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
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
The Barossa Valley in Australia is one of the New World's most interesting wine regions, having been established in the late 19th century by German settlers. The region benefits enormously from the relatively temperate climate, which ranges from being hot on the lower parts of the valley, to quite cool as the altitude increases on the valley slopes. Barossa Valley produces mostly Shiraz wines, and has become one of the key Australian regions for this distinctive grape varietal which has gone on to be a major grape for the Australian wine industry. Despite suffering from a poor reputation in the mid 20th century, by the 1980s, plenty of unique and forward-thinking wineries set up in Barossa to take advantage of its excellent climate, and set about producing the excellent red and white wines which the region is famed for today.
Whilst most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.