Our series of harvest reports continues with a look at this year's vintage in four more of France's key wine-growing regions. Lyn Parry assesses the harvest in Burgundy and Beaujolais, while Stuart Todd reports from the Languedoc and Provence.

Languedoc-Roussillon

While excellent climatic conditions for wine-growing prevailed throughout the summer in more northerly regions of France, this was not the case for southern regions and in particular, Languedoc-Roussillon.

With the harvest looking very promising on the evidence of the first pickings around 22 August, thunderstorms accompanied by torrential rain in early September appeared to have dealt a serious blow to the quality of the 2005 vintage. In some areas, harvesting had to be suspended.

However, when a fuller picture emerged, the Languedoc wines association, the  Conseil Interprofessional des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL), was able to play down the impact of the storms which had mainly affected vineyards situated on the plains. Hillside vineyards producing AOC wines, benefiting from good drainage, had coped well in absorbing the heavy rains.

According to a CIVL survey,  AOC winemakers in the Languedoc consider the 2005 vintage to be superior in quality to that of the two previous years.  Estimates suggest volumes are down by between 10% and 15% on the heavy 2004 crop.

The very warm days of July and August, followed by cool nights, fostered a slow maturity in the grapes. Apart from a striking depth of colour, their dominant feature was a thickness and hardness of skin.

High sugar levels were also in evidence, especially in the Grenache and Cinsault, compensated by a degree of acidity well above the average. The first tastings revealed wines with silky tannins, a fruity feel and an exceptional balance.

Due to the excellence of the Grenache and Carignan this year, winegrowers have tended to favour the blending of varietals in the production of the reds. Meanwhile, the whites are described as "lively, finely acidic and exceptionally harmonious". As for Languedoc's Muscats, these are very aromatic and display more than hint of peach, pear and exotic fruit.    

The grapes gathered just before the rains and slightly diluted, are being used in the production of Vins de Pays and also AOC primeurs, to be drunk from spring 2006.

Provence

With regard to the Provence wines of south-east France, alternating spells of rain and wind at the end of the growing season did not compromise the excellent quality of the grapes, the region's trade body, the CIVP, notes.

The size of the harvest, in the majority of terroirs, was close to the pre-determined yield levels for the year with the exception of the Côteaux d'Aix en Provence where volumes were down 10% to 15% due to drought conditions.

The first rosés are described as "good to very good" - clear, fruity, well-balanced and elegant with sugar levels down by 1 to 1.5 degrees on last year.   

The first reds are also fruity as well as being "seductive, relatively light in structure and probably a vintage to be tasted young", the exception being the Syrahs and Cabernets which could well be suited to reserve wines.

Burgundy

Burgundy 2005 is forecast to be an exceptional vintage with superb reds and outstanding whites. Ideal climatic conditions and a no-hitch harvest are reported to have produced healthy well-ripened grapes and high quality wines with good potential.

The vintage is characterised by low rainfall and lots of sunshine. A dry, cold winter was followed by favourable weather conditions for budding and flowering. There were some localised hailstorms but they came early in the year before the grapes set and caused little damage. The summer was long and hot - but not as scorching as 2003 - with cool nights. However, the rain, which arrived mainly as rainstorms, was sparse and the vines began to become stressed from the lack of water. The rain arrived in mid-August, two weeks before the harvest, enough to avoid serious drought problems and replenish the water table levels. It did not effect the concentration of the grapes, but was just sufficient to ripen tannins and pips.

The grapes for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were very healthy, due to low rainfall and northerly winds, and with only an occasional patch of rot, unlike 2004. At the time of the harvest, the Chardonnay bunches had well-spaced berries with good sugar levels and the Pinot Noir had compact, deeply-coloured berries with thick skins. For the first time ever, the grapes ripened at the same rate in the Yonne, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, and the more southerly Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais. Usually there is a time lag of around two weeks between the northerly and southerly districts, but due to the pattern of rainfall the ripening process was slowed down in the Saône-et-Loire and especially the Côte d'Or.

The weather during the harvest was ideal, with little or no rain, mild temperatures and ample sunshine. Michel Baldassini, president of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), described it as "a dream harvest which took place in weather conditions that have rarely been matched."
The growers could wait for optimum maturity and the sugar levels were satisfactory (or even high) at the time of picking. The grapes had obtained good ripeness and balance, and the reds had achieved good levels of polyphenols (responsible for tannins and colour). Vinification followed without any problems, while it is worth noting that some wines went straight through to malolactic fermentation.

In mid-November, the whites are rich with complex, with delicate aromas of pear and peach and hints of grapefruit, elegant and harmonious with good depth. The reds have a deep garnet colour, aromas of blueberry, blackcurrant, cherry and wild strawberry and spicy notes, with elegant, round tannins and good length. Yield is said to be lower than usual, but the wines show good potential.

Beaujolais

In Beaujolais, the wine producers had similar weather conditions to Burgundy with the exception of certain areas that were severely hit by hailstorms and lost a major part of their crop. Although volume is low, quality is high. The grapes were healthy and mature at harvest and the wines are full and intense with good colour. Both red fruit and black fruit appear on the nose with, in some cases, hints of liquorice. The wines are ample, well-balanced and with good length.