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.
The Tempranillo grape varietal is often referred to as Spain's 'noble grape', and has over the past century been planted in several countries around the world. Tempranillo grapes produce beautiful ruby red wines, packed full of fascinating flavors which range from intensely fruity, to deep, dark and spicy, holding notes of vanilla, tobacco and leather. Their black skins hold plenty of tannins, and as such, they are often blended with other more rounded or brighter wines, to balance out the character and produce some truly exceptional examples. Tempranillo grapes often fall to a wide range of diseases, and are greatly effected by climatic conditions. They tend to grow best, however, in areas with a mixture of heat and bright sunshine, and brisk breezes which can cool the vines.
Region: La Rioja
La Rioja is by far the most famous wine region of Spain, and remains one of the world's great wine producing regions, consistently offering deep, complex red wines of character and distinction, partly due to the fact that La Rioja benefits from excellent soils, rich in minerals and nutrients, and plenty of sunshine. The climatic conditions allow the fine grape varietals to reach full ripeness and express plenty of the best features of their terroir, making La Rioja wines some of the most interesting to have ever come out of Europe. The Cantabrian mountains to the north provide the perfect shelter from the colder, wetter influences of the Atlantic oceans, and in the beloved vineyards of La Rioja, wineries have been cultivating exceedingly flavorful Tempranillo grapes for generations for the inclusion in their fine single variety and blended wines.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.