Invitations have gone out and plans have been made by hundreds of Bordeaux wineries to host thousands of wine buyers, tasters and writers for the annual early April ritual known as en primeur or “wine futures.” It’s the coming out presentation of wines from the recently completed 2016 harvest that gives speculators the opportunity to pay now for wine that won’t be delivered until it has matured in barrels and bottles two to four years from now.

Aside from the obvious speculation that prices will have increased when the wine is finally released en primeur is a preview of the quality of the vintage. From preliminary reports the ’16 Bordeaux harvest is rated as very good to excellent despite the smallest yield in thirty years. Unfortunately Champagne, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley didn’t fare as well owing to rain at the wrong time, massive hail storms and poor ripening conditions in September.

Three or four decades ago this would have meant higher prices for limited supply. Today wine consumers can simply look to producers in California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa or even England for quality alternatives to their French or Italian favorites. Of course, the vagaries of weather can affect those supplies as well but short of planetary disaster there should be ample supplies from selected regions.

In California the harvest was the earliest in decades due to even heat throughout the August-September ripening period. Color, sugar-acid balance and flavor were judged excellent with yields higher than ’15 despite ongoing critical drought conditions. Further north in Oregon and Washington growing conditions were also excellent with quality being judged outstanding. Look for these 2016 vintage West Coast U.S. wines to be of superb quality and fairly priced, except as usual in Thailand.

South America’s major producers, Argentina and Chile, relate potentially grim tales though harvest has yet to begin. With seasons in the Southern hemisphere reversed picking will start in June. In Argentina rain and resultant rot has diminished crops by as much as 40% in the major growing region of Mendoza. Chilean weather was more agreeable in most of their nearly 1000 mile central area growing sites although yields are predicted to be lower than normal. Expect prices to rise slightly with quality remaining quite good.  

South Africa’s major production regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Swartland are projecting the lowest yields in five years due mostly to ongoing drought and unusually high temps. As the source of much of the bulk wine for Thailand’s major box fruit wines expect prices of these alternative wines to rise in the months ahead.  

Better news is coming from Australia, the source of the majority of wines sold in Thailand. With the exception of Queensland, where cold wet weather hampered maturation, most major regions are expecting very good to excellent yields and quality—a boon to buyers in the Land of Smiles.

Speaking of smiling harvest is underway in Thailand vineyards kicked off by Harvest Festival  February 18th and 19th at GranMonte Estate in Khao Yai. Winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy projected a substantially larger yield than last year’s drought stricken harvest with quality looking excellent. A barrel tasting of the chenin blanc base for her new aged-on-the-lees cremant sparkler highlighted her bubbling enthusiasm for the ’17 vintage.

With exception of the totally unfair head-in-the-sand excise tax on wine in Thailand wine lovers can look forward to high quality pleasure in 2017. 

By R. James Mullen