The year 2011 was an interesting year for many northern and central European countries, as the weather was more than unpredictable in the spring and summer. However, in most countries, the climatic conditions thankfully settled down in the late summer and fall. The result of this slightly difficult year of weather in France was a set of surprisingly small yields, but overall, these yields were of a higher quality than those harvested in certain previous years. A fantastic set of wines was also made in Italy and Spain, and the Rioja wines - when released - are set to be very good indeed. Austria also had superb year in 2011, with almost fifty percent more grapes being grown and used for their distinctive Gruner Veltliner wines than in the year before. Possibly the European country which had the finest 2011, though, was Portugal, with wineries in the Douro region claiming this year to be one of the best in decades for the production of Port wine, and the bright, young Vinho Verdes wines.
In the New World, the Pacific Northwest saw some of the best weather of 2011, and Washington State and Oregon reportedly had a highly successful year, especially for the cultivation of high quality red wine grapes. Chile and Argentina had a relatively cool year, which certainly helped retain the character of many of their key grape varietals, and should make for some exciting drinking. South Africa had especially good weather for their white wine grape varietals, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and many South African wineries are reporting 2011 as one of their best years in recent memory.
In the past couple of decades, the sales of wines made with Chardonnay grapes has risen and fallen more than once. For many people, this green skinned grape was marred by a poor reputation for bland and uninteresting wines, a great shame considering the fact that Chardonnay grapes have proven time and time again to be interesting, versatile and full of surprises. Most commonly, fine Chardonnay wines are buttery, smooth and creamy as a result of malolactic fermentation, yet with hints of tropical fruits and orchard fruits such as apples and pears. What is most remarkable about Chardonnay grapes, however, is the fact that unlike many other 'white' grapes, they are exceptionally good at holding the characteristics of their terroir in the bottle. As such, despite their fluctuating reputation, this is one grape varietal which produces constantly surprising, impressive and varied wines.
Argentina's Cuyo region has, for several decades now, been renowned worldwide for the high quality of its fruit-forward and remarkably flavorful wines. The arid region includes such famous provinces as the Mendoza, and wineries in Cuyo often have generations of experience when it comes to making the most of the mineral rich yet arid soils which typify the mountainous landscape. The Desaguadero River and its tributaries form many natural valleys through the Cuyo region, and as such, irrigation has long since provided the dry and dusty vineyard with a fertile and crystal-clear water source, straight from the snowy peaks of the nearby Andes. Although Malbec is the grape varietal most commonly associated with Cuyo, wineries continue to experiment with other varietals there, and the wine industry of Cuyo in Argentina continues to go from strength to strength.
It is said that the first Argentinian vines were planted in the Mendoza more than four hundred years ago by European settlers, and despite these early wines being used primarily for religious purposes, the fervor for wine making never left the area. Today, Argentina is keen to demonstrate its technological prowess when it comes to vineyard cultivation, by combining traditional methods of irrigation left over from the Huarpes Indians with modern techniques in order to make the dry, arid desert an ideal environment for growing grapes. Indeed, these ancient irrigation channels, dug hundreds of years ago and still in use today, bring mineral-rich melt water from the Andes via the Mendoza river, something which gives the grapes grown in this region some of their character. The primary grape of this and other regions of Argentina is the Malbec, which is highly susceptible to rot in its native France, but which thrives in the dry and hot climate of South America, producing rich and plummy wines which are highly drinkable especially when young.