Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2018 Vintage | See Montepulciano for more about this region of Tuscany, Italy.

Giuseppe Rigoli told me (Anteprima 2020) that ‘2018 was a good year, more balanced than the hot 2015 and 2017 seasons, with rain at the right time.’

Briefing | Vineyard management from bud burst to veraison was particularly complex in 2018. In 2018, rainfall was split into two distinct phases: an initial phase of abundant rain amounting to about 800 mm, which lasted from February to the second 10 days of July, and a subsequent phase of scarce rainfall, which continued for the rest of the year. The constant early season rainfall frequently interrupted shoot thinning. Saturated soil made it impossible at times to use mechanical equipment to take the necessary pest control measures; at the same time, because of the high relative humidity, there was an elevated risk associated with the presence of fungal species, particularly peronospera (downy mildew). Harvesting took place between the last 10 days of September and the first 10 days of October. Favourable harvesting conditions. Clusters could fully ripen and be harvested at the right time with both flavour and phenolic maturity. The 2018 wines show pronounced colours, medium-high alcohol and an average acidity and pH. On the palate the wines are said to be extremely velvety with smooth tannins. Wines for the long haul but with long drinking windows. Production volumes were about 15% lower than the average yield in recent years.

2018 | Climatic conditionsJanuary 2018, mild and rather dry, was followed by a cold spell and abundant rainfall in February and March. The rainfall of these two months, which managed to integrate the low groundwater reserves, was roughly equivalent to the entire rainfall of 2017. April was decidedly warm, particularly with regard to maximum temperatures, and generally wet, while the rainfall recorded in May was also abundant and accompanied, on some occasions, by local hailstones. June and the first 20 days of July were characterized by normal average temperatures for the season and by about ten days of rain and humidity levels that were frequently rather high.  

Starting from mid July, the long period of rainfall and high humidity rapidly gave way to dry weather, with hot sunny days, often accompanied by wind, which continued throughout the summer months and well into Autumn. In fact, in August, September and October, higher than average temperatures were recorded,  together with scarce and sporadic rainfall. The subsequent months of November and December presented a similar picture to the previous ones.

In brief, the year of 2017, which had been characterized by a very low level of rainfall (420 mm in all), was followed by 2018 which, in terms of rain, was split into two distinct phases: an initial phase of abundant rain amounting to about 800 mm, which lasted from February to the second decade of July, and a subsequent phase of scarce rainfall, which continued for the rest of the year.

2018 Production-growth trend | The climate trend described above and the “tail-end” of a torrid 2017 had particular and pronounced effects on the production growth-trend in the vineyards. The bud burst of the vines started around 5-6 April in the warmer areas of the production zone and was over after roughly two weeks in the other areas. 

The regular and even bud burst was followed in the subsequent weeks by a slow and often deformed growth of the plants, despite the average or slightly higher than average temperatures;  this condition may be attributed partly to the rain which almost saturated the land, making it difficult for heat to penetrate and, consequently, preventing the absorption of mineral salts by the vines; it was also partly due to the scarce accumulation of moisture reserves in the stems and roots of the plants in 2017.  

Despite the buds being slightly underdeveloped, especially in those vineyards where the rainfall had delayed shoot thinning operations, the rapid rise in temperature, which took place around May 23, caused the flowering period to “explode” and end in the space of less than two weeks, this applying to Sangiovese and all the other grape varieties cultivated in the area.

The number of inflorescences on the buds was generally fewer than usual, particularly in the case of  Sangiovese, besides being rather short: it is very probable that, this particular condition may also be attributed to the difficult “differentiation” of the buds in the course of 2017. The same phenomenon, albeit more pronounced, could also be seen in the vineyards affected by the serious frosts of 2017 when the plants was reconstituted from dormant buds or bud close (small females), which are notoriously less fertile.

In June and July, with their favourable temperatures and abundant groundwater reserve, the plants grew vigorously and their berries increased considerably in number, with the result that Sangiovese formed clusters that were chunky and compact, owing to the relatively large size of the berries in proportion to the short bunchstems. Tight clusters, in the event of rain, are likely to be attacked by botrytis, so this condition caused considerable concern when the fruit started to colour. Fortunately, however, as mentioned above, starting from the end of July, the rainfall diminished drastically and the supply of groundwater gradually fell, owing to the phenomenon of evapotranspiration induced by higher than average temperatures for the period. Therefore, during veraison, which began in the last week of July and ended in mid-August, the gradual reduction of groundwater reserves caused plant activity to come to a halt and the bud apexes to fall.  The generally heavy weight of the berries increased slightly as they ripened but, as early as mid-September, it started to decrease in many vineyards owing to the initial effects of dehydration. So, the dreaded botrytis blight had no chance to attack the plants.  

From an agronomical and organizational viewpoint, the management of the vineyards, from bud burst to veraison, was particularly complex in 2018: the rainy periods frequently interrupted shoot thinning operations while the saturated soil made it impossible at times to use mechanical equipment to take the necessary pest control measures; at the same time, because of the high relative humidity, there was an elevated risk associated with the presence of fungal species, first and foremost peronospora. On the other hand, from the flowering period onwards, it was sufficient to monitor the ripening of the berries and decide when to harvest. Harvesting took place between the last decade of September and the first of October. In terms of quantity, the production was about 15% lower than the average yield in recent years.  

Summary–main phenological phasesBud burst: 5 – 19 April. Flowering: 24 May – 5 June. Colouring of the grapes: 23 July – 16 August.

The 2018 winesThe favourable conditions of September and October enabled the clusters to fully ripen and they were harvested at the right time; as well as the necessary technological maturity, in fact, an excellent phenolic maturity was achieved. The wines of 2018, as a normal consequence of such a climate trend during the ripening period, following malolactic fermentation, are characterized by intense and pronounced colours, with the overtones of this varietal intact and well expressed, a medium or high alcohol content and an average acidity and pH. On the palate, the extremely velvety and pleasing tannic texture is devoid of roughness and hardness. The wines of 2018 will certainly not require long periods of ageing to fully express their potential.

Bibliography

Giovanni Capuano, Technical Sheet, Vintage 2008, 15 January 2019.