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.
Grenache grapes have long been cultivated in various parts of Europe, and are noted for being particularly successful in arid regions which are both hot and very dry. As such, they are ideal for many New World countries, and have quickly established themselves as one of the most widely grown red wine grape varietals in the world. The Grenache grape is easily identifiable by its purple skin, and tightly hanging bunches which grow quite rigorously in the correct conditions. They are most commonly associated with light bodied wines, with little tannins or acidity, yet quite a high alcohol content. As such, they are very versatile, and are regularly used for both single variety and blended wines, in which their strong and unique features can shine through.
Region: La Rioja
Spanish wines have always been packed full of character and tradition, making Spain a fascinating country for any fan of Old World wines. By far the most beloved and well known wine region in Spain is La Rioja, a lush and fertile region in the north of the country, famed for its superb single variety and blended red wines, usually made from Tempranillo and Garnacha varietal grapes. These two key grape varietals have been cultivated in this part of Spain for centuries, and are capable of expressing not only the rich, delicious fruit flavors they carry, but also the finer features of their terroir. La Rioja's terroirs are fine ones indeed, with a range of mineral rich soils, and climatic conditions which are ideal for viticulture, resulting in wines of real character and distinction.
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.