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 Gris
The rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) wines over the past decade has led to this particular grape varietal being planted in many countries around the world in enormous quantities. These grapes range in color from grayish blue to lilac and amber, and with many shades in between. However, they are most prized for their wide range of flavors and aromas, and their relatively high level of 'transparency', or the ability to put across elements of their terroir in the bottle. The Pinot Grigio varietal also has a relatively high natural sugar content, which means that wineries have plenty of scope when it comes to processing their juices, resulting in semi-sweet Pinot Grigio wines, or very lean, crisp and dry examples depending on how much fermentation has been allowed.
Situated in and around the Andean mountains, the Cuyo region of Argentina has long been associated with the best of the country's wine industry. Including now world famous provinces such as Mendoza and La Rioja, Argentina's Cuyo region has something of an ideal environment for the cultivation of high quality grapes â€“ including Argentina's flagship varietal, the Malbec â€“ which includes the beautiful Desaguadero River and its tributaries. Although the region itself is quite dry and arid, the soils have a remarkably high mineral content, and plenty of iron which gives it the distinctive red color associated with Cuyo. For several decades now, wineries in Cuyo have been booming, as more and more of the global wine audience begin to recognize the region's remarkable potential for rich and flavorful wines.
Anyone who has been the Mendoza area of Argentina may be surprised to find that this is one of the primary wine regions of the country, now comfortably sitting as the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. The Mendoza is an incredibly dry and arid desert, which receives as little as two hundred millimeters of rainfall per year, and supports very little life at all. We can thank the ancient technologies of the Huarpes Indians for Argentina's current booming wine trade, as they managed to irrigate the region by digging channels from the Mendoza river, thus creating an area which had enough access to water with which to grow vines. Not only this, but the grape which Argentina primarily uses for their wines â€“ Malbec â€“ actually flourishes in such conditions, as it is less likely to suffer from the rot it so often finds in the considerably damper regions of Europe it has its origins in. Such expertise and foresight has resulted in Argentina being able to produce high quality wines of both red and white types, with Malbec, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon dominating the vineyards for red wines, and TorrontÃ©s, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc making up for most of the white wine produced there.