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.
Malbec grapes have been grown for centuries in the Old World, and whilst many wineries had and continue to have great success with these dark and rather demanding grapes, they are famously susceptible to rot and quickly lose their best features should the weather not be as good as they need it to be. As such, it is the New World Malbec wines which have really made this old and respected varietal a household name, and the many single variety bottles we see in our supermarkets and wine stores bearing this grape have been some of the biggest and most pleasing success stories of recent years. However, Malbec is often and was traditionally used as a blending grape, offering its strong tannins and heavy, plummy fruit flavors to milder, mellower wines to boost their character, and many of these blended wines rank amongst the finest in the world. As such, Malbec is a highly versatile grape which has spread across the globe to produce some very different results, each one pleasing, and each one packed with flavor and character.
Region: Valle Central
The Valle Central of Chile is one of the world's most fascinating and unique wine regions, being a New World region with a history which stretches back several centuries to the time of the first European settlers on the South American continent. Although those original settlers brought their vines across the ocean for the production of sacramental wine, the way they flourished on Chilean soil was not ignored. Over the centuries, the vineyards around the Maipo and Maule valleys grew and grew, and now the Valle Central is the most productive wine region of South America, producing many of Chile's most characterful and flavorful wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietal grapes are grown and processed in huge quantities for the international market, but there are also many vineyards dealing with high quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Carmenere grapes which are constantly gaining attention and praise from critics and wine drinkers around the world.
Whilst being widely regarded as definitively 'New World' as a wine producing country, Chile has actually been cultivating grapevines for wine production for over five hundred years. The Iberian conquistadors first introduced vines to Chile with which to make sacramental wines, and although these were considerably different in everything from flavor, aroma and character to the wines we associate with Chile today, the country has a long and interesting heritage when it comes to this drink. Chilean wine production as we know it first arose in the country in the mid to late 19th century, when wealthy landowners and industrialists first began planting vineyards as a way of adopting some European class and style. They quickly discovered that the hot climate, sloping mountainsides and oceanic winds provided a perfect terroir for quality wines, and many of these original estates remain today in all their grandeur and beauty, still producing the wines which made the country famous.