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.
Without any doubt, the flagship grape varietal of Spain is the Tempranillo. This fine grape varietal has since been grown in several other countries around the world, and continues to be respected and admired for its deep ruby red color, its strong tannins, and the complex and delicious flavors it carries so well. Plum, vanilla, leather, tobacco and herb are just some of the characteristic flavors found in this black skinned grape varietal, and its power and fullness of features makes it a common grape for use in blended wines of exceptional quality. Tempranillo grapes thrive best in regions with a combination of bright, hot sunshine, and cooling breezes, where they can ripen fully and then be aged in oak barrels to mellow, become more rounded and allow their fascinating nature to come forward.
Region: La Rioja
La Rioja is by far the most famous wine region of Spain, and remains one of the world's great wine producing regions, consistently offering deep, complex red wines of character and distinction, partly due to the fact that La Rioja benefits from excellent soils, rich in minerals and nutrients, and plenty of sunshine. The climatic conditions allow the fine grape varietals to reach full ripeness and express plenty of the best features of their terroir, making La Rioja wines some of the most interesting to have ever come out of Europe. The Cantabrian mountains to the north provide the perfect shelter from the colder, wetter influences of the Atlantic oceans, and in the beloved vineyards of La Rioja, wineries have been cultivating exceedingly flavorful Tempranillo grapes for generations for the inclusion in their fine single variety and blended wines.
For over two thousand years, Spain has been responsible for much of Europe's wine production, making the very best of native grape varietals, and more recently experimenting with and perfecting wines made from imported grapes. Of course, the region of La Rioja is renowned world-wide for the quality and characteristics of its wines, which benefit greatly from the warm, dry continental climate of the area, and the fertile soils of the Ebro river basin. However, there is far more to Spanish produce than the complex, aromatic and earthy red wine of this region, as a result of the vast range of wine making traditions and practices, and terrains and climatic conditions found across the country. The region Castilla y Leon produces some of Europe's finest white wines, and the sparkling wines of Cava and the sherries of Jerez are firm favorites for wine lovers around the world.