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.
In the past couple of decades, the sales of wines made with Chardonnay grapes has risen and fallen more than once. For many people, this green skinned grape was marred by a poor reputation for bland and uninteresting wines, a great shame considering the fact that Chardonnay grapes have proven time and time again to be interesting, versatile and full of surprises. Most commonly, fine Chardonnay wines are buttery, smooth and creamy as a result of malolactic fermentation, yet with hints of tropical fruits and orchard fruits such as apples and pears. What is most remarkable about Chardonnay grapes, however, is the fact that unlike many other 'white' grapes, they are exceptionally good at holding the characteristics of their terroir in the bottle. As such, despite their fluctuating reputation, this is one grape varietal which produces constantly surprising, impressive and varied wines.
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.
When the wealthy new landowners of the 19th century began planting large vineyards in the fertile central valleys of Chile, they must have been impressed at how successful the imported Old World grape varietals took to the land. However, such a fact is hardly surprising; with eight months of blazing sunshine coupled with oceanic winds from the west, and crystal clear spring waters from the Andes irrigating the soil, grapes such as Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were given everything they needed to flourish, and more. As the centuries passed, Chilean wineries continued to expand and experiment, resulting in a wide range of wine production methods and techniques, and consistently producing fine quality wines perfect for the international market. Nowadays, Chile is renowned for producing a wide variety of crisp white wines, and juicy, fruity reds enjoyed around the world for their drinkability and flavorful character, making this country very much one of the 'New World', albeit one with a fascinating link to the Old.