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 Negroamaro grape has been grown in Puglia, Italy, for at least eight hundred years, and is believed to have been brought to the region by traveling tradesmen from Asia Minor. It quickly became an important grape for the region, and is used to this day in many of the finest wines of southern Italy. As its name suggests, the Negroamaro grape is a black skinned fruit, high in tannins and holding plenty of big, juicy fruit flavors It is also widely celebrated for its rustic character, and holds a natural earthy bitterness in its fermented juices which give the wines made from the Negroamaro grape a unique character. It is often used as a blending grape, as it produces quite a dark and high alcohol wine, but the single variety wines are beautifully complex and aromatic, and not to be missed.
Italy's beautiful southern wine region of Puglia is a fascinating place for fans of Italian wines. Situated in the very 'heel' of the country, sticking down into the Mediterranean sea, one can hardly imagine a more perfect place for viticulture. Rich, fertile volcanic soils help the grapes take on real character and stunning flavours, and the blazing sunshine of the long summers allows them to reach exceptional levels of ripeness. The wines of Puglia are a great example of how certain Italian regions are throwing off the poor reputations of yesteryear, and using their traditional techniques and methods to create characterful wines, packed full of unique flavours. Puglian wines are renowned for their large, powerful and boisterous characters, and their excellent structure which supports their strong and unique fruit flavours.
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.