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.
For several centuries in the beautifully mountainous region of Piedmont in northern Italy, wineries have been cultivating the Arneis grape for use in a range of wines. Although traditionally it was most commonly used as a blending varietal, today Arneis grapes are sought after for use in single variety bottles as a result of their highly aromatic nature, their tart and crisp acids, and their full bodied fruitiness. The name means 'little rascal', referring to the fact that this varietal is notoriously tricky to cultivate. Highly susceptible to various types of mildew, and also quick to over-ripen, the Arneis is far from the easiest grape to grow. However, in Italy and in several New World countries, vintners persevere with it due to its fantastic flavor and unique attributes.
n Italy, the region most closely associated with excellent quality red wines and characterful sparkling wines is Piedmont. This alpine region is located in the north-west of the country, and features beautiful foothills of the impressive mountain range which forms the nearby border between Italy, France and Switzerland. Wineries in Piedmont work with the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which thrive in the warm, dry summers and cooler autumns, as well as the beautifully expressive Moscato grapes which are used for the sparkling Asti wines the region is famed for. For generations, these wineries have perfected the art of aging their red wines, and blending grape varietals to get the most out of each one, leading to a region known all over the world for the exceptional quality of its produce.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.