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: Champagne Blend
There are few wine regions of the world with as much influence or fame as that of Champagne in France. The sparkling wines from this special area have long been associated with excellence and magnificent flavors, and much of their success has been down to the careful blending of fine grape varietals in order to achieve spectacular results. Most commonly, Champagne wines use both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes in more or less equal measures, often boosted by a small quantity of Pinot Meunier for extra bite. The Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their acidity and flavor to the bottle, and help with the dryness associated with quality in this type of wine. The Pinot Noir, on the other hand, gives strength to the wine, and gives Champagne its distinctive 'length' of character.
Region: Rheingau / Rheinhessen
The beautiful German wine region of Rheingau is home to many of the country's most famous and highly respected white wines, with many of the Riesling wines to come out of this mountainous area being widely considered to be amongst the finest on earth. The reason for this is due to the fact that when processed carefully and correctly, the Riesling grape is capable of expressing much of the terroir it is grown on, and there are few better terroirs in the world for this grape varietal than those found in Rheingau. With mineral rich soils, crisp, clear mountain water and cool, gentle climatic conditions, the grapes here grow and ripen slowly, producing fruit of exceptional quality and wines of real character and distinction. Today, the region of Rheingau is also growing Pinot Noir grapes, and experimenting with several other varietals in an attempt to widen its international appeal as a region.
Despite being known primarily for sweet and semi-sweet white wines, Germany actually produces a surprisingly large and varied range of wines, with many reaching an extremely high standard and being very well received on the world stage. The terrain across much of the southern parts of the country is extremely fertile, with mineral rich soils adding a wonderful edge to already excellent grapes, and thus resulting in delicious and highly elegant white and rosÃ© wines. The climate in many parts of Germany also allows for some more unusual wine-making practices, with certain regions specializing in the highly aromatic and distinctive 'ice-wines' which are gaining popularity by those looking for something a little more intense and unusual. With these wines, the producers allow the grapes to freeze through the early frosts, resulting in a higher sugar content and a fantastic set of flavors and aromas in the finished product. Germany has long since favored quality over quantity, and a new enthusiasm for fine wine within the country is producing truly exciting results, using a blending of traditional and contemporary techniques.