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: Gruner Veltliner
At the forefront of high quality central European wines is the much admired Gruner Veltliner grape varietal. This pale skinned and highly versatile grape can be used for the production of excellent still white wines, as well as soft, mellow and beautifully aged wines. In many regions around central Europe, winemakers use the Gruner Veltliner to make elegant sparkling wines, which are highly appreciated by wine drinkers for the fact that they have an ability to clearly express the delightfully mineral-rich tones of the terroir the grapes were grown on. Due to the success and pervading popularity of the Gruner Veltliner varietal in many parts of Europe, recent decades have seen this grape being cultivated in several, cooler regions in the New World, to much success.
Wachau is an ancient Austrian wine region, and is responsible for producing the majority of Austria's fine wines. The beautiful Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grapes which grow in the fertile vineyards of Wachau, along the banks of the ancient and mighty river Danube, are used to make wines of real distinction and character, often made with age old, traditional techniques which have been passed down through the generations of family wineries. The climatic conditions in Wachau are ideal for growing these and other grape varietals, as the long and warm summers offer plenty of time in which the grapes can ripen fully. As such, they can take on plenty of characteristics of their wonderful terroir, alongside beautiful floral and earthy flavors, and a wide range of elegant aromas.
Austria has a wonderfully long and illustrious history of wine production which stretches back over four thousand years, and reached its zenith under the Austria-Hungary dual monarchy in the late 19th century, when Vienna was one of the most important centers of culture and fine living in the world. Today, Austria's fertile soils and long, hot summers help the fifty thousand hectares of vineyards in the country achieve exceptionally high quality yields, which are used primarily for the production of the elegant dry white wines for which the country is renowned. The most important grape varietal is still GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, although many wineries are beginning to expand their repertoire and experiment with many imported grapes from France and further afield, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.