Monday, June 24, 2024

ADVERTISING: Advertorial — Vintage check up

by GEORGE BALLING/the dinner party
| May 3, 2023 1:00 AM

The wine world has been through a run of consequential vintages, some good some bad but consequential nonetheless. As the buds are breaking on wine grape vines around the wine countries of the Northern Hemisphere it seemed like a good time to review recent vintage highlights and lowlights, and also to report on availability of wines from recent years.

The 2015 growing year was one of those years that was just flat out great in both New World and Old-World appellations. I was fortunate enough to be in Italy on business during the 2015 harvest, ironically not wine business though, I was there meeting with manufacturers of pottery, linens and other merchandise categories. While there, everyone I talked to in Tuscany was raving about the grape crop. It was all true, and in a twist that doesn’t happen all that often it was a great time to be making wine in the Western U.S. While 2015 red wines from Europe and the U.S. are increasingly difficult to find you can buy them with confidence.

2016 Was as we like to say a “tough follow” after the great year before it. For the U.S. it was another great crop, just smaller so strangely, it is almost easier to find wines from 2015 than 2016 because there was just less wine. In Europe the year was also very good to great, every bit the measure of 2015. There was not a drop in volume like there was here at home so there are still great European bottlings available.

2017 Was a severe drought year in California and much of the west, it was also the year when several devastating fires lit off across California near the end of harvest severely damaging some wineries and affect about 20% of the crop in late ripening red varietals. This reduction in crop size has left the 2017 vintage harder to find. In Europe it was another great year but one I personally struggle with. The crop that year was of average size and when harvested it was regarded as another great year. Here’s the rub. I have tasted very good European wines from that year and others that are really tight and immature, wines that will need some time to come around. 2017 Red wines from both the US and Europe are still around, but this is a year where you want to rely on knowledge of your chosen wine professional or buy from producers you know, love and trust.

2018 Was another year like 2015, it was universally great. Just as in 2015 if you didn’t make great wine in 2018 it may be time to dust off the resume. The crop was bountiful and quality of the grapes outstanding. Even more so than with 2015 I can’t think of a 2018 wine that hasn’t been spectacular. 2018 Wines, especially reds are in their sweet spot for availability so buy them, in size, and enjoy them while you can.

The 2019 vintage was another severe drought year in California and much of the west, and while the fire season there was less severe it resulted in a smallish crop. The wines too I have found to be tight and a bit astringent as a whole from the lack of water. We have yet to see some of the more major releases from this year so we will report in as we try more. Across Europe it has been an embarrassment of riches from 2015 through 2020 with good year after good year. We have yet to see much of the release of 2019s from Italy, France, Spain and others but what we have tried so far are fabulous again. Wines will become increasingly available over the next several years.

2020 As we have reported on frequently was a near complete wipe out in Northern California. The fires started early, burned hot and destroyed nearly the entire crop. Just this past week I tasted a Cabernet from the Oak Knoll district of Napa that was very good. It clearly was grown in one of the “doughnut holes” that miraculously stayed smoke free during that awful fire storm. If you can find wines like this buy them but exercise extreme caution when you select wines from that year. Your best bet is to focus on wines from Paso Robles and points south if California is your thing, and also other areas of the Western U.S. For Europe 2020 was another great year. The whites I have tasted are delicious again, and we look forward to trying more of the reds as they are released.

2021 Was thankfully smoke free across most of California and the west and many breathed a collective sigh of relief at being back in business. The white wines I have tried are very good and look forward to trying some reds as they are released. Tough spring weather in Europe in 2021 made for a tiny vintage in many appellations with quality being severely impacted as well. Exercise caution when approaching the 2021 vintage from parts of Europe.

You are always welcome to stop in the shop for more knowledge on any of your favorite wines from these and other years.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of The Dinner Party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The Dinner Party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018.

George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop.

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