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.
In southern Italy, and particularly the area of Salento in Puglia, some of the finest red wines are made from the Negroamaro grape, a dark colored grape which has a rather unique character, resulting in wines of singular quality and flavor The name 'Negroamaro' directly translates a 'black-bitter' in Italian, and the earthy bitterness of the grapes is something highly prized by vintners looking to make traditional and rustic red wines from this varietal. The grapes also have a highly aromatic character, and a strong set of fruit flavors which can often be a little overpowering. For this reason, the Negroamaro grape is most commonly used as a blending grape, adding body and flavor to weaker varietals. However, it is also used for very interesting single variety bottles, which are much loved in the region they are grown.
In the very south of Italy, in the heel of the country's 'boot', we find the beautiful and sun drenched region of Puglia. Puglian wines suffered from a poor reputation throughout much of the twentieth century, with the region being generally associated with mass produced wines, more concerned with bulk and quantity than the quality of the produce. However, the past decade has seen a concerted effort on the part of the vintners of Puglia to do away with the region's negative connotations, and Puglian wines have undergone something of a renaissance. With awards and acclaim being piled upon the region, there has never been a better time to explore these characterful, flavorful and deeply exciting wines, packed as they are with big, boisterous dark fruit flavors and interesting attributes.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.