Spanish vintage report 2019
As we already reported, the quality of 2019 vintage looked to be very good in most areas, although a lack of rainfall meant that the quantities harvested were well down on 2018’s bumper crop. Now it is completed, some areas – such as Rioja – are already calling it “the” vintage, although other areas lost hectares due to high temperatures. Read on for an assessment region by region.
The Rioja Regulatory Council is boldly claiming that 2019 is “the” vintage in terms of quality. The quantity was a around 20% smaller than in previous years, with 385 million kg of grapes picked, compared to 486 million kg in 2018, which was the second largest vintage in history.
The weather was ideal throughout the cycle with rainfall when needed and no extreme weather events. With less vigour in the vineyards, bunches were looser, with smaller grape berries, which has a positive effect on the quality of the wine.
Our suppliers in the eastern area of Rioja, the sub region now known as Rioja Oriental, echoed these positive sentiments, with winemaker Gorka Etxebarria highlighting the excellent balance, aroma and colour of the wines that have recently completed fermentation.
DO RIBERA DEL DUERO
Another historic vintage for Spain’s other big name DO, Ribera del Duero, not for the quantity, but for the fact that white wines have been admitted to the DO for the first time. Around 600,000 kilos of the 96 million kilos that were harvested were of the white grape Albillo Mayor.
Quality is said to be very good, with small berries and a large ratio of skin to pulp, leading to well-structured wines with a deep colour and high but ripe tannins. The quantity is in line with historic averages, 24% down on last year’s bumper crop but nearly double the quantity harvested in 2017, which was the smallest in 15 years.
We visited winery Diez Siglos de Verdejo in early November and they said the harvest was very “normal” in terms of quantity, which is echoed across the region. The final production was almost 114 million kg of grapes of which 88% were Verdejo, around 14% less than 2018’s bumper crop but a 37% increase on the small harvest in 2017. The quality is very good with no phytosanitary issues and balanced alcohol and acidity.
After lower than average rainfall through winter, and late and uneven budding and fruit set, most vines had fewer and smaller bunches than usual. This was exacerbated by storms causing hail and high winds that affected around 300 hectares in July, all resulting in a small harvest, around 30% smaller than 2018 and around 14% less than the average of the last ten years. Supply is likely to be affected as this comes off the back of an especially short vintage in 2017. Expect vintage changes sooner than is habitual.
Quality is said to be good with alcohol levels of around 14-15º, moderate acidity and pH values of 3.5-3.7, giving well-structured, fruity and intensely coloured wines with smooth, ripe tannins.
This DO located in a mountainous area of northeastern Spain was one of the few areas to harvest more grapes than in 2018. The total crop was 13.3 million kg of grapes, nearly 19% more than last year and 46.5% more than in 2017. The quality is said to be excellent, with the ideal weather conditions permitting a staggered harvest as each parcel reached phenolic ripeness. The wines are said to show great varietal character with a deep colour intense aromas and sufficient acidity.
Despite very high temperatures at the start of summer, the rest of the cycle was fairly typical in terms of rainfall and heat and the quality of the grapes is said to be very high. As we reported in September, growers continued to protest due to low grape prices.
As Xavi Peñas, manager of Gran Clos winery explained in our previous newsletter this was a very complicated vintage due to heat spikes with temperatures of over 40ºC at the end of June and the start of July, which severely damaged vines younger than 15 years planted on soils with little water retention. The Cariñena was particularly affected. The DOCa Priorat claims that only 240 hectares in total were affected and the final balance of grapes harvested looks to be just 20% down on last year. The paradox is that, as in other areas, the lack of rain led to smaller sized grape berries and very good quality.
Production, hit by drought and heavy downpours – including hailstorms – in some areas during the harvest, is around 35% less than in 2018.
The DO Campo de Borja and DO Cariñena were particularly badly hit by the very dry winter and heat wave in July with around 40% fewer grapes picked than in 2018 – a year that marked a historic maximum. Quality is said to be good with the drought also leading to very small grape berries with a high proportion of skin to pulp.