2008 saw very high yields across wineries in much of the southern hemisphere, as a result of highly favorable climatic conditions. Although in many areas, these high yields brought with them something of a drop in overall quality, this could not be said for South Australia's wines, which were reportedly excellent. Indeed, the 2008 Shiraz harvest in South Australia is said to be one of the most successful in recent decades, and western Australia's Chardonnays are set to be ones to watch out for. New Zealand's Pinot Noir harvest was also very good, with wineries in Martinborough reportedly very excited about this particular grape and the characteristics it revealed this year.
Pinot Noir also grew very well in the United States, and was probably the most successful grape varietal to come out of California in 2008, with Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley delivering fantastic results from this grape. Elsewhere in United States, Washington State and Oregon had highly successful harvests in 2008 despite some early worries about frost.
However, it was France who had the best of the weather and growing conditions in 2008, and this year was one of the great vintages for Champagne, the MÃ©doc in Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes leading the way. Italy, too, shared many of these ideal conditions, with the wineries in Tuscany claiming that their Chianti Classicos of 2008 will be ones to collect, and Piedmont's Barberesco and Barolo wines will be recognized as amongst the finest of the past decade.
In southern Italy, and particularly the area of Salento in Puglia, some of the finest red wines are made from the Negroamaro grape, a dark colored grape which has a rather unique character, resulting in wines of singular quality and flavor The name 'Negroamaro' directly translates a 'black-bitter' in Italian, and the earthy bitterness of the grapes is something highly prized by vintners looking to make traditional and rustic red wines from this varietal. The grapes also have a highly aromatic character, and a strong set of fruit flavors which can often be a little overpowering. For this reason, the Negroamaro grape is most commonly used as a blending grape, adding body and flavor to weaker varietals. However, it is also used for very interesting single variety bottles, which are much loved in the region they are grown.
The southern Italian region of Puglia, known as the 'heel' of the country, is home to Italy's most up and coming wineries, keen to demonstrate to the world that the poor reputation they had in the seventies and eighties no longer applies. The wines of Puglia are certainly full of character, often big, bright and juicy, and full of strong dark fruit flavours. The Puglian wines are also renowned for being slightly more alcoholic and structured than those found further north, giving wine drinkers plenty to experience and discuss when sampling the region's complex and fascinating wares. Puglia is, in essence, a region of deep traditions, and the wine makers there are determined to stick to their traditional techniques and methods, and keep the unique identity of Puglian wine alive in the twenty first century.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.