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 grapes have been cultivated in and around the Burgundy region of France for centuries, where they have long been favored by vintners for their wide range of flavors, their thin skins and for producing wines which have light, smooth tannins, and a beautiful garnet red color Whilst they remain one of the flagship varietals of this special region, their wide popularity and recent status as a fashionable 'romantic' varietal has led to them being planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. However, the Pinot Noir demands a huge amount of care and attention from the wineries that wish to grow it, as this varietal is particularly susceptible to various forms of mildew and rot. Despite this, the grape is otherwise a favorite with wineries for the fact that it requires little extra effort once it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is also widely known for producing some of the world's most famous sparkling wines, being one of two key grapes for the production of Champagne, and several other sparkling varieties.
Region: Central Otago
Central Otago in New Zealand is one of the world's most unique wine regions. Not only is it the most southerly wine region on earth, at an astonishing latitude of forty five degrees south, it is also at a high altitude, being up to four hundred meters above sea level. However, its location is somewhat ideal for viticulture, being shielded from cold winds by a mountain range, and enjoying the extremely mineral rich and volcanic soils found on the glacial valley sides of the region. Today, Central Otago is best known for its remarkably flavorful and characterful red wines, most commonly made from the fine Pinot Noir grapes which flourish there in the hot and dry summer months, alongside some superb white wines made from a range of grape varietals.
Country: New Zealand
When it comes to New World wines, few countries can compete with Europe quite as well as New Zealand, where modern techniques and technologies are allowing wineries to get the very best results from the wide range of imported grape varieties which flourish there. The warm, sunny climate coupled with brisk oceanic winds and remarkably fertile volcanic soils produce grapes of exceptional quality, and New Zealand wines are notable for their ability to carry the terroir they are grown on into the bottle. Whilst the Sauvignon Blanc wines are probably the most widely exported and popular to come out of new Zealand, fantastic results have been produced from the Bordeaux style wines made in the Auckland region, and the Pinot Noir wines of Central Otago. These Pinot Noir wines are far more fleshy than their Burgundy counterparts, and are probably best enjoyed when young, and bursting with the fruit flavors they carry so well.