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
Rheingau in Germany is one of the country's most prodigious and well respected wine regions, with the south facing slopes of the mountains in the area producing Riesling grape vines of exceedingly high quality. The region has a wine making history which stretches back for centuries, and the wineries of Rheingau have long since mastered the art of expressing the beautiful, windswept and mineral rich terroir through their characterful white wines. With only three thousand hectares of Rheingau being under vine, the region is relatively small, yet has been home to many of the country's finest wines, and a large proportion of the most important viticultural innovations of Germany. Whilst Riesling is by far the most popular grape varietal in Rheingau, Pinot Noir is also grown quite widely, and today, many wineries are continuing to experiment with new grape varietals in order to make a wider range of wines.
As in many Old World countries, the rise of viticulture in Germany came about as a result of the Roman Empire, who saw the potential for vine cultivation in the vast flatlands around the base of the Rhine valley. Indeed, for over a thousand years, Germany's wine production levels were enormous, with much of the south of the country being used more or less exclusively for growing grapes. Over time, this diminished to make way for expanding cities and other types of industries, but Southern Germany remains very much an important wine region within Europe, with many beautifully balanced and flavorful German wines being prized by locals and international wine lovers alike. The hills around Baden-Baden and Mannheim are especially noteworthy, as these produce the high end of the characteristic semi-sweet white wines which couple so perfectly with German cheeses and pickled vegetables. However, all of Germany's wine producing regions have something special and unique to offer, and are a joy to explore and experience.