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 wines in the world with as much of a floral, elegant and summery aroma as those made from the Viognier grape. This fine varietal has been grown in and around the Rhone region of France for centuries, and is believed to have been brought to France by an ancient Roman Emperor, who wished to spread this special grape around his growing empire. Today, wineries in the New World are beginning to experiment with this grape, which is notoriously difficult to grow and highly susceptible to mildew. Vintners must time their harvest just right, as the distinctive fruit-forward and extremely aromatic juices lose much of their character if they are picked too early, or too late. Due to its delicate nature, Viognier wines are often blended, or are allowed to develop noble rot to intensify their characteristics.
Region: Rhone Valley
There are few wine regions in the world with a history as long and illustrious as that of the Rhone Valley in France. For over two thousand years, wines have been produced in this region, benefited by the excellent, mineral-rich soils of the region, and the varied climate which allows a wide range of grape varietals to grow. The Rhone Valley is now split into two quite separate regions, with the north part being characterized by its cooler, continental climate and the limited number of grape varietals grown, and the southern sub-region being perfect for growing a wide range of grapes, and producing an exciting number of different wine styles. The Rhone Valley is associated with elegant, flavorful wines, and certain grape varietals such as Viognier and Syrah, which are adept at expressing the finer features of their terroir.
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.