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.
The Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
Tuscany has been producing fine wines for almost three thousand years, and as such is widely recognized as being one of the key Old World wine regions which have shaped the way we understand and enjoy quality wines throughout history. Interestingly, the region is typified by a unique soil type which is not particularly good for growing grapevines, but in Tuscany, the emphasis has always been on quality over quantity, and low yields with high levels of flavor and intensity are preferred, and have become a feature of the region's wine industry. The main grape varietals grown in Tuscany are Sangiovese for the distinctive, flavorful and complex red wines, and Vernaccia for the exquisite dry white wines, although the last couple of decades have seen more varietals grown and an increasing trend towards 'Bordeaux style' wines.
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.