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.
Merlot has long been a grape associated with excellent quality of character and flavor, and has spread around the globe as a result of its relative hardiness and reliability. From Chile to Bordeaux, Merlot vines grow to ripeness, and end up producing a remarkably wide variety of wines. Single variety wines made from Merlot grapes tend to be beautifully rich in color, and packed full of jammy, hedgerow flavors and notes of plum and currant, and ideal for newcomers to red wines as a result of their medium body. This medium body comes about due to the fact that the skin of Merlot grapes tends to be quite thin, meaning that the tannin content of Merlot wines is lower than those made from other blue-black grapes. The mellowness and roundedness which results is ideal for blending, also, and Merlot is used as a blending grape in some of the world's finest wineries, to produce aged wines of exceptional character.
Region: Washington State
The popularity of fine red wines, made with classic Old World grape varietals, has continued to increase in the United States over the past few decades. Washington state has consistently impressed with their red wine grape varietals, and many of the most popular American red wines of the past twenty years have come from this unique and interesting state with its two distinct regions. The vast majority of Washington's wines come from the arid eastern half of the state, a semi-desert irrigated by the rivers which run through the area, with considerably fewer wineries found in the wetter western side. Washington is renowned for the production of strong, fruit-forward wines made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other varietals, with many fine white wines being produced there also.
Country: United States
Whilst there are several strains of native grape varietals in the United States, it was the introduction of the European species which prompted the country to begin producing wines on a large scale. Over the past few centuries, experimentation and cross-breeding has produced great successes in regards to the quality and suitability of the fruit grown in states such as California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and the past few decades have seen New World wines from the United States reach much higher standards. Arguably the finest United States wines have always come out of California, where the climate and terrroir is most suitable for fine wine production. The masterful blending of classic grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, amongst others including Syrah and Chardonnay, have had world beating results in recent years, prompting many to suggest that there has never been a better time for buying and drinking United States wines.
Appellation: Walla Walla
Washington State's Columbia Valley is one of the United States' largest and most productive wine regions, and within the Valley itself we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, home to many of the country's finest red wines. The sub-region is a relatively small one, and a relatively young one, having only been producing wines for a century or so. However, the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines to come out of Walla Walla has caught the attention of the global wine drinking community in recent years, and this has prompted expansion and overall improvement within Walla Walla, resulting in some truly spectacular wines which are the very essence of the region. Walla Walla benefits hugely from the hot weather and arid soils which typify the region, and which help the fine grape varietals which thrive there reach full ripeness each year.