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.
Aglianico is a black skinned grape most commonly associated with the exquisite wines of the Campania region of Italy. It thrives most happily in hot and dry climates, and as such, has had plenty of success in the New World, particularly in the United States, where it is used to great effect in many red wines. It was believed to come from Greece several thousand years ago, brought by Pheonician tradesman, and was wildly popular in Roman times, when it was used in the finest wines made by the Roman empire. Aglianico grapes produce full bodied red wines which have a high tannin and acid content. As such, it has excellent ageing potential, and with a standard amount of time in a barrel, it rounds out and mellows to produce beautifully balanced wines.
For over three thousand years now, Campania has been one of Europe's most important and enduring wine regions. A thousand years before the Romans helped spread Italian wines around the known world, Campanian farmers and vintners were experimenting with their vast array of native grape varietals, and producing wines which went down in history due to their quality, their strength of character and their fine aromas and flavors What makes Campania so special? There are, of course, many theories. However, one only has to look at the exceptional volcanic soils, and hot, dry Mediterranean climate of the region in order to begin understanding just why the grapes here grow so well and express so many fine characteristics. This special region has been producing quality wines since time immemorial, and it seems unlikely it will stop doing so any time soon.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.