2012 has, so far been a positive year for wineries around the world. While it may be a little too early to speak of the wines being made in the northern hemisphere, European and North American wineries have already begun reporting that their harvesting season has been generally very good, and are predicting to continue with the kind of successes they saw in 2011. However, 2012 has been something of a late year for France, due to unpredictable weather throughout the summer, and the grapes were ripening considerably later than they did in 2011 (which was, admittedly, an exceptionally early year). French wineries are claiming, though, that this could well turn out to be advantageous, as the slow ripening will allow the resulting wines to express more flavour and features of the terroir they are grown in.
The southern hemisphere has seen ideal climatic conditions in most of the key wine producing countries, and Australia and New Zealand particularly had a superb year, in particular with the Bordeaux varietal grapes that grow there and which love the humidity these countries received plenty of. Also enjoying a fantastic year for weather were wineries across Argentina and Chile, with the Mendoza region claiming that 2012 will be one of their best vintages of the past decade. Similar claims are being made across the Chilean wine regions, where Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon had an especially good year. These two grape varietals also produced characterful wines on the coastal regions of South Africa this year.
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, the Sauvignon Blanc grape varietal is today found in many different countries around the world. It is a grape which prefers milder temperatures, as too much exposure to heat dulls the juices within the green skinned fruits, leading to wines which are flat and characterless. As such, it is often found in valley regions, or by the coast where it can benefit from cooling oceanic winds before their characteristic early harvest. Indeed, climate appears to be the main variable in regards to the eventual flavor of Sauvignon Blanc wines, and wineries are constantly experimenting with harvesting dates in order to bring out everything from meadow flavors and grassy notes, to citrus and tropical fruit flavors in the bottle. In general, though, Sauvignon Blanc varietal grapes tend to produce wines which are dry, zesty and crisp in their nature, and extremely refreshing when served chilled.
Region: Valle Central
Chile's Valle Central has to be one of the oldest 'New World' wine regions on earth, with a viticultural history which stretches all the way back to the 16th century, and the time of the first European settlers in South America. This long stretch of valleys and mountains, which extends between Maipo and Maule, has grown to become one of the most prodigious and productive wine regions on the continent, with a reputation for big, flavourful and characterful wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Carmenere all flourish in various part of Valle Central, and the many micro-climates which characterize the region allow wineries to experiment and innovate with their crops. Today, the Chilean wine industry is stronger than ever, and quality has for the first time overtaken quantity as a priority, making it something of a golden age for the country's wine producers.
Whilst being widely regarded as definitively 'New World' as a wine producing country, Chile has actually been cultivating grapevines for wine production for over five hundred years. The Iberian conquistadors first introduced vines to Chile with which to make sacramental wines, and although these were considerably different in everything from flavor, aroma and character to the wines we associate with Chile today, the country has a long and interesting heritage when it comes to this drink. Chilean wine production as we know it first arose in the country in the mid to late 19th century, when wealthy landowners and industrialists first began planting vineyards as a way of adopting some European class and style. They quickly discovered that the hot climate, sloping mountainsides and oceanic winds provided a perfect terroir for quality wines, and many of these original estates remain today in all their grandeur and beauty, still producing the wines which made the country famous.