South America : Drink soon
Chilean wines are superb with balance and elegance; those from Argentina show intense colour, powerful fruity aromas, complexity and smooth, round tannins
A wet winter in 2002 with 30% higher rainfall than average was followed by a cool spring which delayed shooting and budding and caused some problems with fruit set in Carmenère in particular.
From then on, the vintage escaped the highs and lows in temperature of the previous two years, particularly later on in the season when it turned endlessly sunny and warm. Of the last three vintages, Nov 2002-Mar 2003 had the fewest number of hours with temperatures above 30°C but the most hours exceeding 12°C. Only January bucked the trend which was hotter this year than in 2002 and 2001.
After March, virtually the whole of Chile enjoyed Indian Summer-like conditions – dry and bright with only two rains in the whole period. The mild, dry weather allowed every red variety to be harvested at just the right moment, though winemakers had to nervously weigh up the risks of hanging on another day and achieving full maturity against the rains arriving. Fortunately, April was rain free. Generally, every variety ripened late – in the Maipo Valley Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were harvested three weeks later than normal.
A long, slow and nerve-racking harvest, but those winemakers who patiently waited for their grapes to eventually reach maturity were rewarded with ripe, superbly balanced fruit and the promise of full-flavoured elegant red wines.
Harvesting the red grapes proved particularly fraught as each extra day on the vine would mean greater maturity and softer grained tannins, though rain would have ruined everything thing. Pickers were on constant standby, but fortunately April remained dry and mild and the wines are showing great suppleness and character.
A cold and dry winter with abundant snow on mountains was followed by a cool, sunny and dry spring. The result was a reduction in fruit set and thus sparser bunches with fewer grapes in each one – a sort of natural selective thinning with good consequences for fruit quality.
A warm, dry summer led in some areas to early ripening and a generally disease-free harvest. Autumn was also sunny and warm, which allowed producers to wait for the grapes to become fully ripe before picking them, so ensuring finer-grained tannins in the skin and pulp.
‘A high quantity of excellent and competitive wines’ is the word coming out of Argentina concerning the 2003 harvest, with many rating it better than 2000 and 2001 though not as good as 2002. Many producers picked later than usual, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon which was able to develop full maturity during an extended spell of warm, dry weather in April. The country’s principal grape, Malbec, is reckoned to have done particularly well.