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Vintage: 2011The 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: GrenacheGrenache grapes have long been cultivated in various parts of Europe, and are noted for being particularly successful in arid regions which are both hot and very dry. As such, they are ideal for many New World countries, and have quickly established themselves as one of the most widely grown red wine grape varietals in the world. The Grenache grape is easily identifiable by its purple skin, and tightly hanging bunches which grow quite rigorously in the correct conditions. They are most commonly associated with light bodied wines, with little tannins or acidity, yet quite a high alcohol content. As such, they are very versatile, and are regularly used for both single variety and blended wines, in which their strong and unique features can shine through.
Region: CatalunaFor thousands of years, Spain's beautiful wine region of Catalunya has been a powerful center of wine production, with much archaeological evidence to suggest that quality vines were being cultivated in the fine Catalan soils many hundreds of years before even the first Roman settlers arrived. The wonderful coastal Mediterranean climate of the region creates an ideal environment for viticulture, and the excellent conditions are improved further by the mineral rich soils which cover much of the region's valleys and hillsides. As a result, the bodegas and wineries which operate in Catalunya are able to grow a wide variety of imported and native grape varietals, and are able to produce their famous sparkling Cava wines in large quantities, alongside the many still red and white wine bottles which are brought out each year to critical acclaim.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.