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.
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir grapes have been cultivated in and around the Burgundy region of France for centuries, where they have long been favored by vintners for their wide range of flavors, their thin skins and for producing wines which have light, smooth tannins, and a beautiful garnet red color Whilst they remain one of the flagship varietals of this special region, their wide popularity and recent status as a fashionable 'romantic' varietal has led to them being planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. However, the Pinot Noir demands a huge amount of care and attention from the wineries that wish to grow it, as this varietal is particularly susceptible to various forms of mildew and rot. Despite this, the grape is otherwise a favorite with wineries for the fact that it requires little extra effort once it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is also widely known for producing some of the world's most famous sparkling wines, being one of two key grapes for the production of Champagne, and several other sparkling varieties.
Germany's thriving wine region of Pfalz is the second largest in the country, and is generally considered to be one of the finest regions for Germanic style wines in the world. The warm and sunny climate of Pfalz is exceedingly similar to that of Alsace, and many of the same fine grape varietals can be found flourishing there in the mineral rich, fertile soils which typify the region. With a history stretching back to the Roman times, Pfalz has long been a center for traditional viticulture, and that spirit of doing things the 'old fashioned way' remains to this day. With over twenty five thousand hectares of land under vine, Pfalz succeeds in being a large scale producer of wines, whilst keeping quality levels and distinction high, and whilst maintaining a tradition of excellence and elegance.
As in many Old World countries, the rise of viticulture in Germany came about as a result of the Roman Empire, who saw the potential for vine cultivation in the vast flatlands around the base of the Rhine valley. Indeed, for over a thousand years, Germany's wine production levels were enormous, with much of the south of the country being used more or less exclusively for growing grapes. Over time, this diminished to make way for expanding cities and other types of industries, but Southern Germany remains very much an important wine region within Europe, with many beautifully balanced and flavorful German wines being prized by locals and international wine lovers alike. The hills around Baden-Baden and Mannheim are especially noteworthy, as these produce the high end of the characteristic semi-sweet white wines which couple so perfectly with German cheeses and pickled vegetables. However, all of Germany's wine producing regions have something special and unique to offer, and are a joy to explore and experience.