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.
Merlot has long been a grape associated with excellent quality of character and flavor, and has spread around the globe as a result of its relative hardiness and reliability. From Chile to Bordeaux, Merlot vines grow to ripeness, and end up producing a remarkably wide variety of wines. Single variety wines made from Merlot grapes tend to be beautifully rich in color, and packed full of jammy, hedgerow flavors and notes of plum and currant, and ideal for newcomers to red wines as a result of their medium body. This medium body comes about due to the fact that the skin of Merlot grapes tends to be quite thin, meaning that the tannin content of Merlot wines is lower than those made from other blue-black grapes. The mellowness and roundedness which results is ideal for blending, also, and Merlot is used as a blending grape in some of the world's finest wineries, to produce aged wines of exceptional character.
All over the stunning region of Tuscany in central Italy, you'll see rolling hills covered in green, healthy grapevines. This region is currently Italy's third largest producer of wines, but interestingly wineries here are generally happy with lower yields holding higher quality grapes, believing that they have a responsibility to uphold the excellent reputation of Tuscany, rather than let it slip into 'quantity over quality' wine-making as it did in the mid twentieth century. The region has a difficult soil type to work with, but the excellent climate and generations of expertise more than make up for this problem. Most commonly, Tuscan vintners grow Sangiovese and Vernaccia varietal grapes, although more and more varietals are being planted nowadays in order to produce other high quality wine styles.
For several decades in the mid to late twentieth century, Italy's reputation for quality wines took a fairly serious blow. This was brought about partly due to lack of regulation in certain regions, and too much regulation in others. This led to several wineries in the beautiful and highly fertile region of Tuscany making the bold move to work outside of the law, which they saw as responsible for the drop in quality in Tuscan wines. They believed that they had the expertise and the generations of experience necessary with which to make truly excellent, world class wines, and set about doing just that. These 'Super Tuscans', as they came to be known, quickly inspired the rest of Italy to improve their produce, and now, Italian wine producers in the twenty-first century are widely recognised to be amongst the best in the world. Regulation and law began to change, and wine drinkers across the globe woke up to the outstanding wines coming out of Italy, which are continuing to improve and impress to this day.