1997 Vintage Report by Angelo Gaja: This is a vintage that we had five weeks with hot weather, 32° C. This had never happened before. This vintage signaled the beginning of climate change.
The quality can be different in 1997 because some producers were unprepared to ferment high sugar levels and the grapes were coming to the winery very hot because even during harvest the weather was hot. There were wines that had stuck fermentation and residual sugar. High volatile acidity. Some wines were not at a high level. But the large majority were beautiful. Much more approachable and with a new character.
In the restaurant, the wines were easy to drink and gave a lot of satisfaction. I remember that we quickly sold our 1997.It also signaled the first conflict among the America and European wine writers. The Americans welcomes it as “the greatest vintage made in Piedmont.”
It was actually an unusual vintage in its approachability and its pleasure. It had perfectly integrated tannins. Not sweetness. But it was similar to sweetness. We had only had this in 1961 and 1971. Not residual sugar but the consequence of perfect ripening.
“This is a vintage that will last a lot of time,” said American wine writers. The European writers said this is a mistake. Yes, it’s an unusual vintage, never seen before. But it is too early to judge and to say that it will be able to keep for a very long time. This is a mistake by American writers who don’t know enough. The 1997 is good but not as good as has been described and it will not be able to age thirty or forty years.
Italy Vintage Report by Tb: In 1997 the entire Italian wine industry was rejuvenated by one of the greatest vintages of all time. The only negative aspect of the year involved sub-zero night temperatures in April and May that damaged the unusually early buds and blooms. As a result, the crop yield was smaller than desired. Otherwise, the summer season was graced with sunny, warm weather. Temperatures climbed higher in August and September and the grapes ripened two weeks earlier than normal. This caught Piedmont by surprise, as the Nebbiolo ripened ahead of the Barbera, which was unprecedented. The small grapes were so well balanced that there were only four other Italian vintages like the 1997 in the 20th century. Otherwise, the acidity of the grapes fell below normal levels due to their ripeness. In Tuscany the situation was the same as in Piedmont – there had not been a crop of such quality since 1947. The wines can still take years of cellaring and as long as decades for the Barolos and Barbarescos.