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: Pinot Gris
One of the most versatile and interesting white wine grape varietals widely grown around the world is surely the Pinot Grigio. This grape comes in many different shades and colors, and unsurprisingly, it can also provide a remarkable range of flavors and aromas in the bottle. It is a varietal quite strongly influenced by both the terroir it is grown in, as well as by the expertise and intentions of the winery which is processing it. As such, many Pinot Grigio wines are relatively sweet, due to their high level of natural sugar. However, they can also be very dry for the same reasons, and in many countries they are aged and mellowed, resulting in beautiful tawny amber tones and a very rounded, full bodied character quite unlike white wines made from any other grape varietal.
Alsace is a particularly fascinating region of France when it comes to wine and wine culture. The long, slender Germanic style bottles we often see coming out of Alsatian wineries have become iconic of the region's wine industry, and for centuries, such bottles have been the favorites of the crowned heads of Europe. Riesling and Gewurztraminer have always been the two primary grapes of Alsace, however, there are nine different varietals permitted by French law, most of them being used to make white wine. Alsace produces over a hundred million liters of wine per year, which are exported across the globe and enjoyed by people seeking a fine wine offering something a little different. As such, Alsace is an important global wine producing region, with a character and set of flavors and features which are all its own.
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.