The good news: Warm summer weather and dry conditions during harvest
The bad news: A frost in the third week of May cut yields by up to a third in key regions.
Picking started: Second week of September
Promising grapes: Riesling
Challenging grapes: Grüner Veltliner
Analysis: In Austria’s leading wine regions, 2012 delivered a small, high-quality crop, with grapes showing moderate acidity. Besides the late-spring frost, an extended drought cut yields as well, but nearly ideal growing conditions and dry harvest weather yielded excellent-quality fruit …
The good news: Warm and dry harvest weather allowed for long hang time for ripening grapes.
The bad news: The rest of the year brought challenging weather conditions, with cooler-than-normal temperatures and high humidity.
Picking started: Mid-October in the Mosel
Promising grapes: Riesling
Analysis: It was a tough vintage for German vintners, with cool, rainy weather, reduced yields and disease pressure. The cold weather in May resulted in abnormal fruit set, or milllerandage. This was followed by a period of rainy weather that resulted in mildew. But a hot August halted its spread, and September featured warm, dry weather that extended into October …
The good news: Very low yields in the Douro river valley mean concentrated wines.
The bad news: Extreme climatic conditions, including an extended drought and a damaging hailstorm in the Pinhao Valley, cut yields by 40 percent in some leading quintas.
Picking started: Mid-September in the Douro
Promising grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Barroca, Tinta Roriz
Analysis: Vintners in Portugal’s most famous region, the Douro river valley, are pleased with the quality of the fruit that they harvested, though yields were extremely low …
The good news: Hot, dry conditions across the country mean little disease pressure and concentrated grapes.
The bad news: There aren’t many grapes. The drought produced the smallest harvest in decades. Without care, wines may be low in acidity.
Picking started: Early August in La Mancha and Andalusia; late August in Northern areas like Rioja and Ribera del Duero
Promising grapes: Grapes in the cooler northwest fared better—Bierzo, Albariño and Godello
Challenging grapes: Tempranillo, which needs good acidity, needed extra care in the vineyards.
Analysis: The past year has been a test of faith for many winemakers in Spain, as a drought that started in 2011 dragged on throughout 2012. The hot weather brought an early harvest and small yields—in Rioja, they began picking whites in late August and were finished with reds by Oct. 20. Final numbers are not in yet, but agricultural officials believe it could be the smallest grape harvest since 1945, with yields down by more than 40 percent across Spain …
The good news: Vines bounced back after a rough start to the growing season.
The bad news: Lots of rain and violent weather during the spring and early summer affected flowering and the health of the vines.
Picking started: Sept. 24
Promising grapes: Pinot Gris and, to a lesser extent, Riesling
Challenging grapes: Gewürztraminer
Analysis: In Alsace, the 2012 growing season didn’t start off well. Lots of rain delayed and slowed flowering, resulting in less fruit and creating a lot of work in the vineyard. Violent storms and hail in some parts of the region also took their toll. And though yields are lower than usual for many estates in Alsace …
The good news: If producers kept yields low, worked in their vineyards to offset humid conditions late in the season and sorted out bad fruit, they could produce decent wines.
The bad news: If they didn’t manage their vineyards well, underripe grapes and some mildew and rot will result in poor wines.
Picking started: Sept. 4 for whites; Sept. 28 for reds
Promising grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc
Challenging grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon
Analysis: Bordeaux vintners had their second straight difficult year in 2012. The season started wet and cool, leading to an uneven flowering and reduced crop. Then, a long dry stretch stressed vines and led to uneven ripening …
The good news: Quality appears to be very good (Côte de Beaune) to outstanding (Côte de Nuits) with no botrytis problems.
The bad news: Everything that could go wrong went wrong, with the exception of rot: frost, hail, poor flowering, mildew, oïdium, at times excess rain and heat (sunburned grapes). The quantity is reduced by 30 percent (Côte de Nuits) to 50 percent (Côte de Beaune) and even more in some vineyards. Expect higher prices.
Picking started: Sept. 13
Promising grapes: Pinot Noir (Côte de Nuits)
Challenging grapes: Chardonnay (Côte de Beaune), due to below-average acidity and small crop
Analysis: While Burgundy is often challenged during the growing season, it is rare that nature lays down a gauntlet of maladies like it did in 2012. “This is my 24th harvest and I think it was the most difficult,” said Meursault grower Jean-Marc Roulot. Whether you farmed conventionally, organically or biodynamically, there was no advantage. As usual, the conscientious growers did what it took to achieve ripe, healthy grapes. In some cases that meant spraying with backpacks because it was impossible to get machines into muddy vineyard rows …
The good news: Fair weather in late August and prior to harvest was the Hail Mary pass that gave this vintage a fighting chance.
The bad news: Yields for the year are down as much as 40 percent for some Champagne producers.
Picking started: Sept. 10
Promising grapes: Pinot Noir
Analysis: For the Champenois, 2012 reads like the trials of Job, with frost, hail and disease plaguing the region’s vines …
The good news: What was saved tastes good. Winemakers are optimistic about the quality of dry whites despite extremely low yields. Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, at the eastern limit of the valley, escaped much of the bad weather.
The bad news: A cold, rainy spring through mid-July, complete with April frosts, caused uneven ripening and wiped out yields. An October tropical storm forced difficult decisions in harvest timing; late-ripening varieties failed to reach maturity and noble rot on late-harvest wines turned to gray and black rot.
Picking started: Sept. 21 (Muscadet) to Oct. 29 (dessert Coteaux du Layon)
Promising grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, dry Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne
Challenging grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, late-harvest Chenin Blanc
Analysis: All along the Loire, it was cold and rainy through mid-July. Flowering was awful, said Matthieu Baudry of Bernard Baudry in Chinon, with many clusters lost to coulure. Dry weather through August and September further stressed some grapes, and harvest began weeks later than in recent past vintages. Then the western and central Loire got 10 inches of rain in areas during October’s harvest (30 inches is the norm for the whole year) …
The good news: Winemakers across the region are quietly optimistic after harvesting generally healthy fruit.
The bad news: Yields are down by 10 to 20 percent in most areas.
Promising Areas: In Alto Adige, white grapes excelled.
Challenging Areas: Younger vineyards and locations where irrigation was not possible were hit hardest by summer’s drought conditions.
Analysis: Like much of Europe, northeastern Italy’s wine regions—Trentino, Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto—harvested significantly lower quantities in 2012, about 10 to 20 percent below average. Two conditions account for the lower yields: first, cool weather during flowering and fruit set, and second, a long period of dry, hot weather in July and early August …
The good news: Nebbiolo in the Langhe looks very good to outstanding. White grape varieties are also promising.
The bad news: Quantities are 20 to 30 percent lower than average.
Picking started: Aug. 21 for Moscato; Aug. 23 for Arneis; Sept. 11 for Dolcetto; Sept. 20 for Barbera; Sept. 26 for Nebbiolo
Promising grapes: Arneis, Moscato, Nebbiolo
Challenging grapes: Merlot, Dolcetto
Analysis: After a cold winter with ample snow, vines across Piedmont’s Langhe jumped out to an early start, only to slow down during cool, damp weather in late spring. This caused some pressure from mildew, but the dry summer reduced most of the fungal disease problems. A hot spell mid-August was followed by two days of rain at the beginning of September that ushered in cooler weather. The snow and rain earlier in the year built up the water reserves, so the vines didn’t suffer too much. There was some sunburn if the grapes were exposed …
Southern & Central Italy
The good news: A hot year, with late rains bringing needed relief to the vines; overall, a good harvest of very ripe grapes.
The bad news: Excessive heat and drought-like conditions, especially in the spring and early summer, led to lower yields and softer acidity levels.
Picking started: For most, harvest was seven to 10 days earlier than normal, with picking lasting from early August through October.
Promising grapes: Early-ripening varieties like Primitivo excelled. Those planted at higher altitudes, like Fiano and Greco in Campania, also performed well.
Challenging grapes: Late-ripening varieties like Aglianico struggled to balance sugar and phenolic maturation.
Analysis: This was an exceptionally hot, dry vintage across central and southern Italy, with higher-than-normal temperatures, but late rains and cooler conditions brought relief just as harvest kicked off. …
The good news: Quality appears to be very good to outstanding in Montalcino, Chianti Classico and Montepulciano, with fine results in Bolgheri.
The bad news: It was hot and dry in central Tuscany, causing the vines to slow down, delaying maturity on what was expected to be an early harvest. Quantities are down 10 to 30 percent, and even lower for early-ripening white grape varieties.
Picking started: Ranged from Aug. 16 (Merlot in Maremma) to Oct. 22 (Sangiovese in Chianti Classico)
Promising grapes: Sangiovese, Merlot (Bolgheri), Cabernet Franc (Bolgheri)
Analysis: Tuscany’s low yields in 2012 can be largely attributed to two extremely cold weeks in February and cool, wet weather during flowering in May. Warm, dry weather from June to August caused drought concern and it was important to pay attention to working the soil and canopy management. …