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.
One of the most widely grown and easily recognized wine grape varietals in the world is the Muscat, an ancient grape with an exceptional amount of versatility. For centuries, Muscat varietal grapes have been used all over Europe for the production of wonderfully fruity wines of many different shades and colors, which, with their strong 'grapey' flavor have come to be known as a quintessential fine wine grape. Their relatively high acidity also means they are ideal for the production of sparkling wines, and the fizzy Muscat wines of Italy are widely agreed to be amongst the best in the world. In more recent years, New World countries have shown a huge amount of flair when it comes to the Muscat grape, and have had plenty of success in allowing its natural and vibrant character to come through in the bottle.
For hundreds of years, the beautiful alpine region of Piedmont in north-west Italy has been producing excellent quality red wines, and some of the most characterful sparkling white wines to have ever come out of the Old World. The region is dominated by the mighty Alps which form the border between Italy, France and Switzerland, and the Moscato grapes that are grown in the foothills of this mountain range carry much of the Alps' flavors in their fruit, and are fed by crystal clear mountain waters. However, it is the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which are the real stars of this region, and the highly respected wineries which cover much of Piedmont have generations of experience when it comes to processing and aging these grape varietals to produce the superb wines which come out of appellations such as Barolo and Barberesco.
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.