If You've only started thinking of drinking (and more than half way through my now annual dry January, that's all I'm doing) this year, you could still be forgiven for being a little dazed and confused.
If You've only started thinking of drinking (and more than half way through my now annual dry January, that's all I'm doing) this year, you could still be forgiven for being a little dazed and confused. The torrid heat of the 2003 vintage in Europe has played havoc with the status quo, making this one of the toughest vintages to call. I've been spitting (not swallowing) my way through the voluminous January tastings of the 2003 burgundies. Opinion is already divided: some believe the excessive heat was too much for burgundy's delicate pinot noir grape, while others believe it produced a handful of exceptional reds. I'll reveal where I stand when I've finished tasting in a couple of weeks.
The more southerly Rhône should be better placed to take the sunshine in its stride. But first reports of the 2003 vintage are divided. The gung-ho American view is of a great vintage, especially in the northern Rhône; on this side of the Atlantic are those who counsel caution because of a lack of balance caused by unripeness and insufficient acidity. As with 2003 Burgundy, careful choice of producer (look out for Graillot and Perrin et Fils) will be the key, and for greater consistency, 2001 remains the great classic vintage with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras excelling.
Bordeaux 2003 has been and gone, but if you missed the en primeur (pre-release) campaign, there are still a surprising number of good wines to be bought despite the frantic clamour last year for the star wines. Tom Hudson, from fine wine specialists Farr Vintners, for instance, says that if you stick to the Médoc, there are plenty of good-value châteaux in the middle range, from Charmail (£95 a case) to Grand Puy Lacoste (£280) available from Farr Vintners, London SW8 (020-7821 2000). Bordeaux has gone quiet over the 2004 vintage, but given the large volumes produced, it's unlikely to be worth considering buying en primeur this summer unless prices come down substantially.
Italian wine lovers will be confronted with a similar dilemma over whether and what to buy from 2003. The summer's unremitting heat did few favours to the barolos and barbarescos of Piemonte, whose nebbiolo grape, like burgundy's pinot noir, is a delicate flower that all too easily wilts in the heat. 2001, on the other hand, was a classic vintage for these wines. And while the 2001s coming on stream will inevitably be expensive, their quality and limited quantity make them wines to buy, at least for the well-heeled. 2001 was also a classic year in Tuscany. With supertuscans such as Flaccianello still around, and great single vineyard wines such as Bucerchiale, Vigneto Rancia and Vigna del Sorbo, these, and the 2001 amarones from Veneto, are wines to buy. That's before the arrival of the juicy 2003 chiantis and, seemingly, a better vintage in 2004.
Outside Europe, there is much to look forward to, particularly from South Africa and Australia. There's good news of 2003 from South Africa, where it turned out to be a fine year of concentration and balance for whites and reds full of flavour, elegance and the ability to age. With the New World competing aggressively with Europe for attention, there will be much to recommend and talk about over the coming year.
The answers to the quiz on 1 January are: 1. a) Blue Nun; 2. a) Sardinia; 3. c) Neil Morrissey; 4. a) Cherie Blair; 5. c) Sir Cliff Richard; 6. a) Germaine Greer; 7. a) Saddam Hussein; 8. b) Felix Dennis; 9. a) Mondovino; 10. b) $42,870; 11. c) Madonna; 12. c) Ray Davies. The winner is Carl Garside of Leeds.