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.
Varietal: Nero D'avola
On the beautiful, sun-drenched island of Sicily in Italy, one of the most important grape varietals grown is the Nero d'Avola, a versatile fruit which is used in the production of excellent, full bodied and flavorful still wines, as well as the famous Marsala fortified wines traditionally made on the island. The Nero d'Avola grape has been cultivated on Sicily for centuries, most notably in the region of Avola from where it takes its name. However, in recent years it has also been grown in several parts of the New World, where it thrives best in hot and arid locations. The Nero d'Avola is notable for its spicy and peppery nature, and the strong plummy flavors it holds. The thick and dark skins of the fruit have a relatively high tannin and acid content, producing deep and complex wines.
There are few wine regions in the world with such an ideal terroir and climate for viticulture as that found on Sicily. This Italian island has been an important center for wine production for several thousand years, with experts claiming that the ancient Greeks were the first to bring wine-making techniques to the island. The almost year-round sunshine and rich, fertile volcanic soil of Sicily makes the vintner's jobs very easy, and grapevines thrive and flourish more or less everywhere on the island. Sicily is widely renowned for its excellent sweet dessert wines, and for fortified wines such as Marsala, yet the popularity of their dry red and white produce is ever rising, thanks to their drinkability and fantastic fruit flavors which really manage to put across the sunny, almost tropical nature of the island they are grown on.
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.