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
The rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) wines over the past decade has led to this particular grape varietal being planted in many countries around the world in enormous quantities. These grapes range in color from grayish blue to lilac and amber, and with many shades in between. However, they are most prized for their wide range of flavors and aromas, and their relatively high level of 'transparency', or the ability to put across elements of their terroir in the bottle. The Pinot Grigio varietal also has a relatively high natural sugar content, which means that wineries have plenty of scope when it comes to processing their juices, resulting in semi-sweet Pinot Grigio wines, or very lean, crisp and dry examples depending on how much fermentation has been allowed.
For lovers of fine white and rosÃ© wines, there are few regions in the world quite as good as France's Alsace. The region itself is a particularly fascinating one, as it has long been fought over by France and Germany, resulting in a culture and wine industry which is something of a blend of the two countries. Wines in Alsace are almost all white, although there are more wineries now producing the pale red or pinkish Pinot Noir wines which the region is also renowned for. Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are also grown in huge quantities across the Alsace, and most of the region's wines are made from these varietals. Overall, Alsace is a highly productive region of France, with over a hundred million liters of wine being produced annually from the nine permitted grape varietals the region grows.
It is widely understood and accepted that the finest wines in the world come out of France. Whether you are drinking a vintage bottle from one of the famed Grand Cru wineries of Bordeaux - such as Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite-Rothschild - or a more simple and affordable bottle from one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy, the likelihood is that the wine is packed full of intense and interesting flavors, and has a fine, balanced structure typical of almost all French produce. This reputation for excellence is taken extremely serious by the French, with dozens of regularly updated laws and regulations ensuring the quality and accurate labeling of wines. Such dedication and passion for fine wine, representative of the region in which it is produced, means customers can be assured that when they buy a bottle from France, they are buying something almost certain to please and delight.