to Oct. 15. Conditions are similar in Bourgueil.

Muscadet: Grower Louis Metaireau says the harvest took a long time, Sept. 1-25, because of its large size, 80 hectoliters to the hectare. As usual, only 50 are authorized for sale in 1982 but the excess may be released in another deficient year. Quality is good. High acidity in the first grapes harvested will correct the low acidity of the later crop.

ALSACE

Jean-Pierre Frick, a grower at Pfaffenheim, says the harvest began Oct; 7 and will last for about three weeks. There is large quantity – 1.2 million hectoliters are predicted – and good quality with high alcohol but low acidity. There is lots of Klevner (Pinot Blanc) and Gewurztraminer, some of which has pourriture noble ("noble rot") and will thus be rich and sweet like Sauternes. Much of the Klevner goes into sparkling crémant d'Alsace.

RHONE

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: François Perrin of Château de Beaucastel reports a very big crop of ripe grapes high in alcohol, but the skins are fragile and there is not a lot of color. The grapes are healthy except where there was drought or excessive sun. The wines should be good where grape selection is done and less so elsewhere. The weather during the harvest from Sept. 12 to Oct. 10 was excellent but it will be difficult to make sure fermentation is complete before it shuts off because of the high sugar content.