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.
For thousands of years, Sicily has been producing high quality wines of several different styles which are consistently enjoyed all over the world. The ancient Greeks may have been the first to recognize how perfect this island was for viticulture, but today a huge area of Sicily is covered in vineyards growing plenty of different grape varietals and resulting in some of Italy's finest wines. This unique wine region produces a considerable percentage of Italy's overall wines, and it isn't difficult to see how wineries have flourished on the island. With beautiful year-round sunshine, cooling sea breezes helping the grapes reach full ripeness, along with the highly fertile volcanic soil which is typical of Sicily, it should come as no surprise this is one of Europe's oldest and most productive wine regions.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.