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 Arneis grape varietal has been one of the key grapes of the famous Piedmont region of Italy for centuries, and is adored by locals due to its highly aromatic nature, and the fact that it produces wines of superb quality. Wines made from Arneis varietal grapes are known for their crispness, their full body and their deliciously aromatic orchard fruit and apricot flavors However, they are somewhat notoriously difficult to grow, as they over-ripen very quickly, losing their acidity and flavors in the sunshine if left on the vine too long. Traditionally, this grape was used for blending, as its strong floral aroma was highly sought after. Nowadays, it is common to see single variety bottles made from the Arneis, and several New World countries have begun experimenting with this tricky and sensitive varietal to great effect.
The region of Piedmont in the cool, breezy north-western part of Italy is renowned throughout the world for high quality, flavorful and delicious red wines, and for the elegant and refined sparkling wines such as Asti which typify the area. The region is located at the foothills of the Alps, close to the French and Swiss borders, and benefits from some interesting micro-climates formed by its proximity to the mountain range. The key grapes for the fine red wines of Piedmont are Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera â€“ all powerful varietals which are packed full of a range of fruit flavors and which have an affinity for oak making them ideal for aging When it comes to the sparkling Asti, wineries cultivate plenty of Moscato grapes, whose relative transparency make them ideal for expressing their terroir and providing some interesting flavors in the bottle.
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.