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.
In recent years, the Malbec single variety wines coming out of many New World countries have been gaining a lot of attention as a result of their fantastic plummy flavors, and strong, full-bodied nature. However, Malbec grape varietals have been cultivated for centuries in many Old World countries for these very characteristics, and they have long had a strong presence in some of the best blended wines ever produced by leading wineries. Their high tannin level and heavy juiciness means they are ideal for big, powerful full-bodied wines packing a strong fruit-forward punch on the palate, and their beautiful deep red color has long been admired and upheld as a mark of quality. The Malbec grapes are probably at their best when blended with other, mellower and more rounded grape varietals, such as a Merlot, as this allows their best features and their fruity flavor to shine, whilst being softened somewhat and made lighter and more drinkable.
Region: Valle Central
Chile is a fascinating country when it comes to wines and viticulture, and by far the most internationally renowned wine region in the country is the Valle Central. This expansive valley is located close to the Chilean capital of Santiago, and stretches between the Maipo Valley and Maule Valley, a long, winding fault through the mountainous regions of the country which is now almost completely covered by vineyards producing wines of exquisite character. The region itself may well be associated with the 'New World' of wines, but in actual fact, vineyards have been cultivated around the Maipo valley since the 16th century, when settlers from Europe brought vines across the ocean with which to make sacramental wines. A wide range of grape varietals thrive in the hot climate of Valle Central, from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines the country is most famous for, to Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere.
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.