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.
There are few white wine grape varietals as famous or widely appreciated as the Chardonnay, and with good reason. This highly flexible and adaptable grape quickly became a favorite of wineries due to its fairly neutral character. This neutrality allows the wineries to really show off what they are capable of doing, by allowing features of their terroir or aging process to come forward in the bottle. As well as this, most high quality wineries which produce Chardonnay wines take great efforts to induce what is known as malolactic fermentation, which is the conversion of tart malic acids in the grapes to creamy, buttery lactic acids associated with fine Chardonnay. Whilst the popularity of Chardonnay wines has fluctuated quite a considerable amount over the past few decades, it seems the grape varietal allows enough experimentation and versatility for it always to make a successful comeback.
Region: Valle Central
Chile's Valle Central has to be one of the oldest 'New World' wine regions on earth, with a viticultural history which stretches all the way back to the 16th century, and the time of the first European settlers in South America. This long stretch of valleys and mountains, which extends between Maipo and Maule, has grown to become one of the most prodigious and productive wine regions on the continent, with a reputation for big, flavourful and characterful wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Carmenere all flourish in various part of Valle Central, and the many micro-climates which characterize the region allow wineries to experiment and innovate with their crops. Today, the Chilean wine industry is stronger than ever, and quality has for the first time overtaken quantity as a priority, making it something of a golden age for the country's wine producers.
Whilst being widely regarded as definitively 'New World' as a wine producing country, Chile has actually been cultivating grapevines for wine production for over five hundred years. The Iberian conquistadors first introduced vines to Chile with which to make sacramental wines, and although these were considerably different in everything from flavor, aroma and character to the wines we associate with Chile today, the country has a long and interesting heritage when it comes to this drink. Chilean wine production as we know it first arose in the country in the mid to late 19th century, when wealthy landowners and industrialists first began planting vineyards as a way of adopting some European class and style. They quickly discovered that the hot climate, sloping mountainsides and oceanic winds provided a perfect terroir for quality wines, and many of these original estates remain today in all their grandeur and beauty, still producing the wines which made the country famous.