Despite less than ideal climatic conditions, featuring storms which threatened an otherwise perfect year, most parts of California had an excellent year for viticulture. Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs were picked at optimum ripeness, and Californian white wine was just about as good as it could be. Surprises and overcoming difficulties summed up much of the United States' wine industry in 2009, and many of the results from Oregon, Washington State and all over California speak for themselves, with the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon grapes having developed healthy, thick skins and thus plenty of character and distinction. Elsewhere in the New World, South Africa had a very good year in 2009, and wineries across the cape of the African continent are proclaiming it a truly great vintage.
In most of Europe, fine weather and punctual ripening periods produced some excellent wines, with many of the best coming out of France's Bordeaux and the surrounding regions. Merlot had an exceptionally good year in France, and wineries are proclaiming that the 2009 Merlot harvest was one of the best in living memory. Indeed, across most of France, ripening was relatively even, and red wine grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah and others were reportedly highly characterful, with plenty of the required tannin levels with which to make high quality wines. Italy, too, had a very good 2009. Piedmont reported extremely favorable conditions throughout 2009, and their signature Nebbiolo grapes were more or less perfect when harvested, having benefited from the slight drop in temperature at the end of their ripening period. Veneto, too, had an enviable year, producing superb Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay wines in 2009.
In its native Italy, Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape varietal, and has been for several centuries now. It has since spread to several other countries around the world, but will probably always been most readily associated with the rolling hillscapes of Tuscany. It isn't difficult to understand why it is so revered; alone, in single variety bottles, young Sangiovese is lively, full of fresh summer fruits flavors and beautifully drinkable in its lightness. When aged, it has the special ability to soak up the oak and vanilla or chestnut flavors from the barrel, and delights wine drinkers with its complexity and many layers of character. However, the grape does occasionally cause some difficulty for wine makers, as it is one which holds a high acidity, whilst being light on tannins and body. As such, wine makers have experimented greatly with the Sangiovese grapes, from harvesting very low yields to blending it and aging it in different ways in order to make the most of its unique properties. The results are rarely short of spectacular, and Sangiovese is widely recognized as a grape varietal to look out for if you are searching for quality.
Tuscany has been producing fine wines for almost three thousand years, and as such is widely recognized as being one of the key Old World wine regions which have shaped the way we understand and enjoy quality wines throughout history. Interestingly, the region is typified by a unique soil type which is not particularly good for growing grapevines, but in Tuscany, the emphasis has always been on quality over quantity, and low yields with high levels of flavor and intensity are preferred, and have become a feature of the region's wine industry. The main grape varietals grown in Tuscany are Sangiovese for the distinctive, flavorful and complex red wines, and Vernaccia for the exquisite dry white wines, although the last couple of decades have seen more varietals grown and an increasing trend towards 'Bordeaux style' wines.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.