Wine News Italian Wine Harvest Redeems a Dark Year

Italian Wine Harvest Redeems a Dark Year

Pickers near Rome enjoy the sunshine after a year that threatened disaster for Italy.
© Alessandro Tarantino/AP | Pickers near Rome enjoy the sunshine after a year that threatened disaster for Italy.
After a year from hell, Mother Nature offers hope for the future to Italian winemakers.
By Tom Hyland | Posted Saturday, 26-Sep-2020

After all the difficulties and concerns caused by the coronavrus situation over the past six months, Italian wine producers could count on one constant – their work in the vineyards.

This year, the most common phrase heard among Italy's producers about their endeavors was "fingers crossed", a fitting consideration for these individuals who perhaps wished for a successful harvest with a little more zest than usual. Now that harvest has been proceeding for a few weeks, it appears that, despite a few problems, 2020 is indeed turning out be a fine year, indeed.

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Beginning in the north, Paola Rinaldi of the Francesco Rinaldi winery in Barolo comments: "About vintage 2020 we are happy."

She reports that green harvest was necessary in August, especially for Barbera and Dolcetto, as production levels were too high. She believes the Barbera that was just picked will have an alcohol level higher than 14.5 percent in the finished wine. As for Nebbiolo, she notes that they grapes are ripening well now, and that they will be picked after the first week of October, as long as there is no more rain.

At Mauro Molino in La Morra, winemaker Matteo Molino is just finishing harvest of Nebbiolo, which he says "looks very good". Noting beneficial weather, he remarks, "we have just seen four days of decreasing temperatures, which will be fundamental for the aromatics and complexity of the 2020 Barolos". Along with Barbera and Dolcetto, Molino cautiously predicts that the quality of his 2020 reds "is very promising with powerful style and good acidity".

In the Valpolicella district in the Veneto region, Paolo Galli of Le Ragose in Negrar, notes that "the hot temperatures of the last 20 days and a considerable quantity of water in the soil let us think that the acidity will be lower than normal". He points out that the crop will be generous, despite extra pruning this year. If not for that, Galli says that "the vines would have burst".

At Ca' La Bionda in nearby Marano, proprietor Alessandro Castellani noted the problems caused by heavy rains in August. "Unfortunately, many producers in lower Valpolicella were also hit by hail and the fields were flooded … in some cases root problems stopped the normal ripening of the grapes."

Castellani predicts healthy acidity for the wines, and believes that the 2020 vintage "recalls the '90s for the Amarone, which will have great freshness". For Valpolicella, "those who worked well, by thinning the crop to ensure perfect ripeness, will surely reap the rewards and make great wine from fresh grapes".

A slow start

Moving to Tuscany, Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi at Tenuta di Bibbiano in Castellina in Chianti in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone notes a delay in ripening due to some atypical weather.

"We had a cold wind front at the end of March, the usual showers of mid-August were later at the end of that month, and the usual break of the summer weather came in later, rather than in early September." While September in his words, "has been a very hot and unusual month", he acknowledges that the crop looks "very beautiful" this year, and thinks that his 2020 wines will be "more fruity and more consistent, but less complex than 2019 and 2018".

At Barone Ricasoli in Gaiole in Chianti in the southern reaches of Chianti Classico, Francesco Ricasoli recalls some hail in several vineyards between April and May that hit his Sangiovese. "There was good rainfall until June, but then a dry season in July and August brought some stress to the vines. Thank God we had good rain at the beginning of September." He notes that the first Sangiovese was harvested the second week of September, and while things "look great", in his words, "there is still a long way to go".

Alessandro Mori of Il Marroneto, one of the finest producers of Brunello di Montalcino, points out the beneficial weather this year, with low rainfall and moderate temperatures. He remarks that, as he does not follow trends to make lighter wines of lesser color, "we wait for the moment when the grapes will be ready for harves', which this year will be October 5. He explains that by waiting, "our wines are full of acidity, because we press a lot of our skins. This is our kind of work, as we allow a long seasoning for the wine to allow polymerization so the wines will be silky."

In Campania, Antonio Capaldo, proprietor of Feudi di San Gregorio, started harvest of Falanghina on September 12 and Greco and Fiano a week later; he notes that for these latter two varieties, this was approximately 10 days in advance compared to average. "For Aglianico, we expect to start in early November, but it is still uncertain as now rains and a fresher climate are coming after a wonderful summer."

He believes the style of Taurasi will be "diversified, given the hailstorms around the town of Taurasi, while higher elevation plantings will fare much better".

At Mastroberardino in Campania, Piero Mastroberardino will start harvest of Fiano in Irpinia next week, noting that he expects his whites to offer "a little lower acidity, but with more structure". Regarding Aglianico for Taurasi, he remarks that the grapes have "good balance between all the components, very high polyphenolic acid and aromatic potential. The 2020 Taurasi style has all the chance to be excellent, with equilibrium and structure."

Finally in Sicily, Alessio Planeta of the eponymous family estate, notes that the best conditions on the island this year were around Etna, and that 2020 offered "ideal conditions and for me, the best harvest of the last 10 years. Acidity is good due to a non-hot summer … I'm in love with Nero d'Avola, Syrah and Frappato for reds, Grillo, Fiano and aromatic whites. But it is really difficult to choose in such a good harvest."

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