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
One of the key flagship grape varietals of the beautiful island of Sicily is Nero d'Avola, a black skinned grape which is recognized as being one of Italy's most important and long lasting indigenous grapes. Often, wines made from the Nero d'Avola varietal are compared with Australian Shiraz wines, as they share the same spicy, peppery and fruit-forward notes, and are easily drinkable with a sunny, juicy character which makes them ideal for pairing with a wide range of foods. The Nero d'Avola has been grown in the Sicilian region of Avola for centuries, but has more recently been cultivated in California and elsewhere in the New World, where it thrives in arid landscapes and hot climates. As such, the ancient influence of this grape varietal is beginning to find fans all over the globe, and is likely to spread to even more countries in the near future.
The island of Sicily is one of those wine regions which seems to be designed for the production of quality wines. Not only does it have extremely fertile soils, helped by volcanic activity of such peaks as Etna, but the climate is absolutely ideal for the ripening of beautiful grape varietals, with almost year-round sunshine and cooling sea breezes. Sicily has been using such factors for growing grapevines for thousands of years, and is a truly ancient wine region steeped in tradition. Wineries on the island make a wide variety of wines, which are much loved for their ability to express plenty of exciting fruit flavors and sunny, tempting aromas, but Sicily is most well known for the dessert and fortified wines based around the port town of Marsala.
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.