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.
Although primarily associated with the Rhone region of France, the precise origins of the Viognier grape variety are unknown, and the subject of much debate. However, these fine and delicate green skinned grapes are an important varietal for many of France's most elegant white wines, and they are quickly beginning to spread around the New World, too, where wineries are discovering their unique qualities and unusual character. Viognier grapes are notoriously difficult to grow, due to the fact they are highly susceptible to mildew, but wineries persevere with them nonetheless, producing wines which are highly aromatic and have a great, fruit-forward character. Their delicate aroma suggests sweetness due to its flowery, sappy nature, but the wine itself generally very dry and crisp, and full of summery, light and refined qualities.
Located near the city of Adelaide, the Barossa Valley is one of Australia's principle wine producing regions, benefiting as it does from the cool climate which typifies the sloping valley sides and the excellent soil that is found there. Founded by German settlers in the late 19th century, Barossa Valley has long since been associated with the high quality Shiraz varietal grapes which are grown there, and have since become the flagship grape varietal for the best of Australia's produce, celebrated widely for their intensity of flavor and dark, complex character. However, recent years have seen the innovative wineries which cover this region experiment with plenty of other grape varietals, and plenty of success has been found with Grenache, Chardonnay and Semillon, amongst several others.
Whilst most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.