A Rough Start, But a Perfect Finish
This is the second year in a row that Loire has coped with the effects of spring frosts. In 2016, frosts damaged a large number of grape buds, significantly reducing yields in France overall that year. While the 2017 vintage fared better in terms of crop size, frosts still impacted the development of some grapes in the region. In April of 2017, two weeks of low temperatures damaged buds in Muscadet and Savennières, which saw significant drops in yields. Meanwhile, Bourgueil and Coteaux de Giennois had much healthier buds after the frost cleared, and winemakers there noticed relatively little damage. And as for Loire’s most popular, collectible winegrowing appellation, Sancerre, yields were slightly lower than usual, but the quality of the grapes appears to be especially high. In all, yields for the 2017 vintage are up by about seven percent compared to 2016, yet they are still about 18 percent lower than average.
What this means for your collection is that 2017 Loire wine will be somewhat easier to find than the 2016 vintage, and may be of the same, or higher, quality, especially in Sancerre. A warm, picture-perfect summer made up for the chilly spring conditions early in the season, allowing the Loire’s grapes to ripen fully on the vine about a month ahead of schedule. In other words, the season got off to a rough start, but the beautiful summer weather saved the crop from total destruction. The result is a high-quality, very drinkable vintage that can either be stored long-term or enjoyed right now.
Warm Weather Drove Earlier Harvests
Loire vintage reports can tell you a great deal about whether these wines are worth buying, which isn’t true of all vintage reports. Top producers from other regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy can usually cope with the effects of frost or other changes in the weather because the climate is a bit more moderate in these areas. Loire, on the other hand, tends to be especially cool, and if the spring and summer weather isn’t warm enough, the grapes will struggle to ripen fully, resulting in an overly acidic vintage. During these difficult years, winemakers often use chaptalization to make up for underripe crops. This is why the best Loire wine typically comes from vintages that had especially warm summers, allowing the grapes to completely mature naturally.
The 2017 vintage had one of these balmy summers. Plenty of sunshine and relatively warm August evenings gave the grapes some much-needed concentration and sugar. In fact, the weather was so warm that many producers harvested their grapes almost a month earlier than usual, beginning in late August. This means that winemakers were able to wait as long as they wanted to pick their grapes, selecting the optimum time for each wine style, from early Chardonnay harvests to later harvests of sweet Chenin Blanc and bold Cabernet Franc.
The 2017 Loire vintage may be one of the best examples of a year in which the optimum flavors in each of the many regional wines were able to shine. Both dry and sweet Chenin Blanc are showing well-balanced sugar concentration and acidity early on in their development. Sauvignon Blanc is especially fruit-forward in 2017, making it potentially wonderful to drink young. The region’s Gamay is richer than usual, so if you prefer concentrated reds, then this may be the best choice for you. Only Cabernet Franc appears to be a little lower in acidity than usual, especially if producers didn’t harvest the grapes early enough. Producers who harvested in mid-to-late September had a better balance between sugars and acid in their Cabernet Franc. Keep this in mind when approaching the region’s famous rosé; 2017 Loire rosé is rich and fruity, but if the blend contains a great deal of Cabernet Franc, it may taste a little overripe, depending on the producer.
Analyzing the 2017 Loire Vintage Report
Overall, 2017 Loire wines are worth buying if you prefer concentrated, rich wines that still have a healthy amount of acidity. While these wines may not have the subtle, supple charm of past vintages made during cooler summers (like the 2013), they still have the same lively, bright acidity that Loire fans love. These wines will be drinkable even at a young age due to their fruit-forward personalities. Ageability will depend on which producer you choose and whether the acidity is prominent enough in the wine. Cabernet Francs from 2017 may not be as age-worthy compared to Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc. If you plan on investing in 2017 Loire for long-term cellaring, I recommend sticking with top producers of Chenin Blanc, both sweet and dry versions, as these ripened perfectly without overly fruity notes or astringency. Wines from producers like Francis Blanchet, Delesvaux, and Baumard are usually excellent choices for wine enthusiasts, as they produce some of the most consistent wines year after year. In light of this promising 2017 Loire vintage report, these producers should be at the top of your wishlist this year, whether you plan on storing your wine long-term or serving it with a special meal.
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