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 continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
Victoria is a fascinating region for lovers of Australian wines, and consistently provides plenty of exciting and pleasant surprises for wine drinkers around the world. The six hundred or so wineries which operate in this cool and coastal south western region of Australia have always had a dedication for quality over quantity, and a reputation for openness to experimentation unmatched elsewhere in the country. As such, the range of red and white grape varietals which grow exceedingly well there result in a wide variety of wines, of many different styles. Amongst the finest are the Old World style wines made from classic French grapes such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many fascinating fortified wines and dessert wines.
Whilst most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.