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: Nero D'avola
Sicilian wines are renowned for their brightness and fruitiness, and one of the most important grape varietals grown on this Italian island region is the Nero d'Avola, an ancient and indigenous grape which is responsible for many of Sicily's finest wines. Deep, dark and complex, the Nero d'Avola is often compared with Australia's Shiraz grape as a result of its spicy, peppery nature, and strong flavors of plums and autumn fruits. Nero d'Avola is also well known for being one of the primary grape varietals for the production of Marsala wine, a flavorful and slightly viscous fortified wine which is popular across the globe. The grape flourishes best in hot, dry and arid conditions, and has had some success in New World countries in recent years.
Sicily has been an important wine region for thousands of years, with the ancient Greek settlers being among the first to discover its remarkable aptitude for viticulture. It isn't difficult to understand why they were impressed, and nor is it hard to understand why the island's wine industry continues to boom to this day. The climate on Sicily is ideal for wine production â€“ sunshine beating down on the vineyards almost all year round, and a highly fertile volcanic soil produced from such magnificent peaks as Mount Etna. Sicily's vineyards are mostly used for the production of sweet dessert wines and fortified wines, such as the famous wine of Marsala, but the variety found across the island is impressive, and results in a great range of dry white and red wines packed full of exciting fruit flavors.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.