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.
Riesling grapes have been grown in and around central Europe for centuries, and over time, they became the lasting symbol of south Germany's ancient and proud wine culture. Whilst the reputation of German wines abroad has in the past been mixed, the Germans themselves take an enormous amount of pride in their wineries, and Riesling grapes have now spread around the globe, growing anywhere with the correct climate in which they can thrive. Riesling grape varietals generally require much cooler climatic conditions than many other white grapes, and they are generally considered to be a very 'terroir expressive' varietal, meaning that the features and characteristics of the terroir they are grown on comes across in the flavors and aromas in the bottle. It is this important feature which has allowed Riesling wines to be elevated into the category of 'fine' white wines, as the features of the top quality bottles are generally considered to be highly unique and offer much to interest wine enthusiasts.
Alsace is a particularly fascinating region of France when it comes to wine and wine culture. The long, slender Germanic style bottles we often see coming out of Alsatian wineries have become iconic of the region's wine industry, and for centuries, such bottles have been the favorites of the crowned heads of Europe. Riesling and Gewurztraminer have always been the two primary grapes of Alsace, however, there are nine different varietals permitted by French law, most of them being used to make white wine. Alsace produces over a hundred million liters of wine per year, which are exported across the globe and enjoyed by people seeking a fine wine offering something a little different. As such, Alsace is an important global wine producing region, with a character and set of flavors and features which are all its own.
French winemakers are subjected to several laws and regulations regarding the wines they produce, and how they can be labeled and sold. Such procedures are designed to increase the overall quality of the country's produce, and also to ensure that wines made in each particular region or appellation are of a character and type which is representative of the area. Thankfully for consumers of wine world-wide, the French have a particularly high reputation to uphold, and seem to do so flawlessly. Every year, wineries from all over France produce millions upon millions of bottles of fine wine, making the most of their native grape varieties and the excellent terrain which covers most of the country. From the expensive and exquisite red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, to the white wines and cremants of central France, the French are dedicated to providing the world with wines of the highest quality and most distinctive character.