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: Cabernet Sauvignon
For most of us, when we look for red wines in a wine store or supermarket, the name Cabernet Sauvignon stands out as a mark of quality and reliability. The same can be said for the way those who cultivate the grapevines see them, too, as part of the reason Cabernet Sauvignon varietal grapes have had so much success all over the world is due to their hardiness against frost, reliability in regards to yield and quality, and great resistance to rot. As such, Cabernet Sauvignon is a winemaker's dream of a grape, consistently delivering excellence alongside a few pleasant surprises. Despite the fact that the grape on its own in a young wine can often be a bit overpowering, too astringent and challenging for many tastes, it is the perfect grape varietal for blending and aging in oak. Such a truth has been displayed for centuries now in some of the finest wineries on earth, for whom Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are the grape which adds the punch to their world-beating blended wines.
The beautiful Spanish wine region of Catalunya has a history of viticulture which stretches back for over a thousand years, and has been influenced by a wide range of people who moved through the region, and brought their wine making skills and expertise with them. The region itself is a sizeable one, covering an area of sixty thousand hectares, and within this space there resides over two hundred individual wineries, ranging from small, independent and traditional ones to the larger, mass production bodegas known around the world. The terroir of Catalunya is varied, and ranges from being dry and arid, to more lush and green in the wetter parts of the region which are closer to the coast. This variation in terroir results in a fantastic range of grape varietals being grown, and a wide range of wine styles are produced within Catalunya.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.