Despite less than ideal climatic conditions, featuring storms which threatened an otherwise perfect year, most parts of California had an excellent year for viticulture. Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs were picked at optimum ripeness, and Californian white wine was just about as good as it could be. Surprises and overcoming difficulties summed up much of the United States' wine industry in 2009, and many of the results from Oregon, Washington State and all over California speak for themselves, with the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon grapes having developed healthy, thick skins and thus plenty of character and distinction. Elsewhere in the New World, South Africa had a very good year in 2009, and wineries across the cape of the African continent are proclaiming it a truly great vintage.
In most of Europe, fine weather and punctual ripening periods produced some excellent wines, with many of the best coming out of France's Bordeaux and the surrounding regions. Merlot had an exceptionally good year in France, and wineries are proclaiming that the 2009 Merlot harvest was one of the best in living memory. Indeed, across most of France, ripening was relatively even, and red wine grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah and others were reportedly highly characterful, with plenty of the required tannin levels with which to make high quality wines. Italy, too, had a very good 2009. Piedmont reported extremely favorable conditions throughout 2009, and their signature Nebbiolo grapes were more or less perfect when harvested, having benefited from the slight drop in temperature at the end of their ripening period. Veneto, too, had an enviable year, producing superb Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay wines in 2009.
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.
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.
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.