2012 has, so far been a positive year for wineries around the world. While it may be a little too early to speak of the wines being made in the northern hemisphere, European and North American wineries have already begun reporting that their harvesting season has been generally very good, and are predicting to continue with the kind of successes they saw in 2011. However, 2012 has been something of a late year for France, due to unpredictable weather throughout the summer, and the grapes were ripening considerably later than they did in 2011 (which was, admittedly, an exceptionally early year). French wineries are claiming, though, that this could well turn out to be advantageous, as the slow ripening will allow the resulting wines to express more flavour and features of the terroir they are grown in.
The southern hemisphere has seen ideal climatic conditions in most of the key wine producing countries, and Australia and New Zealand particularly had a superb year, in particular with the Bordeaux varietal grapes that grow there and which love the humidity these countries received plenty of. Also enjoying a fantastic year for weather were wineries across Argentina and Chile, with the Mendoza region claiming that 2012 will be one of their best vintages of the past decade. Similar claims are being made across the Chilean wine regions, where Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon had an especially good year. These two grape varietals also produced characterful wines on the coastal regions of South Africa this year.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
Region: Valle Central
Chile's Valle Central has to be one of the oldest 'New World' wine regions on earth, with a viticultural history which stretches all the way back to the 16th century, and the time of the first European settlers in South America. This long stretch of valleys and mountains, which extends between Maipo and Maule, has grown to become one of the most prodigious and productive wine regions on the continent, with a reputation for big, flavourful and characterful wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Carmenere all flourish in various part of Valle Central, and the many micro-climates which characterize the region allow wineries to experiment and innovate with their crops. Today, the Chilean wine industry is stronger than ever, and quality has for the first time overtaken quantity as a priority, making it something of a golden age for the country's wine producers.
When the wealthy new landowners of the 19th century began planting large vineyards in the fertile central valleys of Chile, they must have been impressed at how successful the imported Old World grape varietals took to the land. However, such a fact is hardly surprising; with eight months of blazing sunshine coupled with oceanic winds from the west, and crystal clear spring waters from the Andes irrigating the soil, grapes such as Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were given everything they needed to flourish, and more. As the centuries passed, Chilean wineries continued to expand and experiment, resulting in a wide range of wine production methods and techniques, and consistently producing fine quality wines perfect for the international market. Nowadays, Chile is renowned for producing a wide variety of crisp white wines, and juicy, fruity reds enjoyed around the world for their drinkability and flavorful character, making this country very much one of the 'New World', albeit one with a fascinating link to the Old.