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
New Zealand is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse countries in the world, and the wines which are produced there are a fine representation of this diversity and overall quality. With beautifully long and warm summers, a brisk oceanic climate and mile upon mile of gently sloping mountainsides, the vineyards which have sprung up there over the past century have brought about truly fantastic results, with wine now contributing a considerable amount to the economy of the country. In recent years, New Zealand wines have won some of the most prestigious awards available in the wine world, with most of the lauded wineries coming from the Auckland region, where there has been considerable effort to replicate the finest wines of the Bordeaux region of France. The Bordeaux grape varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) all flourish in the mineral rich soil of the region, and the results have been outstanding, marking New Zealand a strong contender for finest New World wine country.