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.
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
Originating in France yet now grown in many parts of the New World, Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile and highly regarded white wine grape varietals on earth. These green skinned grapes hold a relatively high acid content, and as such can be used for making still white wines of exceptional quality, as well as superb sparkling wines (such as the CrÃ©mant wines of the Loire Valley) and extremely aromatic dessert wines. Their natural transparency means that they are a fine grape for expressing their terroir in the bottle, and winemakers often experiment with this varietal to coax unusual and intense flavors from the grapes, such as allowing the development of noble rot on the fruit in order to make sweet and viscous wines of a unique character.
Region: Loire Valley
The Loire Valley in France is home to many of the world's finest examples of white, rosÃ© and sparkling wines, with a wide range of both dry and sweet examples being produced each year to international claim. Whilst Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc make up for much of the vineyards in the region, certain areas of the Loire Valley also produce superb red wines, such as the Cabernet Franc wines from the Chenin sub-region. This variety and level of excellence has long been admired, with the Loire Valley being highly favored in the middle ages by the crowned heads of Europe, and with a wine-making tradition which stretches back to the first century and perhaps beyond. The region has a wonderful continental climate, where hot summers meet oceanic winds, and excellent rich terroir carried by the river that flows through it.
France is renowned across the globe for its quality wines and the careful expertise which goes into making them, but what is truly remarkable about this relatively small country is the vast range of wines it produces in such huge amounts each year. Not only are the finest red wines in the world said to come from the beautiful regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but elsewhere in the country we find the Champagne region, and areas such as the Rhone Valley and the Loire, whose white wines consistently receive awards and accolades by the plenty. This range is a result of the great variety of climatic conditions and terrain found in France, coupled with generations of wine makers working within single appellations. Their knowledge of specific terroirs and grape varieties has, over time, perfected the production of wines within their region, and the end results continue to impress the world to this day.