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.
n Italy, the region most closely associated with excellent quality red wines and characterful sparkling wines is Piedmont. This alpine region is located in the north-west of the country, and features beautiful foothills of the impressive mountain range which forms the nearby border between Italy, France and Switzerland. Wineries in Piedmont work with the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which thrive in the warm, dry summers and cooler autumns, as well as the beautifully expressive Moscato grapes which are used for the sparkling Asti wines the region is famed for. For generations, these wineries have perfected the art of aging their red wines, and blending grape varietals to get the most out of each one, leading to a region known all over the world for the exceptional quality of its produce.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.