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.
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is one of the planet's most widely grown and enjoyed grape varietals, and thanks to the popularity of the key wines it is associated with â€“ Burgundy and Champagne â€“ it has successfully spread from its native home in France to much of the wine producing world. Pinot Noir means 'black pine' in French, and this refers to the extremely dark, inky color of the fruit, and the fact that it grows in conical bunches, resembling a large pine cone. It has long been revered for its wide range of refreshing, summery flavors, and the fact that it produces red wines of a beautiful garnet color and light body. More recently, sparkling wines made exclusively with Pinot Noir have been extremely popular, and the orchard notes found in the fizzy 'blanc des noirs' wines mark out just how versatile this grape varietal really is. Despite being notoriously difficult to grow, it isn't hard to see why this grape is now found in vineyards all over the world, as it is synonymous with romance and decadence, quality and fantastic flavor
Region: Central Otago
Being in the south of New Zealand's lower island, there is no question of the fact that Central Otago is the most southerly wine region on earth. However, despite its rather extreme positioning, the past century or so has proven that Central Otago is in fact something of an idyllic area for viticulture, being shielded by the harsh, oceanic climate by a mountain range which results in a favorable micro climate. Indeed, the region enjoys long, hot and dry summers followed by pleasant autumns, perfect for ripening grapes. This did not go unnoticed by early French settlers in the 19th century, and before long, vineyards were being planted on the sides of vast glacial valleys, and even the earliest results were promising. Today, Central Otago produces an impressive quantity of wine, mostly made with the ever-present Pinot Noir grape varietal, and exports it all over the world.
Country: New Zealand
New Zealand has consistently impressed over the past few decades, with many proclaiming this southern country as being the 'pearl' of the New World wine locations. One of the key attributes of New Zealand wines is their wonderful fruit-forward flavors, which make them a favorite with newcomers to wine, as they manage to be deliciously drinkable without posing many challenges. That isn't to say there is little complexity or interesting features to their wines, as one can easily discover through the fantastic range of wines available â€“ from smoky and mineral rich Sauvignon Blancs, to juicy and plummy Pinot Noirs and the beautiful Bordeaux style wines sourced from the excellent Auckland region. New Zealand wineries clearly have a dedication to quality alongside quantity, and such zeal and expertise is quickly helping them become established as world leaders in regards to both domestic sales and exported wines.