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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
The historic mountainous region of Cuyo in central-west Argentina, remains the nation's key wine producing area to this day, producing over eighty percent of the country's wines. Argentinian wines have gone from strength to strength over the past few decades, and it is undoubtedly the region of Cuyo which produces Argentina's most characterful and representative wines. Cuyo's dry and arid soil, rich in iron and other minerals has proven to be an ideal environment for the cultivation of Malbec grapes, alongside several other varietals which thrive in the hot climate and reach full ripeness each autumn, expressing their fruit-forward character. The vineyards of Cuyo are fed by the great Desaguadero River and its tributaries, helped by the extensive irrigation projects which have been undertaken over the past century.
Anyone who has been the Mendoza area of Argentina may be surprised to find that this is one of the primary wine regions of the country, now comfortably sitting as the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. The Mendoza is an incredibly dry and arid desert, which receives as little as two hundred millimeters of rainfall per year, and supports very little life at all. We can thank the ancient technologies of the Huarpes Indians for Argentina's current booming wine trade, as they managed to irrigate the region by digging channels from the Mendoza river, thus creating an area which had enough access to water with which to grow vines. Not only this, but the grape which Argentina primarily uses for their wines â€“ Malbec â€“ actually flourishes in such conditions, as it is less likely to suffer from the rot it so often finds in the considerably damper regions of Europe it has its origins in. Such expertise and foresight has resulted in Argentina being able to produce high quality wines of both red and white types, with Malbec, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon dominating the vineyards for red wines, and TorrontÃ©s, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc making up for most of the white wine produced there.