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: Chenin Blanc
Originating in France yet now grown in many parts of the New World, Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile and highly regarded white wine grape varietals on earth. These green skinned grapes hold a relatively high acid content, and as such can be used for making still white wines of exceptional quality, as well as superb sparkling wines (such as the CrÃ©mant wines of the Loire Valley) and extremely aromatic dessert wines. Their natural transparency means that they are a fine grape for expressing their terroir in the bottle, and winemakers often experiment with this varietal to coax unusual and intense flavors from the grapes, such as allowing the development of noble rot on the fruit in order to make sweet and viscous wines of a unique character.
Region: Coastal Region
The coastal region of South Africa is one of the most prodigious and productive wine regions on earth, and one which covers a vast distance making up for most of the tip of the African continent. The history of South African wines is a fascinating and surprisingly long one, with the very first wines in the country being produced by settlers in the 1650s, long before many other New World countries had even been discovered. Today, coastal South African wines are wildly popular around the world thanks to their big, fruity flavors and relative simplicity. Wineries in the region make the most of the hot sunshine, the high quality soils, and the brisk oceanic winds which keep disease at bay and stop the grapes from getting too hot, and produce a wide variety of wines of great distinction.
Country: South Africa
With its hot, long summers and oceanic winds from both the west and the east, South Africa is something of a haven for a wide range of imported grape varietals. Since the mid-18th century, the country has been associated with some very fine wines made using complex and careful blending techniques, with one of the most famous and widely loved early examples being constructed from Pontac, Muscadel and Chenin Blanc varietals. Since those colonial days, the regions around Cape Town have proven again and again to be fantastic areas for producing interesting and delicious wines, with many of the best examples of Champagne style sparkling wines originating from these fertile lands. From the scorchingly hot regions of Orange Rivers, to the far cooler and temperate appellations in Walker Bay, South Africa has developed a booming wine industry responsible for many of the finest New World wines available anywhere across the globe.