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.
The Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
Region: Rhone Valley
The Rhone Valley of southern France is a particularly fascinating wine region, with a history that stretches back to at least six hundred BCE, when the ancient Greeks first began cultivating vines there. The region itself is split into two distinct sub-regions, with the northern sub-region being famed for its production of exceptional Syrah, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier wines, packed full of interesting character and expressing the terroir found there. The southern sub-region is home to an enormous variety of grapes, and produces red, white and rosÃ© wines, and some of the world's most famous and adored blended wines. The continental climate of the region is ideal for growing grapes, and the winds which blow from the Central Massif help temper the heat in the vineyards, leading to very ripe fruits holding plenty of flavor.
France is renowned across the globe for its quality wines and the careful expertise which goes into making them, but what is truly remarkable about this relatively small country is the vast range of wines it produces in such huge amounts each year. Not only are the finest red wines in the world said to come from the beautiful regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but elsewhere in the country we find the Champagne region, and areas such as the Rhone Valley and the Loire, whose white wines consistently receive awards and accolades by the plenty. This range is a result of the great variety of climatic conditions and terrain found in France, coupled with generations of wine makers working within single appellations. Their knowledge of specific terroirs and grape varieties has, over time, perfected the production of wines within their region, and the end results continue to impress the world to this day.