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 Noir
Pinot Noir grapes have been cultivated in and around the Burgundy region of France for centuries, where they have long been favored by vintners for their wide range of flavors, their thin skins and for producing wines which have light, smooth tannins, and a beautiful garnet red color Whilst they remain one of the flagship varietals of this special region, their wide popularity and recent status as a fashionable 'romantic' varietal has led to them being planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. However, the Pinot Noir demands a huge amount of care and attention from the wineries that wish to grow it, as this varietal is particularly susceptible to various forms of mildew and rot. Despite this, the grape is otherwise a favorite with wineries for the fact that it requires little extra effort once it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is also widely known for producing some of the world's most famous sparkling wines, being one of two key grapes for the production of Champagne, and several other sparkling varieties.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
The special region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northern Italy has a long history of producing exceptional white wines in its beautifully mountainous vineyards. Situated between the stunning Italian Alps and the wild Adriatic sea, Friuli-Venezia Giulia's wineries are dedicated to capturing the alpine essence of their wonderful terroir, and the finest wines of the region are famed for their alpine freshness, full of notes of clear mountain waters and lush, green grasses. Because Friuli-Venezia Giulia is so close to the Italian border with Slovenia and Austria, it is normal to find wineries working with grape varietals not normally associated with Italian wines. However, the Riesling wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are undoubtedly amongst the finest in Europe, and French varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir also grow very well there alongside some of Italy's best Pinot Grigio vines.
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.