Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2013 Review: Champagne Vintages: 1995...1996...2002...2008...2012...2013? [WS]


The good news: On the heels of the excellent 2012 vintage, 2013 doesn’t compete in overall quality but it’s solid; technical analysis—acid, sugar and potential alcohol levels—suggests that vintage wine, or at the least a high-quality addition to non-vintage bottlings, will be possible.

The bad news: The entire vegetative cycle and harvest was about two weeks behind the past decade’s norm because 2013’s cool and rainy spring delayed budbreak and flowering. That slow start caused multiple challenges.

Picking started: Sept. 24

Promising grapes: Chardonnay was the healthiest of Champagne’s three grapes in 2013, and early tastings suggest structure that can support quality wines with the ability to age. In some areas, Chardonnay yields were down about 15 to 20 percent versus last year’s crop—a result of millerandage and/or hailstorms early in the season—but the loss of berries early on meant that the vines had more nutrients and energy to give to the remaining fruit.

Challenging grapes: Although neither was a disaster, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier proved more difficult. Because harvest began later, it went through October and into cooler conditions, making selection necessary in parts of Champagne to sort out mildewed Pinot grapes.

Analysis: Champagne’s 2013 was defined by a cool and rainy spring, which saw vines flowering in late June and early July instead of the more typical timing of early- to mid-June. This left vines in a more fragile state when heavy rains and hailstorms struck during the summer months in some parts of the region. Significant crop loss occurred in these areas, with estimates of as much as 30 percent in the Côte de Blancs.

Cool weather during flowering also promoted millerandage, where grape bunches develop berries of varying sizes and maturity, making it more difficult to harvest whole bunches with full physiological maturity. And with one of the latest start dates for harvest in the past 20 years, determining when to pick was a critical decision. Depending on location, certain grape varieties required more time to reach maturity, but as the harvest went on the threat of cooler temperatures, more rain and mildew was greater.

Blanc de blancs made entirely from Chardonnay and Chardonnay-based blends will be the safest bet in 2013, and although producers are not exclaiming for 2013 as they did for the outstanding 2008 or 2012 vintages, most seem pleased with the overall results. “Compared to the rest of France, someone must be watching us upstairs,” said Frédéric Panaiotis, chef de cave of Ruinart Champagne.



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