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
Whilst the Pinot Noir grape varietal has its origins in France, and is most closely associated with fine Burgundy wines, it is now grown in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are many reasons for this â€“ the densely packed, deep black bunches of fruits are responsible for making a wide variety of excellent wines, generally agreed to be amongst the most drinkable and accessible one can find. With flavors ranging from currants and red and black berries, to more earthy, spicy notes, Pinot Noir is a versatile varietal which is revered for its relatively light body and beautifully vivid red color However, the grapes themselves are notoriously susceptible to various diseases, and struggle in fluctuating climates. This has not stopped wineries planting and cultivating these vines, though, as Pinot Noir, when grown carefully and treated properly, is a grape with a wide and increasing fan-base, and more often than not produces wonderful wines.
The beautiful German wine region of Pfalz is the second largest in the country, and a region recognized for its astonishing variety and the quality of its produce. With around 25,000 hectares of land in Pfalz under vine, the region produces an impressive amount of wine, considering the fact that the majority of wineries in the region are independent, small and traditionally run. The vineyards of Pfalz benefit enormously from their relatively warm, dry and sunny climate â€“ exceedingly similar to that of nearby Alsace â€“ and the high quality, mineral rich soils that typify the region. Although grapes have been cultivated in the Pfalz region since time immemorial, it was the Romans who first built up the wine region in the first century, introducing many grape varietals which can still be found growing there to this day.
Despite being known primarily for sweet and semi-sweet white wines, Germany actually produces a surprisingly large and varied range of wines, with many reaching an extremely high standard and being very well received on the world stage. The terrain across much of the southern parts of the country is extremely fertile, with mineral rich soils adding a wonderful edge to already excellent grapes, and thus resulting in delicious and highly elegant white and rosÃ© wines. The climate in many parts of Germany also allows for some more unusual wine-making practices, with certain regions specializing in the highly aromatic and distinctive 'ice-wines' which are gaining popularity by those looking for something a little more intense and unusual. With these wines, the producers allow the grapes to freeze through the early frosts, resulting in a higher sugar content and a fantastic set of flavors and aromas in the finished product. Germany has long since favored quality over quantity, and a new enthusiasm for fine wine within the country is producing truly exciting results, using a blending of traditional and contemporary techniques.