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.
For millennia, the Tempranillo grape varietal has been esteemed and revered by winemakers in their native Spain. These grapes are packed full of intense and fascinating flavors, often rewarding wine drinkers with notes of tobacco, leather, plum and herbs alongside their spicy and full bodied character. Their thick, black skins result in their wines being very deep red in color, and often high in tannins. As such, Tempranillo grapes are usually blended with other fine varietals to produce exceptionally balanced and delicious blended wines, such as those found in La Riot and other important wine regions around the world. Despite them being a notoriously tricky varietal to grow, their popularity continues to increase, and winemakers continue to impress the world with this excellent example of a red wine grape.
Region: La Rioja
The northern Spanish region of La Rioja has been producing many of Spain's finest and most characterful wines for generations, and is a historic region of country featuring several fascinating examples of ancient wine making practices. The wines of La Rioja stand up as some of the finest in the world, with devoted fans across the globe drawn to their rich flavors, relatively light body, and complex, deep and enticing aromas. Typically, wineries in La Rioja use the fine Tempranillo grapes which grow in abundance on the excellent soils of the region, and occasionally blend their wines with the highly aromatic Garnacha varietal, amongst others. There has also been an increase of interest in La Rioja's superb white wines in recent years, which usually utilize the Viura varietal grape and result in exquisite aged bottles.
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.