SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - It has been a long time since we had such glorious weather like we experienced in all the 17 days we were in Europe (Tuscany and Burgundy) in the first half of June. It was warm, sunny, and temperatures were in the low 30s with low humidity.
Throughout Tuscany, Montalcino and Burgundy the weather was similar, making it one of the most comfortable and enjoyable wine holidays in a long time. We were able to taste the 2016s from the barrel and some newly bottled 2015s in cellars where the 2016s were still undergoing secondary fermentation.
At all the wineries we visited - Fontodi (Tuscany), Conti Costanti (Montalcino), Sassicaia and Ornellaia (Bolgheri), Domaines Comtes de Vogue, Lafon, Leflaive, Michel Gros, Drouhin, J F Mugnier, Bonneau du Martray, Romanee-Conti - there were broad smiles and happy comments about not only 2015 but also 2016, another potentially very good vintage.
At the heart of this vintage was the dry and very warm growing season, with less rainfall than usual. June and July temperatures were even warmer and drier than average, the lack of rain made up for with wet weather in August.
Output was reduced as a result of some hail, but fruit ripeness was good with very little rot; berries were thick-skinned and healthy. In essence, a good to very good quality vintage but slightly reduced output.
Which previous vintage is 2015 similar to? In its characteristics it has been compared with 1985, which is very high praise indeed.
1985 has consistently been very favourably rated by all wine critics/ writers. It is currently my favourite drinking vintage from all the major wine regions of Europe - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace and Rhone. Think Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, DRC La Tache, Latour. At 32 years, this vintage is, like Johnny Walker, still going strong. There is no hurry to drink up your 1985s.
Hospices de Beaune 1er Cru Cuvee Maurice Drouhin 2015
A sample bottle from the barrel (300 bottles) purchased at the Hospices de Beaune Auction in November 2015 by a group of us (six couples) from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong. (The wine was bottled in early 2017.)
Deep youthful purple-red, fresh ripe berry bouquet. A big volume wine, very dense and concentrated, great freshness. A lovely wine. At the barrel price of less than S$60 per bottle, this was a great purchase.
It would be fair to say that at every winery we visited, the wines (mostly from barrel) showed similar characteristics - rich in perfectly ripened fruit, great density and complexity, refreshing minerality and acidity, finishing clean and long, leaving the palate refreshed.
This is as close as one can get to (yet) another vintage of the century. I likened this vintage to the 1985 earlier in this column. I would not be in the least surprised if, when this reaches full maturity, it might even be rated one notch higher than the 1985.
Advances in viticultural knowledge and practices, and oenology, in the intervening 30 years since the earlier vintage have undoubtedly played a big part in the quality of the final product. And it would be reasonable to expect that the wines from reputable vignerons, Chateaux, Domaines, Tenutas, Bodegas and wineries in the main wine-growing regions of Europe will be of the same calibre.
Which leads one to suggest that those of us needing - or even not needing - to expand our cellar would do well to look at buying 2015 Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Champagne, Alsace Rieslings and Tokays, Italian Chiantis, Brunellos and Barolos, Sicilian wines, German and Austrian Rieslings, German Pinot Noirs and wines from Spain's Riojas and Ribera del Duero. It would not be an exaggeration to regard 2015 as the kind of vintage that comes once in a decade. The next 10 years is a long wait. Yes, it is that good.
One wonders if the "5s" in almost every decade (1975, 1985, 2005 and 2015) for the major European wine regions have all been very good (4-star) to great (5-star) vintages. 1965 was a dead loss, a break in the chain, but 1945, 1955 and 1975 were 5-star vintages.
What of 2016? I gleaned from my recent visits that this, too, will be a very good to great vintage, rather similar to 2015, and perhaps with better acidity!
The takeaway from this recent winery trip?
Prices for 2015 will be high as shown from the few early releases, with reduced yields keeping them up as demand exceeds supply.
Bordeaux 2015 en primeur prices released May/June 2016 have already attested to this uncomfortable fact of life. Burgundy 2015 prices and wines have come out since May this year and also sadly confirm this. To compound the stress, quantities released are small as a result of the reduced 2015 output.
This column's advice? Buy whatever you are offered if within budget. And try to be patient! 2015s will be attractive to drink from an early age - even as early as five years old. But that would truly be infanticide. They are wines for the medium term but are capable of reaching a ripe old age, so be patient.