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: Nero D'avola
In Sicily, the beautiful Mediterranean island off the Italian coast, one of the most important grape varietals grown is the Nero d'Avola, a black skinned grape indigenous to the country and one which has been cultivated and used for wine production for centuries. The Nero d'Avola is often compared to Australian Shiraz, as it also has a distinctively peppery and spicy character. However, the Nero d'Avola also holds deep and rich flavors of plum and other dark fruits, making it a delightful grape for making complex and interesting wines. One of the most important and well known uses for the Nero d'Avola grape varietal is in the Marsala wines for which Sicily is famous, and it is also used in several excellent still wines. The grapes thrive in dry and arid conditions, and recent decades have seen them planted in California and elsewhere in the New World.
For thousands of years, Sicily has been producing high quality wines of several different styles which are consistently enjoyed all over the world. The ancient Greeks may have been the first to recognize how perfect this island was for viticulture, but today a huge area of Sicily is covered in vineyards growing plenty of different grape varietals and resulting in some of Italy's finest wines. This unique wine region produces a considerable percentage of Italy's overall wines, and it isn't difficult to see how wineries have flourished on the island. With beautiful year-round sunshine, cooling sea breezes helping the grapes reach full ripeness, along with the highly fertile volcanic soil which is typical of Sicily, it should come as no surprise this is one of Europe's oldest and most productive wine regions.
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.