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
In Sicily, the beautiful Mediterranean island off the Italian coast, one of the most important grape varietals grown is the Nero d'Avola, a black skinned grape indigenous to the country and one which has been cultivated and used for wine production for centuries. The Nero d'Avola is often compared to Australian Shiraz, as it also has a distinctively peppery and spicy character. However, the Nero d'Avola also holds deep and rich flavors of plum and other dark fruits, making it a delightful grape for making complex and interesting wines. One of the most important and well known uses for the Nero d'Avola grape varietal is in the Marsala wines for which Sicily is famous, and it is also used in several excellent still wines. The grapes thrive in dry and arid conditions, and recent decades have seen them planted in California and elsewhere in the New World.
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.
Italy is recognised as being one of the finest wine producing countries in the world, and it isn't difficult to see why. With a vast amount of land across the country used primarily for vineyard cultivation and wine production, each region of Italy manages to produce a wide range of excellent quality wines, each representative of the region it is produced in. Any lover of Italian wines will be able to tell you of the variety the country produces, from the deliciously astringent and alpine-fresh wines of the northern borders, to the deliciously jammy and fruit-forward wines of the south and the Italian islands. Regions such as Barolo are frequently compared with Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, as their oak aged red wines have all the complexity and earthy, spicy excellence of some of the finest wines in the world, and the sparkling wines of Asti and elsewhere in Italy can easily challenge and often exceed the high standards put forward by Champagne. Thanks to excellent terrain and climatic conditions, Italy has long since proven itself a major player in the world of wines, and long may this dedication to quality and excellence continue.