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.
Montepulciano varietal grapes have been popular in Italy and elsewhere in the world for a very long time, and continue to be grown in vast quantities in Italy to this day. Indeed, they are second most commonly cultivated red wine grape varietal in their native Italy, and grow everywhere in the country except for in the north, where the climate is a little too cold for them to ripen fully. Recent decades have seen them planted in several New World countries, where they are equally popular with vintners looking for a varietal which produces high yields of a reliable quality. The grapes are renowned for producing quite light bodied wines, as the fruit has a low acid and tannin level. However, there are plenty of pigments within the grape skins, meaning that Montepulciano is a grape varietal which produces beautifully deep colored wines.
The Italian wine region of Marche is amongst the most important and fascinating to be found in the country, with a history which stretches back almost three thousand years and has seen civilizations rise and fall around its plentiful vineyards. Indeed, the Pheonicians, the Romans and the Lombards all cultivated vines in Marche, and used the high quality, mineral rich soils and brisk Adriatic climate to their full potential, producing grapes of exceptional ripeness and quality. Today, Marche has over sixty thousand acres under vine, and is a region most readily associated with superb white wines made from Trebbiano and Verdicchio varietal grapes, both prized for their crisp dryness and distinctive herbaceous notes. The region is also home to many superb red wines, spread across wineries in its many DOC and DOCG titled appellations.
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.