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.
Today, Merlot is generally believed to be one of the most popular and widely planted grape varietals in the world, with expert estimates putting it just behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the top three most planted vines. Ask any winery anywhere between France and Argentina, and they'll tell you it is due to the grapes reliability, fantastic range of flavors and unique properties. Single variety Merlot wines are especially popular with companies wishing to target newcomers to the world of red wine, due to the fact that as Merlot has a low tannin content, and relatively little malic acid, the wines it produces are fleshy, well rounded and firmly in the 'medium body' category. This essentially means that they are extremely drinkable, full of lovely jammy fruit flavors and rich, pleasing aromas. That isn't to say that Merlot is only for beginners, though, as this grape is also one of the key varietals for producing some of the most highly respected, complex and perfectly balanced wines in the world.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
The special region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northern Italy has a long history of producing exceptional white wines in its beautifully mountainous vineyards. Situated between the stunning Italian Alps and the wild Adriatic sea, Friuli-Venezia Giulia's wineries are dedicated to capturing the alpine essence of their wonderful terroir, and the finest wines of the region are famed for their alpine freshness, full of notes of clear mountain waters and lush, green grasses. Because Friuli-Venezia Giulia is so close to the Italian border with Slovenia and Austria, it is normal to find wineries working with grape varietals not normally associated with Italian wines. However, the Riesling wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are undoubtedly amongst the finest in Europe, and French varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir also grow very well there alongside some of Italy's best Pinot Grigio vines.
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.