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
For centuries, the Chenin Blanc grape has been grown in its native France, and in many other countries around the world (most notably in South Africa). These green skinned grapes are revered for the fact that their high acidity makes them extremely versatile, and Chenin Blanc wines can range from the fascinating, sweet and viscous dessert wines made by allowing noble rot to develop on the fruit, to dry and crisp sparkling crÃ©mants, or simple, elegant still white wines. Their key feature is that they are considered to be a highly 'transparent' grape, allowing the features of their terroir to come through in the glass, and the fact that they can carry a beautiful range of tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, guava and banana.
Region: Coastal Region
The coastal region of South Africa is a wonderful place for viticulture. With gorgeously long, hot summer days, tempered by brisk oceanic winds, the grapevines can grow healthily, the fruit can ripen fully, and beautiful wines of great character and flavor can be made. For several hundred years now, the coastal region of South Africa has proven itself to be a highly important wine region, capable of supporting many grape varietals, suitable for still, fortified and sparkling wines. Today, the most popular grapes by far are Chenin Blanc, which produces the most recognizable wines of South Africa. However, also popular are many of the Bordeaux varieties of red and white grape, along with relative newcomers, such as Pinotage, which grow exceptionally well in the coastal terroir.
Country: South Africa
Perhaps the most famous and well respected of all the wine regions in South Africa is that of Constantia, which holds many of the oldest and most traditional wineries in the country. Here, the temperate climate receives the Atlantic winds which cool the vineyards, and the fertile soil allows the grapes to grow to full ripeness, resulting in highly flavorful wines which are enjoyed around the world. Whilst Sauvignon Blanc varietals make up the most widely exported wines of this region, the rest of the country produces a huge and impressive range of wines, made up from varietals native to many different European countries. From excellent Champagne style sparkling wines, to aromatic fortified examples, fruity reds and refreshing whites, South Africa continues to impress and surprise, with modern techniques and technologies leading the way and producing exceptional results.