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
Regularly described as being the grape varietal responsible for producing the world's most romantic wines, Pinot Noir has long been associated with elegance and a broad range of flavors The name means 'black pine' in French, and this is due to the fact that the fruit of this particular varietal is especially dark in color, and hangs in a conical shape, like that of a pine cone. Despite being grown today in almost every wine producing country, Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape variety to cultivate. This is because it is especially susceptible to various forms of mold and mildew, and thrives best in steady, cooler climates. However, the quality of the fruit has ensured that wineries and vintners have persevered with the varietal, and new technologies and methods have overcome many of the problems it presents. Alongside this, the wide popularity and enthusiasm for this grape has ensured it will remain a firm favorite amongst wine drinkers for many years to come.
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
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.